In his address on Sri Lanka's Independence Day, High Commissioner to the UK, Dr Chris Nonis emphasised that the wealth of the country was in the diversity of its people of varying backgrounds, ethnicities and religions.
He said it was imperative to make optimum use of that diversity and build a strong and unified Sri Lanka which would then be able to resist those external forces that seek to divide rather than unify Sri Lanka.
Dr Nonis was speaking to a large gathering of the British polity including parliamentarians from the House of Lords and the House of Commons, heads of diplomatic missions, members of the Commonwealth Secretariat including its Secretary-General, members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the business community, think tanks, international organisations and representatives from HRH Prince Charles' office and Buckingham Palace, at a reception held at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London to celebrate the 66th Independence Day of Sri Lanka.
The High Commissioner thanked the 53 London-based Commonwealth high commissioners who, in their capacity as members of the Board of Governors of the Commonwealth Secretariat, played a pivotal role in ensuring that Sri Lanka hosted CHOGM 2013 so successfully. He thanked them for their friendship, cooperation and solidarity with Sri Lanka, especially in not succumbing to the strong pressures from lobby groups in the years leading up to the CHOGM.
He referred to the value that had accrued to Sri Lanka in hosting CHOGM for it provided an opportunity to a large cross-section of the global community such as governments, business leaders, youth and media to visit Sri Lanka and form their own views of contemporary Sri Lanka without depending on hearsay and jaundiced opinions.
Dr Nonis invited those present to view the special exhibition at the High Commission premises on CHOGM 2013 and its three parallel fora, the numerous heads of state and government of the Commonwealth with whom President Mahinda Rajapaksa had fruitful bilateral meetings. The exhibition also portrayed the visit of HRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who had endeared themselves so graciously to the Sri Lankan people.
The exhibition also depicted the comprehensive rehabilitation, reconciliation and reconstruction programmes undertaken in post-conflict Sri Lanka.
The exhibition was also viewed by a substantial number of the Sri Lankan diaspora who gathered earlier in the day to participate in the traditional ceremonies associated with Independence Day and listen to the prayers of Buddhist, Hindu, Islam and Christian religious dignitaries who bestowed blessings on Sri Lanka and its leaders.
Reminding his different audiences of Sri Lanka's history, Dr Nonis said that universal franchise was granted to both men and women in 1931, 17 years before independence. Exercising the right of the ballot even before independence helped Sri Lanka build the vibrant democracy that it is today.
HRH Prince Charles with HE Dr Chris Nonis at St James’ Palace
Prince Charles hosted a reception at St James's Palace for members of Britain's Sri Lankan and Indian communities to mark the royal couple's tour of India and Sri Lanka.
H.E. Dr Chris Nonis, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the UK, was joined by India’s Acting High Commissioner to the UK, Virendra Paul, at the Palace to extend a ceremonial welcome to the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. Dr Chris Nonis said “The President and people of Sri Lanka extend a warm welcome to Their Royal Highnesses, and look forward very much to their visit. We also take this opportunity to congratulate Prince Charles on the birth of his first grandchild, HRH the Prince George.”
The guests at the event included prominent British Asians from a variety of sectors. Amongst the Sri Lankan guests were Niranjan Deva-Aditya, MEP, Member of the European Parliament; Professor Sir Arulkumaran Sabaratnam, FRCS,FRCOG, President of the British Medical Association; Professor Ravi Silva, Professor of Engineering, Surrey University; Harendra De Silva, Q.C. President, Sri Lankan Lawyers Association; Councillor Nizam Ismail; Sir Desmond De Silva QC, PC; Suran Goonetileke, OBE.
HRH Prince Charles last visited India to represent Her Majesty the Queen at the Commonwealth Games in 2010, and he has visited Sri Lanka on two previous occasions, in 1998 at the celebration of Sri Lanka’s Independence, and in 2005, a few months following the Tsunami. On this occasion, Their Royal Highnesses Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla will arrive in Sri Lanka on the 14th November, on Prince Charles’ 65th Birthday. The Heir to the throne will represent Her Majesty the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM 2013), which commences on the 15th November. Dr Chris Nonis added, “HRH has a strong interest in charitable work, and two of his charities are already working in Sri Lanka on youth entrepreneurship and sustainable development projects, and the CHOGM theme “Growth with Equity; Inclusive Development” has a particular relevance”.
