Given the current domestic and external developments, managing Sri Lanka’s foreign relations effectively is of paramount importance in order to protect and promote the interests of the Sri Lankan State and the welfare and advancement of the country’s people here and abroad.
I table for the record my full statement, that comprehensively addresses the progress made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the bilateral, regional, multilateral and functional spheres and also provides information on new initiatives undertaken to operationalize the re-orientation of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy.
- Re-structuring of the Foreign Ministry and Missions Abroad
The Ministry’s administration has been sought to be restructured in 2019 under 15 Directorates General, to reflect the current requirements of the country’s foreign policy and streamline delivery. Of special note, is the bifurcation of the Overseas Administration Division (OAD), into Human Resources & Mission Management and Overseas Assets Management & Development.
In 2018, the Foreign Ministry also extended Sri Lanka’s diplomatic network by opening a new Consulate General in Nicosia, Cyprus, the formal opening at which I participated in March 2019.
Recruitment, training, posting and promotion are also a matter of concern. While the Sri Lanka Foreign Service (SLFS) has an approved cadre of 261 we have only 188 officers at present. Systematic and regular recruitment is needed in order for the Foreign Ministry to function effectively. The 2018 Intake to the Sri Lanka Foreign Service (SLFS) consisting of 20 Officers assumed duties on 2nd May 2018.
As the Ministry strives to enhance the professionalism of its cadres, especially of the Sri Lanka Foreign Service, it is also important that we ensure the primacy of the professional Sri Lanka Foreign Service officers in appointments to missions abroad. In this context, the disparity between career Foreign Service officers and those politically appointed to Sri Lanka Missions abroad is being addressed.
Evaluation of the overall performance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its 53 Missions and 14 Consulates/Posts Overseas was introduced in 2018. In 2019 Missions Abroad and Divisions within the Ministry are being evaluated more critically. They will each be assigned priorities with targets and KPIs on which they will be judged, in order that we could rationalize the service rendered by them. We are undertaking a thorough review as to where our presence is needed most, in order to fulfill our strategic objectives.
- Consular Affairs
One of the most important interfaces of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the general public is its Consular Affairs Division. In order for the Ministry to provide better and more efficient consular services, a new digital system was introduced in early 2017 that provided fully automated, prompt and efficient as well as interactive services to the public. The Ministry also implemented programmes aimed at improving the consular services provided through the Sri Lanka Missions abroad especially to migrant workers and their families. The Ministry opened its second regional consular office in Matara in February 2019. This follows a similar office being established in Jaffna in 2017.
Integrated Consular Mobile Services (ICMS) have been conducted in Kilinochchi and Mannar. The signing of a MOU with the Ministry of Home Affairs on 16 August 2018, has decentralized the document attestation process offering this service at divisional secretariats.
Our Missions are also embarking on a fast track approach in facilitating the issuance of new passports availing of a courier service, conscious that delays in receiving these documents could lead to loss of job and other opportunities for Sri Lankans abroad. Presently this is being operationalized as a pilot project through our Consulate General in Dubai.
- Relations with the UN and other Multilateral and Regional Organizations
Sri Lanka remains a strong proponent of multilateralism, within the United Nations and as an active member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Commonwealth, the G-77, other multilateral fora. Our active engagement with regional bodies such as the European Union, the Commonwealth, SAARC, BIMSTEC, ASEAN, IORA, Bali Process, Asia Cooperation Dialogue, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, among others, has demonstrated the transparent and constructive engagement of the Government through its foreign relations at all levels. Sri Lanka is currently chair of BIMSTEC, the lead coordinator of the Maritime Safety and Security Pillar of IORA, has obtained full membership of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in August 2018, and efforts are being made to obtain Sectoral Dialogue Member Status with ASEAN.
Demonstrating its longstanding commitment to disarmament, Under Sri Lanka’s Presidency at the Conference of Disarmament (CD) in January/February 2018, consensus decision (CD 2119) was adopted to establish five subsidiary bodies related to the core issues of CD Agenda, ending a stalemate that had existed for 22 years. Sri Lanka was also elected by acclamation as Chair of the Meeting of State Parties on the Convention of Cluster Munitions Meeting in March 2018.
With regard to promoting development in the fields of Science and Technology, the Ministry has played a pivotal role in coordinating WIPO and CERN.
Taking note of the important contribution that our migrant workers make to the national budget, the Ministry through its Permanent Missions in Geneva and New York was actively involved with the Process of Global Compact on Migration that was adopted in December 2018, providing a voluntary governance framework for managing migration.
