September 22, 2023
Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs, and Constitutional Reforms
Ms. Wasantha Perera, Secretary, Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs, and Constitutional Reforms
Mr. J.J. Ratnasiri, Chairperson, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR)
Mr. Deepthi Lamahewa, Director General, ONUR
Distinguished guests, ambassadors and high commissioners, and the spirited youth and future of this nation:
As we convene today, a day after the world celebrated International Peace Day, let us not only celebrate peace as a concept but challenge ourselves to put it in action.
This is an opportune moment to reflect and act, particularly as we commemorate the 75th year of Sri Lanka’s independence as well as the diplomatic ties between the United States and Sri Lanka – a shared journey of growth, challenges, and mutual respect.
This week, world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. A lot was spoken about peace. But peace can be elusive, as we see from the brutal invasion of Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, highlighting how peace can exist one day and suddenly change and ultimately take years to be restored. Around the globe, we see more democracies under threat. Some threats are internal — from those who exploit resentments and stoke fears rather than promote understanding and peace.
Imagine a world in which societies celebrate and embrace their differences for the enrichment diversity brings instead of fighting over them as touchstones for dominance.
The United States remains committed to a shared vision for the future – a world that is open, free, prosperous, and secure. A world where individuals are living in peace, free in their daily lives, and can shape their own futures, their communities, their countries through democratic processes including timely, free and fair elections.
Divisions and challenges to peace occur in my own country as well, but we try to acknowledge that with humility and work with resolve to address them and become “a more perfect union,” and in our work globally, our non-government organization partners are essential to these efforts.
Through USAID, the U.S. Embassy is immensely proud to support initiatives like the Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Initiative. SCORE not only embodies the theme of today’s gathering – “Promoting National Actions for Peace” – but champions a cohesive national identity, paves the path for economic growth, and empowers our communities, especially the women and youth, to become beacons of peace.
Last month, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, who was here 50 years ago as the son of the U.S. Ambassador, visited Sri Lanka. Together, he and I met members of the Victoria Rural Fishermen Society in Kandy and inaugurated an inland fishing project with SCORE that helps the local village made up of a diverse community of different religions and backgrounds that is supported by SCORE. Because you see, we believe that peace can be achieved in many ways and bringing a community together around an economic growth opportunity can help do that.
SCORE’s work with the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, the Ministry of Justice, and grassroots leaders is admirable, and our efforts must continue to address the challenges at hand: the remnants of a three-decade-long conflict, the daunting economic crisis, and incidences of cultural and religious intolerance. We have a collective commitment to a resilient and harmonious Sri Lanka. Of course we couldn’t do any of this work without the strong partnership of the Ministry of Justice so I thank the Minister for his presence here today.
This event, with its vibrant exhibitions and student contributions, showcases all of us working together to build a united, peaceful, and prosperous Sri Lanka.
To the youth, you are the torchbearers of tomorrow. I am so inspired to see you here and encourage you to continue to engage, challenge, and reshape the narrative. Celebrate Sri Lanka’s cultural diversity and ensure your voice echoes in every corner of this nation. And to today’s leaders I encourage you to recognize, and empower the youth as the country’s future. Let us all be ambitious about the future – ambitious about economic stability, political stability, and building innovation; but also ambitious about safeguarding democracy and systemic change against corruption. Stability should not come at the sacrifice of the values of freedom of expression, whether through peaceful protest, expression through the arts, or through social media.
In closing, as we embrace the essence of today’s event and the promise of International Peace Day, let us not become complacent. Let us challenge ourselves, and each other, to not only strive for peace but to live it by our actions. Keep in mind these words of Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the great First Ladies of the United States, who said: “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
Today I pledge to continue to believe in peace and work at it with you for the lasting prosperity of Sri Lanka. Thank you.
Please note that the translations of the above remarks will be posted on this page later.