Gagani Weerakoon Reporting from New York
The success of the United Nations depends upon the independent strength of its members. To overcome the perils of the present, and to achieve the promise of the future, we must begin with the wisdom of the past. Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty, to promote security, prosperity and peace, for themselves and for the world. We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government, but we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties, to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation, President of the United States of America Donald Trump said in his maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly moments before he called North Korean leader Kim Jung Un “rocket man,” and described him as being on “a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” He also threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if the US finds itself “forced to defend itself or its allies.”
The tone and the language used by Trump in a place like the United Nations, where peace and tolerance were supposedly upheld, came under criticism by many. However, Trump’s emphasis on independent nations being entitled for their sovereignty came as a blessing for Sri Lanka when President Maithripala Sirisena took the podium to tell international community and especially the UN and its affiliates that Sri Lanka needs its due space in addressing local issues.
Prior to his speech President Sirisena met US President Trump on the corridors to the main auditorium and extended his greetings.
President Sirisena congratulated Trump for his being elected as US President while, Trump expressed what a beautiful country Sri Lanka is.
“I must mention here that, at a moment when Sri Lanka is committed to a course of good governance by strengthening democracy, human rights, and fundamental rights while winning the goodwill of the international community, I look forward to the kind support of the United Nations. We have been a member of United Nations for 62 years. Sri Lanka has always been a country that has respected its treaties and conventions, agreements and rules and regulations while taking action to improve such relations further. As such, in our country’s journey where we protect our independence and sovereignty, we respectfully request the support of the international community for us to go on a moderate but steady path to achieve our targets in order to find sustainable solutions to the allegations levelled against us,” he said.
Some extremist groups are expecting a high speed. Some extremist groups want radical solutions. However, as a country that has faced a three decade long war, where deep divisions have existed, I request the support of all of you to promote peace and fraternity, so that my beloved country and its people can rise from the current situation. That is why I emphasize that it is for a slow and a successful journey that we need support, President Sirisena said while making quite a few wonder whether the High Commissioner of UN Human Rights Council also was involved in the ‘some extremist groups’ he mentioned. It was not long ago that Prince Zeid Al-Hussein said he was frustrated about the delays in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process.
“We all have heard that speedy journey is a dangerous journey. Therefore, I believe that you will understand the complex nature of issues that hinder the instant and radical solutions that some impatient groups are asking for. As such, I reiterate with respect the need of support from the United Nations and its member states for my country to ensure the non-recurrence of war by fostering peace and harmony among all communities in Sri Lanka,” President Sirisena urged.
President Sirisena and First Lady Jayanthi Sirisena were amongst world leaders invited for the reception hosted by US President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump which was held at the New York Palace Hotel.
President Maithripala Sirisena used the opportunity of being in New York to meet two new leaders in the South Asian region – Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
Sirisena who met Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in his first bilateral discussion alongside the 72nd UN General Assembly session on Tuesday (19), expressed his gratitude to Pakistan for standing by Sri Lanka through thick and thin.
Premier Abbasi assured President Maithripala Sirisena that Pakistan would continue to assist Sri Lanka.
He further said that Pakistan will commit itself to take the economic and trade relationship between the two countries to a stronger level through a new approach.
During this meeting both leaders recalled the long-standing bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and Pakistan and emphasized the need for further consolidating the relationship.
President Sirisena stated that former Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif is a good friend of his and recalled the friendly cooperation of Sharif towards him and Sri Lanka. The President appreciated assistance provided by Pakistan to Sri Lanka as a true friend, during the period of conflict in the country.
He also expressed special thanks for the assistance given by Pakistan to Sri Lanka in the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The two leaders discussed about the ways to promote economic and commercial relations between the two countries. They focused on the fields of gas and oil.
Sri Lankan President and Pakistani Premier agreed to promote tourism and continue the cooperation in security affairs.
During his meeting with Nepal Prime Minister Deuba, President emphasized the need for strengthening the activities of the SAARC.
The Nepal Premier said that the commitment shown by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena for the activities of the SAARC is significant and the gratitude of all the SAARC countries must go to him in this regard.
The leaders paid their special attention to further developing bilateral relations between the two countries in all the fields, at a time Nepal and Sri Lanka celebrate the 60th anniversary of establishing bilateral relations between them.
It was discussed in detail on taking forward the economic, trade as well as religious and cultural ties between the two nations.
The President recalled the meeting he had with the Nepal President when she visited Sri Lanka to attend the International Buddhist Conference, to further promote the bilateral relations and said that he is expected to visit Nepal next October accepting the invitation extended to him by the Nepal President during her visit to Sri Lanka.
The Nepal Prime Minister emphasized that they are ready to provide their assistance to Sri Lanka when needed and said that Nepal always provides assistance to Sri Lanka in issues of human rights.