An important contribution that Sri Lanka has been making for over five decades is our modest role in UN Peacekeeping efforts. Key among these developments is the deployment to Mali, where some of our troops have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of global peace and security.
Sri Lanka was also successful in its bid for election to the Intergovernmental Committee on Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of UNESCO for the term 2018 -2022. Sri Lanka obtained 122 votes in support of its candidature.
As part of its Buddhist Diplomacy, under the leadership of President Sirisena Sri Lanka is initiating an important diplomatic endeavour towards the Theravada Tripitakaya being recognized as world heritage through registration in the UNESCO Memory of the World Index , with the assistance of all the Buddhist countries in the world. This diplomatic effort commenced with a dignified ceremony at the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy on 23 March 2019, when President Maithripala Sirisena handed over the proposal seeking to declare the Theravada Tripitaka, the sacred scripture of Buddhists, as a UNESCO World Heritage to the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Hanaa Singer. This historic moment followed a week of commemorative events nationally and throughout the network of Sri Lanka Missions overseas, through which international awareness was created of this historic initiative.
With a view to heightening cooperation relating to Combating terrorism, other transnational crimes and the rise of violent extremism, in 2019 the Counter Terrorism Unit in the Ministry has been revived to coordinate more closely between the defence, law enforcement authorities, other relevant agencies and our missions abroad on counter terrorism and counter crime initiatives. This includes most importantly, coordinated efforts to continue the proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist organization by foreign governments. In this context, the Ministry has continued its dialogue with the European Union (EU) on counter–terrorism measures, including providing input towards the EU’s review of proscribed terrorist organizations.
In the sphere of Climate Change, Sri Lanka remains committed towards achieving the goals set by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. During the recently concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in London, Sri Lanka pledged to champion the Action Group for the Restoration of Mangroves under the Commonwealth Blue Charter. The 18thmeeting of the State Parties to the CITES will be hosted by Sri Lanka this year. In this regard, the Ministry continues to liaise with related local stakeholders and the CITES Secretariat on the extensive preparations for the meeting.
Global power is transitioning from the West to the East underpinned by the rise of the Asian economies and Asia is being re-configured in terms of these transitions. The foremost theatre of this transition is the Indian Ocean, which has emerged as one of the world’s busiest and most critical trade corridors. The Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change division of the Foreign Ministry has been established to enhance specific foreign policy focus in these areas. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Ranil Wicremasinghe, the Ministry was instrumental in convening a track 1.5 dialogue titled “The Indian Ocean: Defining Our Future” in October 2018 with the participation of over 300 delegates from 40 Indian Ocean littoral states and major maritime users. We will be working towards a Ministerial Conference in mid-2019 that aims at formalizing certain norms that have been set during previous discussions. These efforts will not only contribute towards peace and security in the Indian Ocean Region but will reaffirm Sri Lanka’s position as a norm setting stakeholder in the region with the ability to lead on issues of mutual interest.
Sri Lanka’s relations with the EU has continued on its upward trajectory in 2018 and in the first few months of 2019. Regular dialogues have taken place under EU–SL Joint Commission in January 2018 and February 2019 covering a wide array of issues. Sri Lanka has also initiated dialogue with the EU on the increase of GSP+ concession utilization, so that the facility could benefit all levels of exporters, and thereby contribute to the economic growth of the country.
The Sri Lanka delegation led by H.E. the President participated in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in April 2018in London. The Commonwealth Secretary General undertook her maiden visit to Sri Lanka from 1stto 4thAugust 2018 since assuming duties in 2016. The Commonwealth SecretaryGeneral has commended Sri Lanka’s initiatives under the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) to restore 10ha of forestland that was degraded due to conflict and natural disaster such as droughts.
- Bilateral Relations
- Economic Affairs
The Economic Affairs Division of the Foreign Ministry launched the Economic Diplomacy Programme (EDP) in mid-2018 by serving as a catalyst in promoting linkages between key government institutions and the private sector responsible for trade, investment, tourism and foreign employment, and Sri Lanka missions abroad. As documented in the publication before you, this programme includes; setting economic indicators and performance targets for missions in the economic promotion in selected markets; the Sri Lanka Foreign Relations and Economic Diplomacy Dialogue for mid-career diplomats from selected countries; and embarking on a number of pilot projects spanning a multitude of sectors. We also envision public diplomacy being a tool used for better engagement with Overseas Sri Lankans and a valuable asset in times of emergencies.