Hon. Prof. G. L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs with H.E. Dr. Chris Nonis , Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom at the news briefing
External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris made a measured and point-by-point rebuttal of the major assertions and conjectures in UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navy Pillay's departing report on Sri Lanka, at a news briefing at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London yesterday ( 02 September 2013).
Prof. Peiris who was briefly in London to deliver the keynote address at a Cambridge symposium on economic crime, convincingly debunked the assertions including the claim that Sri Lanka was moving towards authoritarianism.
The minister said that the UN High Commissioner was invited by the Sri Lanka Government 2 1/2 years ago to come and see for herself the developments in Sri Lanka. This was because Sri Lanka had nothing to hide.
Yet the report she has just produced is indicative of a prejudiced mind and in no way shows the fairness and open-mindedness of an official undertaking such a mission, the longest she has spent in any one country.
Prof. Peiris said that even where Navi Pillay acknowledges progress and positive developments it is given so grudgingly and belatedly.
"What we find disturbing is the tone and substance of her report, the lack of fairness and balance."
The government and people of Sri Lanka has had just four years since the end of the war to meet the challenges posed by nearly three decades of conflict.
Enumerating the steps taken by the government to settle 296,000 persons, provide them with infrastructure on which the government has spent a record $ 3billion, provide them with new lives in such a short time is an achievement that few countries have emulated.
But to dismiss these achievement as just physical reconstruction as Navi Pillay has done, is simply not the case.
"No discerning observer could say this," the minister said adding that her continuous assertions were prejudicial judged by any fair standard.
Prof. Peiris was particularly hard on the Human Rights Commissioner for claiming that Sri Lanka was moving towards authoritarianism.
He said that was no empirical evidence to support this claim. On the contrary after 25 years the people of the north who lived under the LTTE had no suffrage. But now President's Rajapaksa's government has provided them with the opportunity of expressing themselves later this month.
During those 25 years the people of the rest of the country had elected four governments and had four presidents. Almost every six months some election is being held in the country allowing the people to express themselves.
Moreover at every election in recent years President Rajapaksa's government has been increasingly endorsed by the public showing their confidence in the government.
He said it was the essence of democracy to allow the people to freely express their views.
But strangely enough the Human Rights Commissioner has ignored all this evidence before her and touted the claim that Sri Lanka was moving towards authoritarianism.
This rejection of empirical evidence was further proof of her bias and prejudice.
The prejudice and lack of fair-minded is further shown by her talk of numerous war crimes committed by the government. Previously Pillay mentioned allegations of war crimes. But now it is no longer allegations, but proven fact, according to her.
Navi Pillay refers to the intimidating presence of the military in the north and the fear of the people and women there.
Rejecting this out of hand, he said it is pity that the High Commissioner had not read the reports produced by UN officials in Colombo who belie this claim having themselves interviewed nearly 200 people, chosen by the UN itself, 90% of who said they were comfortable with living there.
"Why does she ignore this evidence produced by the UN itself. What is the justification for ignoring this? This is again a classic example of pre-judgment." he said.
Answering other media questions, the minister said that he expected countries to be objective when viewing Sri Lanka and was critical of the voting patterns in the UN Human Rights Council which did not seem to be based on the merits of the case.
The minister said that he was not criticising the Human Rights Commissioner out of rancour but of deep sadness as he found that her report lacked the fairness, open-mindedness and balance that was expected of her.
Several journalists from the print and electronic media, news agencies and think tanks in the UK attended the briefing which was moderated by Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom H.E. Dr Chris Nonis.
His Excellency the High Commissioner, Dr. Chris Nonis held a launch event at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London to promote the Commonwealth Business Forum to be held in Colombo from the 12 - 14 November 2013, leading up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2013.
Dr Nonis said that Sri Lanka is a microcosm of the Contemporary Commonwealth, and was one of the 8 founder member Nations of the modern Commonwealth. Sri Lanka achieved peace in the country under the leadership of HE President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka is a wonderful opportunity for all Heads, Foreign Ministers and their delegations, and the world’s media to see for themselves the reality of contemporary Sri Lanka. The theme “Partnering for Wealth Creation and Social Development; The Commonwealth, Indian Ocean and SAARC.” was in consonance with the policy of the "Mahinda Chintana" to ensure that all communities reap the dividends of economic growth. The Commonwealth Business Forum, would play a significant role in encouraging pan-Commonwealth trade and investment, and would also ensure that substantial economic dividends would accrue to Sri Lanka.
He thanked all the London-based Commonwealth High Commissioners, who comprise the Board of Governors of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and sit with him and have regular dialogue on Commonwealth issues at Marlborough House. He said they always worked together in the spirit of unity and friendship, because they have a depth and breadth of understanding that all Commonwealth countries are at different stages of development.
Dr Chris Nonis, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom congratulated HRH Prince William and the Duchess on the birth of the new royal baby, and proposed a toast to HRH Prince George of Cambridge, on behalf of HE the President and people of Sri Lanka.
Dr Nonis welcomed over 170 guests who included HE Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth; the Commonwealth High Commissioners; representatives of HRH Prince Charles’ office at Clarence House; HRH Princess Katerina; HRH Sheikh Makhtoum of UAE; HH Prince Ali Khan; Lord Howell of Guildford, Chairman of Council of Commonwealth Societies; Lord Rogan of Lower Iveagh; Lord Dholakia; Baroness Greengross; Lord Loomba; Sir Alan Greengross; James Wharton MP, Mark Menzies MP, Charles Tannock MEP, Tim Yeo MP, Eaun Blair, Mayoress Stainton, Sir Desmond de Silva QC, PC, Harendra de Silva QC, and members of the Conservative Foreign and Commonwealth Council.
Representatives from British Industry and Commerce including Chris Gibson – Smith, Chairman of the London Stock Exchange; Sir Thomas Harris, Standard Chartered Bank; De La Rue; HSBC; Crown Agents; Habib Bank; Marks and Spencer; GlaxoSmithKline; UK Department of Trade and Industry; the London Chamber of Commerce; CIMA; Private Equity Funds; Fund Managers; and members of the Commonwealth Business Council. In addition, representatives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the British Asian Trust; Youth Enterprise UK; the Commonwealth Foundation; and representatives from British Universities and the British Council attended.
Representatives from several civil society organisations included Cheryll Dorall, Commonwealth Journalists Association; Patsy Robertson, Ramphal Institute for Commonwealth Policy Studies; Mark Robinson, Commonwealth Consortium for Education; Michael Lawrence, Asia House; Tim Unwin, Commonwealth Telecommunication Organisation; Judy Curry, Commonwealth Education Trust; Sir Peter Heap, Friends of Sri Lanka; Neville Greene, Royal Society for Asian Affairs; and the Commonwealth Countries League.
Dr Chris Nonis articulated the depth of passion, and sense of duty of HM Queen Elizabeth, for the Commonwealth. He warmly welcomed Their Royal Highnesses, Prince Charles and the Duchess, to Sri Lanka, and spoke about how Prince Charles had visited over 30 Commonwealth countries, represented the Queen at the Commonwealth Games, and visited Sri Lanka in 1998 for the 50th Celebration of Sri Lanka’s Independence, and two months following the Tsunami in 2005. He spoke of two of the Prince’s Trusts which are working in Sri Lanka, Youth Business International; and the British Asian Trust, of which Dr Chris Nonis said he was privileged to be heading the Sri Lanka Advisory Council.
Peter Callaghan, Director General of the Commonwealth Business Forum, made a presentation on the Commonwealth Business Forum. He highlighted that several Commonwealth Heads had already confirmed they would be speaking at the Forum, which was expecting over 1000 delegates, in addition to their attendance at CHOGM. He also spoke about the economic value that would accrue in the wake of the CBF in Colombo, and the quantum of investments that have arisen from previous Commonwealth Business Forums held in Africa, the Caribbean countries and Australia. He also discussed the proposals for investment available in Sri Lanka and the potential for expansion of all sectors and pan-commonwealth trade.
Dr Nonis thanked all those who had taken the trouble to go and see for themselves the progress in Sri Lanka, and welcomed all those present to CHOGM or the three parallel Fora, the Commonwealth Business Forum; Commonwealth Youth Forum; and Commonwealth People’s Forum, and join in Sri Lanka’s renaissance.
“We are enormously proud of you. We admire you not only for what you do for Sri Lankan cricket, but also for all of us in Sri Lanka,” the High Commissioner said as he warmly welcomed the Sri Lankan Cricket team.
The team participating in the ICC Championship Trophy 2013 was felicitated at a reception at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London. Captain of the team, Anjelo Mathews, and Manager of the team, Michael de Zoysa also addressed the gathering. High Commissioners of several Commonwealth countries, cricket enthusiasts, and Members of Parliament were present to felicitate the team in the true spirit of the Commonwealth.
