Honorable Speaker, Mr. Karu Jayasuriya delivers inaugural address on the “Importance of Prevention rather than Countering Armed Conflicts

The Honorable Speaker of Parliament, Mr. KaruJayasuriya delivered an inaugural speech on the “Importance of Prevention rather than Countering Armed Conflicts”, Monday 4th June 2018, at Ramada Hotel Colombo. The Speaker was present at the event, which was organized under the auspices of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS), a think-tank based in Colombo focused on regional security and strategic studies together with the Global Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflicts (GPPAC), which is a network of Civil-Society Organizations based in the Hague, the Netherlands, dedicated to conflict prevention and peace buildingacross the world. The Honorable Speaker’s inaugural address set the framework for the weeklong thematic events on the pertinent topic of conflict prevention from 4th June – 8th June 2018, culminating in “GPPAC – RCSS Week 2018”.

The Hon. Speaker began his address by quoting a proverb. “Prevention is better than cure”, or in other words, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” These simple words carry a deep meaning and can be applied to anything in life, including situations of armed conflict. He pondered on how people and leaders around the world, have not been able to comprehend the simple truth that prevention of armed conflict is more important than countering it. He reflected on the two world wars and how they have not seemed to make us wiser, but rather it seems we have forgotten the hardships cause by them. He then conveyed his feeling of an increasing sense of inhumanity in the world today and of how the fundamental lessons of respect for human equality, freedom and dignity are being disregarded.

The open warfare in the Middle East and Northern Africa were emphasized and how violations of the internationally agreed laws, that set limits to war to help safeguard civilians, are constantly occurring. New forms of extremism that keep rising up from different corners of the world, as well as the negative repercussions of the media were also brought to light. The Hon. Speaker also touched on the growing importance of social media and how it has been effectively used to spread hate and mobilize people for extremist activities.

The domestic applications of the topic at hand were then brought into consideration by the Speaker, with regards to Sri Lanka. He cited the two youth insurrections and the almost three decades of violence experienced by our country and how they have taken an unimaginable and inexplicable toll on the country’s post-independent development and progress. The Speaker described how Sri Lanka failed to seize the moment, immediately following the end of the conflict, to work on introspection and healing based on consultative approaches inclusive of all victims. He explained how top-down initiatives, undertaken by the government of the day, were not effective. He then went on to highlight that there was resistance to consult, resistance to learn from the examples of others and a resistance to obtain assistance from international organizations and experts. Throughout our 70 years of independence, attempts to deal with the southern insurrections, as well as issues relating to the North and the East, failed to address real issues of concern of the people and find solutions that would sustain peace.

The speaker proclaimed that he was convinced that consultative bottom-up processes which also require changes to the constitution; establishment of permanent, empowered independent institutions; law reform; adopting good governance practices; and the nurturing of a society that respects individual rights, and acknowledges and appreciates the importance of resolving problems through means other than conflict are essential to ensure prevention and non-recurrence of conflict.The Speaker continued to elaborate on how the Government, since 2015, has taken a victim-centric, consultative and bottom-up approach to reconciliation and healing, with the clear objective of ensuring non-recurrence of conflict.

The Hon. Speaker quoted the UNESCO Charter, stating “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” He reflected on the teachings of the Gautama Buddha in saying that we, as human beings, are intelligent, and that even if we are capable of using this intelligence to create problems, we are equally capable of finding meaningful solutions to problems. In other words, it is important for individuals to commit and resolve to use their intelligence in constructive ways in order to unite us all as human beings. The role of parents, teachers, media, religious leaders, business leaders, trade unionists, community leaders, politicians and every individual in ensuring the prevention of conflict at a macro and micro level was then stressed by the speaker. He stated that it is not something a government can do alone through top-down approaches, regulations, orders, strictures and censorship, but the key is to take individual ownership. This means ensuring that everyone is driven by their conscience to care for and respect others.

The importance of networks of civil society organizations such as GPPAC in effectively resolving conflicts and rebuilding post conflict states was then emphasized. This was said to be especially true in the world today, as social media has allowed for citizens to take on a larger role in influencing decision making processes. The speaker continued on this point in stating that it is imperative that citizens use their voices as tools for the betterment of societies.

The address was then brought to a conclusion with the Hon. Speaker stating that he was optimistic for the future of Sri Lanka. He stressed how the current government has been committed to strengthening democratic institutions and how Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission was re-accredited with the ‘A’ status by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Issues. This was mainly achieved through the new constitutional reform process currently underway, which is a bottom-up and all-inclusive process that aspires to address the problems of all citizens by addressing social inequalities and delivering on a promise of social justice. The speaker shed light on how the country has come a long way since the end of the conflict with the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons and the enactment of several important pieces of legislation including on the Right to Information, Victim and Witness Protection and Criminalizing Enforced Disappearances. In summation of the address it can then clearly be ascertained that the prevention of armed conflict must be held in a higher regard than the countering of it, as was well highlighted in the Speaker’s reference to the proverb “prevention is better than cure”.

The full video of the speech can be accessed here: