Speech delivered by Hon Dr Harsha de Silva, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs at the ANU South Asia Research Centre on 29th March 2017, during his official visit to Australia

Australia South Asia Research Centre Seminar
29th March 2017

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

• Good afternoon

• Even though he is not here due to overseas travel, let me first thank Prof Premachandra Athukorala for inviting me to this prestigious Australia South Asia Research Centre here at the Australian National University for this public seminar.

• I bring greetings from the people of Sri Lanka.

• As you know, our two countries have a long history of friendship.

• In fact, this year marks 70 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and Sri Lanka. Throughout this period, we have worked closely and we look forward to even closer and deeper ties.

• This afternoon, I will speak on the Topic “Sri Lanka in Transition: Challenges and Opportunities from an International Perspective”.

• I will focus more on the political and economic angles of the issue and layout the plan of action we have drawn up to arrive at a successful outcome.

Let us contextualize the problem so that it is easier to understand

• While Sri Lanka is an ancient nation, with 2,500 years of recorded history, it is also a relatively young nation approaching just 70 years since re-emerging as a sovereign country following almost five centuries of European colonialism.

• So, the question really is; having leveraged on what we inherited at independence, how have we done in that 70 years?

• Unfortunately, not too well.

• Last week I was in Switzerland briefly leading our delegation at the UN HRC sessions.

• There, I was thinking about what the British newspapers said when we obtained independence from Britain in 1948.

• We were expected to become the Switzerland of Asia.

• So what went wrong? Many things, but let me focus on the politics.

• Both are small in population and geographic extent. Both countries are steeped in history with distinct religious and ethnic groups.

The Swiss Constitution recognizes four national languages; German, French, Italian and Romansh.

• Each language has many regional dialects.

• In comparison, Sri Lanka has 2 national languages; Sinhala and Tamil and English as the link language.

• When we think of Sri Lanka, we first think of Sinhalese and Tamils.

• However, when you think about Switzerland, you don’t think about the different ethnic groups or languages.

• Rather you think about its attributes such as excellence for precision as in watch making or fine chocolates, or even it’s sometimes dubious distinction as a haven for foreign capital.

• Switzerland did not happen overnight. It came together over several centuries.

• And, I am not saying what works for Switzerland will work in Sri Lanka either.

• But, the important point is that the people in Switzerland; the Swiss, as in other stable plural societies, have found a system or a formula for what works for them.
• In Switzerland it is indeed called the “magic formula”: a political agreement for sharing government seats among the coalition partners which brings a large measure of political stability.

• Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t come up with a formula to hold our nation together and we suffered a prolonged conflict that claimed many tens of thousands of lives.

• Mothers lost sons, children lost fathers, wives lost husbands in battle. Besides the battlefront mothers and daughters too were killed in otherwise peaceful towns and cities.

• After almost 30 years of armed conflict, the guns finally went silent after the defeat of the LTTE.

• However, we didn’t seize the opportunity to come together as a nation and heal our divisions.

• Unfortunately the then government embarked on a divisive and authoritarian trajectory misappropriating the goodwill and mandate of the people.

• Calls for genuine reconciliation were ignored dividing the nation even further.

• However, in 2015, Sri Lankans of all communities demonstrated to the world the power of our democracy by changing the government, long considered to be undefeatable, by the power of the ballot.
• On 8th January 2015, President Sirisena was elected the Executive President on a policy platform of strengthening democracy and governance, rule of law and accountability, transparency and most of all reconciliation

• In 2015, the leaders of the two main parties realized that, despite their differences on many issues, the county was at a critical point where only determined, unified and long term thinking and action, could ensure stability and prosperity and save our future.

• Therefore, for the first time in our contemporary history, the two main political parties of Sri Lanka; the UNP and the SLFP, agreed to come together to form a national unity government.

• The coalition of tamil parties; the TNA became the main opposition yet supportive of the unity government.

• Despite many doubts and stresses the unity government has prevailed and we have achieved much; even though our progress maybe dismissed by those who do not understand the enormity of the challenges that we faced and continue to face.

• Let me assure you that we will strive do our best during the time allocated to us by the citizens of Sri Lanka who reaffirmed our mandate for the second time at the Parliamentary elections in August 2015

• I would like to stress that preserving the integrity and the direction of the unity government, in the face of the many factions who want to see us fail, is a challenge not only for the political parties concerned, but for the nation of Sri Lanka.

• In this context, let me highlight some our successes on the political front:

• We repealed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which removed the two-term limit of the Presidency and adopted the 19th Amendment which re-introduced the two-term limit of the Presidency.

• In addition, the 19th Amendment
– reduced the powers and the term of the Presidency from 6 to 5 years
– established a Constitutional Council,
– restored Independent commissions
– recognized the Right to Information as a fundamental right (this is operational now)
– and recognized the Promotion of National Reconciliation and Integration as duties of the President among others.