The High Commissioner said that cricket players are an inspiration to the youth of the country. He added that although ‘cricket’ is a simple word, it is certainly one of those that arouses the passion and emotion of all Sri Lankans. He recalled that Sri Lanka won the World Cup during the time of the terrorist conflict, demonstrating the resilience, resolve, integrity and fortitude of the Sri Lankan people.
He further said that the Sri Lankan cricket team is a microcosm of Sri Lanka, reflecting the diversity and heterogeneity of the country. “The unity, teamwork and sportsmanship of the cricket team exemplifies the values and aspirations of all Sri Lankans,” he said.
“In the post-conflict era, Sport can be a strong unifier amongst all communities and rises above those who still seek to divide our people, and it is this spirit we see in Sri Lankan cricket,” he said. He congratulated the team for their perseverance and dedication and that it was a great tribute to Sri Lanka in the post-conflict era.
Sri Lanka's post-conflict measures at reconciliation, rehabilitation, reintegration, and reconstruction were highlighted by High Commissioner Dr Chris Nonis during an interview on BBC World News today.
Asked by BBC presenter Mishal Husain what positive developments have occurred in the last four years since the end of the 26 year conflict, Dr Nonis said 297,000 people rescued from the clutches of the LTTE have been rehabilitated, in perhaps the largest hostage rescue operation in global history.
“After a 28 year bitter and internecine conflict with the terrorists we finally achieved peace in the country under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. There is a billion dollar programme going into the North and East, Negenahira Navodaya, and Uthura Vasanthaya which is building the lives and infrastructure of the people. Eleven thousand six hundred LTTE cadres are now being rehabilitated", Dr Nonis told the BBC World News programme "Impact".
"I have met these kids. They were cruelly snatched by Prabhakaran from their parents, and they were fighting but they didn't know what they were fighting for. It is so wonderful to see them receiving vocational training, being rehabilitated and re-integrated into society," the High Commissioner said.
On the question of an international independent process to assess progress as called for by the UN, the High Commissioner said that one needs to draw a distinction between an international process and an independent process.
He said “We respect the Sovereign rights of Britain, and of every other country, and we expect you to respect ours. We are a sovereign and an independent state and naturally we expect the same courtesy that you would expect us to apply for your country.”
“We do have an independent inquiry and many people who initially criticised the LLRC process changed their views when they actually saw the 388-paged document. It was modelled on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. It was set within the Principle of International Humanitarian Law, incorporating the Principle of Distinction and the Principle of Proportionality. “The Commission is moving forward and there is significant progress”.
Questioned on refugees and persecution, Dr Nonis said “I would say there are many people who for various different reasons come and seek asylum, and I think what we have to separate, is those who seek asylum as economic refugees, from those who seek asylum as political refugees” – You must remember the demography of the country, the majority of Tamil people actually live in the Centre and South of Sri Lanka, if you look at Colombo, its roughly a 30-30-30 percent split between Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim. We have a huge dichotomy or disjuncture in perception between what is portrayed here and the reality of contemporary Sri Lanka”.
Asked by Mishal Husain “ How many years would it take to say that we are now reconciled”, Dr Nonis pointed to South Africa and the post-apartheid period where there are still substantial issues and to Northern Ireland where, despite the "Good Friday" Agreement, there are still issues. "In comparison, I think we have done pretty well," he said reiterating that it is only four years since the military defeat of the LTTE.
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales with Dr. Chris Nonis at the CHOGM 2007, Kampala, Uganda
The Royal Household today confirmed that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Heir to the Throne, will represent Her Majesty the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka this November. HRH Prince Charles has previously represented The Queen as Head of the Commonwealth in the past, including at the Commonwealth Games 2010.
Her Majesty celebrated her 87th Birthday this April, and unfortunately had to cancel her attendance at the Commonwealth Day celebration in March this year at London’s Westminster Abbey after many years, due to Her Majesty being indisposed, and having been recently hospitalised.
Buckingham Palace stated that this decision reflects the wish of Her Majesty at this time in her reign to limit her long distance travel. In addition, several other members of the Royal Family represented Her Majesty on a number of long-haul visits to Commonwealth countries during the celebrations of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee last year.
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has always taken an active interest in supporting and encouraging the Commonwealth and its values, and attended the 2007 CHOGM in Kampala, Uganda. Whilst paying enormous tribute to Her Majesty’s continuing dedication and deep sense of duty to the Commonwealth, Sri Lanka warmly welcomes His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, to Colombo, Sri Lanka, for CHOGM 2013.