During the meeting the President extended his deep concern for the hardships faced by Nepal due to the recent earthquake and said that as a friendly country Sri Lanka took steps to provide every possible assistance to Nepal.
The Nepal Prime Minister also extended his gratitude in this regard and said that he is very pleased about this meeting as two important countries in the SAARC as well as friendly states which have long history.
Maithri on challenges
Ahead of his scheduled meeting with UNHRC High Commissioner Zied Al-Hussein, President Maithripala Sirisena sought continued assistance from the USA in rebuilding Sri Lanka politically, socially and economically in the post-war period, when the US Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Thomas A. Shannon called on the President for bilateral talks in New York on Thursday (21).
While commending Sri Lanka for the political, social and economic rebuilding process of Sri Lanka in the post- conflict era said, America is happy about the current ‘friendly’ foreign policy adopted by the government.
Shannon who is planning to visit Sri Lanka in November this year, also appreciated the cooperative approach carried out by Sri Lanka with the countries in the region, as a country which is positioned in a strategic location in the Indian region, and said that President Sirisena is an exemplary leader who is working closely with all the member States.
President Sirisena, responded stating that the challenges Sri Lanka has to face due to its strategic positioning in the Indian Ocean region is much more than its positive outcomes.
It was obvious that President Sirisena was referring to immense pressure the country is under due to political and economic interests of powerful neighbouring nations like India and China and the USA.
UNHRC High Commissioner Zeid Al-Hussein called on President Sirisena Friday evening for a meeting expected to be extremely crucial for Sri Lanka.
Diplomats were of the view that the outcome of this meeting is going to be crucial for Sri Lanka with High Commissioner Hussein recently expressing his frustration on delayed reconciliation process in Sri Lanka.
During his opening statement at the 36th session of the UNHRC on Monday (11) he added that the absence of credible action in Sri Lanka, to ensure accountability for alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, makes the exercise of universal jurisdiction even more necessary.
He urged the Sri Lanka Government to swiftly operationalize the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and to move faster on other essential confidence building measures.
This should not be a “box-ticking exercise to placate the Council”, Hussein said adding that the Government must consider it as an essential undertaking to address the rights of all Sri Lankans.
However, Hussein apparently did not get much opportunity to push his demands as President Sirisena in his introduction itself brushed off any call to expedite the process.
“I do not want Sri Lanka to be another Myanmar,” Sirisena told Hussein while pointing to another set of failed projects of the UNHRC.
Hussein, according to sources has changed his initial tone and had agreed with the President that it failed to ensure the safety of Rohingya people.
President was also expected to meet UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last morning (23) at the UN Head Quarters.
Asked whether he would once again be put on the spot by the Secretary General as well, President Sirisena said “The meeting mainly would be to exchange pleasantries as the new Secretary General. On the other hand, he was the former Prime Minister of Portugal. I assume he would know what it is like to rule a country and what challenges a government would have to undergo when implementing policies.”
Much has been said about Minister of Regional Development Sarath Fonseka being denied visa to be a part of the Sri Lankan Delegation to UNGA.
Fonseka on Tuesday (19) said he had been denied a visa because of unresolved war crime allegations against the military. He confidently added that he was due to travel to New York this week, but he was the only one in the Sri Lankan delegation not issued a visa.
Fonseka said he could not accompany President Maithripala Sirisena who left Colombo on Sunday to address the United Nations General Assembly.
“I was not given a visa because of the war crimes allegations against the military. That is why I say they must be investigated.”
He said the excesses by a “few” during the final stages of the island’s Tamil separatist war should not tarnish the image of the Sri Lankan armed forces.
However, inquiries made by Ceylon Today revealed that Fonseka’s claim is bit too far from the truth.
It is noteworthy that not a single minister was included in the ‘original’ delegation to accompany President Sirisena to the UNGA. This includes Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana and the reason for this decision was the need of all ministers and government parliamentarians to be present on Wednesday in Parliament to vote for the 20th Amendment.
The President, in a bid to give a chance for Junior MPs and Deputy Ministers to be a part of the delegation has included Deputy Ministers Ranjan Ramanayake, Bharathi Dushmantha Mithrapala and MPs Tharanath Basnayaka, Chathura Senrathna and S.M. Marikkar in the delegation. However, they too were directed to get onboard only after casting their vote.
Meanwhile, reliable sources confirmed that top diplomats based in Colombo had advised Fonseka not to apply for visa on the grounds he might be in trouble and thereby lead the entire country into a mess if he entered USA.
“If anyone files a case against him, while in the US, we will have to undergo much trouble to salvage him. Authorities who are well aware of the situation politely asked him not to apply for visa,” highly placed sources confirmed.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry confirmed Fonseka’s name was not considered to be included in the delegation in the first place for him to lose the chance of accompanying the President to UNGA.