- Public Diplomacy
The Ministry has also taken several initiatives to enhance its public outreach. As an initial step, the Public Diplomacy Division of the Ministry is being revamped and strengthened with additional resources and staff to be responsive to the current developments. With a view to enhancing the skills of its personnel, especially of nineteen recently recruited officers to the Sri Lanka Foreign Service, a two-week Public Diplomacy training programme was organized in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Press Institute in December 2018/ January 2019. The Ministry is in the process of developing a comprehensive Public Diplomacy policy in the form of a manual that could be used by the Ministry and Sri Lanka Missions overseas, particularly in effective public communications and use of recent social media tools.
- Policy Planning & Research
Identifying a serious lacuna in research based formulation of foreign policy, the Ministry established the Policy Planning and Research Division in 2019. The objective of establishing this division is to undertake research, provide analyses on issues of contemporary global relevance, develop policy briefs on specific aspects of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy and undertake assessments of existing policies which would contribute to the long term strategic planning of the Foreign Ministry. In the short to medium term, the Policy Planning and Research Division will also work towards formulating a Foreign Policy White Paper. This is expected to be an all-encompassing policy statement with an actionable timeframe. It would involve all key stakeholders in foreign policy coming together and formulating a cohesive action plan that would deliver the optimum returns to the people of Sri Lanka in the international sphere.
The Policy Planning and Research Division of the Foreign Ministry also works in close cooperation with the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI) and the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute (BIDTI).
- Human Rights
Finally, with respect to our continuing engagement on Human Rights, as I have just returned from Geneva after attending the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, I am mindful that all my colleagues would want to hear of the outcome of our engagements. As you know, I was accompanied to the session by my Parliamentary colleague Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Governor of the Nothern Province Dr. Suren Raghavan, and senior officials including Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha, Additional Solicitor General Nerin Pulle, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva Ambassador A.L.A Azeez and Deputy Permanent Representative Samantha Jayasuriya. On the sidelines of the HRC, I also had the opportunity to engage bilaterally with the High Commissioner for Human Rights Madam Michelle Bachelet, Director General of the UN Office in Geneva Mr. Michael Moller, foreign Ambassadors and Representatives of UN Agencies in Geneva.
As the country concerned, Sri Lanka had the opportunity to respond to the update of the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) on Sri Lanka to the Council. I shared the significant progress made by Sri Lanka in ensuring human rights since 2017. The advances in the general human rights situation in Sri Lanka were commended in the High Commissioner’s Report (A/HRC/40/23) and also by member countries that joined the interactive dialogue.I also reiterated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieve reconciliation and the steps taken to pursue truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence.
In my address to the Human Rights Council and subsequently in a meeting we had with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, I raised our concerns with regard to certain erroneous information contained in her report with regard to the Mannar mass graves and the release of lands held by the military in the North and the East. I urged her of the importance of engaging closely with the relevant local institutions and independent bodies including the National Human Rights Commission in verifying facts on the ground.
While reconfirming Sri Lanka’s firm commitment to achieve reconciliation and promoting human rights as already undertaken by Sri Lanka in the Council as a responsible member of the international community, through our response to the OHCHR Report and co-sponsorship of the Resolution this year, we were also able to recalibrate the dynamics of our engagement and emphasize that transitional justice processes will be guided by the parameters set out in my statement, and firmly grounded in the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the domestic legal framework.
At this session Sri Lanka co-sponsored resolution 40/L.1 mandating an extension of two years until March 2021 to implement commitments undertaken in Resolution 30/1. In my statement to the Council I stressed the importance of 40/L.1 being fully owned by Sri Lanka. I explained the spirit in which Sri Lanka co-sponsored the resolution this year, as we did twice previously. We have no illusions on the political, legal and social barriers that have to be surmounted. Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of this year’s Resolution assures to all stakeholders, the Sri Lankan society at large, and to our interlocutors outside the country, that we will continue to move forward within the stated parameters, with a view to the ensure eventual closure of this issue.
Firmly based on the foremost tenet of our foreign policy of “Friendship with all; enmity with none”, my Ministry has taken considered efforts in the past years to advance the above outlined interests through a global network of relationships ranging from the East to the West, as well as through engagement with multilateral bodies, including the United Nations.
In conclusion, the Ministry will continue to conduct its foreign relations in an independent, forthright and non-aligned manner to promote and safeguard Sri Lanka’s interests abroad as well as protect Sri Lanka’s national interest, sovereignty and identity. These fundamental and crucial elements complement the goal of working towards greater prosperity for the country and the people of Sri Lanka.