• The Parliament of Sri Lanka, in April 2016, unanimously adopted a Resolution to prepare a draft Constitutional Bill for the consideration of Parliament.

• We believe this as to be the best opportunity for us to achieve genuine and sustainable reconciliation.
• We want to ensure that this Constitution, unlike its predecessors, would reflect the true aspirations of our people through a Parliamentary process and referendum.

• Much of the preparatory work for the new constitution has now been completed. The 6 sub comittees appointed to look into the various aspects of the constitution have submitted their drafts to be considered by the steering committee; hopefully soon.

• Besides the work on the constitution, we drafted, through a consultative and inclusive process, of a National Human Rights Action Plan for the next five years beginning from this year.

• We set up a permanent Office on Missing Persons, and allocated resources.

• We also became a party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

• We moved forward the formulation of the Policy and Legal Framework of the proposed Counter Terrorism Act in keeping with accepted international practices.

• We restored the freedom of the press, ended censorship and invited exiled journalists to return to Sri Lanka.

• For a government in office for less than 2 years, since August 2015, this is a significant amount of achievements.
• In addition to delivering on our promises to the people at home, let me give you some background on the international processes we have undertaken to restore our credibility and reputation as a responsible member of the international community.

• The unity government ended the previous government’s policy of isolating itself from the international community and entered into a more proactive engagement with the world.

• I refer particularly to the UN Human Rights Council where repeated resolutions were brought against a non-responsive Sri Lanka on alleged violations of human rights during and after the conflict.

• We know from bitter experience that grievances or trauma that is left unaddressed doesn’t go away or are forgotten. They lie hidden until an opportunity presents itself for them to transform in to new cycles of grief or violence.

• So, If we fail to address grievances, we would be failing in our duty towards all Sri Lankans, to prevent a recurrence of conflict. Most importantly, we would be failing the victims and their families; be it Tamil or Sinhalese or Muslim.

• It is this realization that guided the government’s decision to co-sponsor the HRC Resolution 30/1 in October of 2015.

• However, this resolution and its contents have been seized by our critics to portray a misguided picture that the international community is out to take revenge from the Sri Lankan military for defeating the ruthless LTTE.

• Let me take a few minutes to explain.

• The Resolution addresses the Government’s four pillared approach of truth, accountability, reparations and non-recurrence.

• The content of the Resolution is based on commitments that we ourselves as a Government, made to our people, and proposals that we presented to the Council based on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Report and the Paranagama Commission Report, both of which predate our assumption of office and advice of our own experts.

• By co-sponsoring the HRC Resolution 30/1 Sri Lanka reasserted our commitment to human rights and willingness to work with international partners in addressing issues of concern.

• As in any democracy, there are divergent views within the government in respect of the proposed judicial mechanism in the HRC resolution.

• Some of our critics have sought to highlight such differences while forgetting that despite this divergence of opinions, the government is united on the need for an independent and credible domestic mechanism to address the contentious issues.
• As a democratic Government, we will work out the architecture of such a mechanism in consultation with all the stake holders.

• At the adoption of the HRC resolution at the 34th session of the HRC on 23rd march 2017, Sri Lanka clearly stated that we are striving to establish ‘Sri Lankan Government-led processes’ within our Constitution with international assistance, engagement and support for the benefit of all our citizens, without discrimination.

• For those who may be wondering about what our critics have been portraying; the possibility of a hybrid court with foreign judges sitting in judgment; let me be quite clear that there is absolutely no possibility for such a scenario as reiterated by both the President and PM.

• Having said that, I would like to stress that at the end of the day we need to have a mechanism that is victim centric. And whatever we do, those who suffered; be it Tamil or Sinhala must feel that their pain has been genuinely reduced.

• As you would now appreciate the challenges we face in the political sphere, particularly in transitional justice, are many.

• But, taking a positive view, one can see the opportunities themselves embedded in these challenges.

• Therefore, successfully dealing with the challenges we face would help us seize the opportunity to create a win-win situation for all; a sustainable peace for all Sri Lankans.

• Let me now turn my attention briefly to the economic issues we face.

• At almost USD 4,000 per capita we are a lower middle income economy. But this figure hides the complex nature of the challenges we face not be caught in a middle income trap.

• The two major issues we face are (1) low revenue to GDP and (2) low exports to GDP. These two issues together and the entitlement and subsidy culture have created a situation where the Government is stressed to the limit.

• I don’t plan to go in to depth here, nor discuss the revenue issue; but will lay out the structure of the primary export problem we face sticking to the international perspective in this talk.

• In fact, if we are able to crack the export challenge, then it will anyway become easier to deal with the rest upon necessary reforms in SOEs and subsidies.

• To put the problem in basic terminology, Sri Lanka has been growing, but it has been hitting speed bumps because our exports have not been growing sufficiently.

• The reality is that our Exports to GDP fell from about 34% in 2000 to about 12.5% by 2015. An astonishing fact.

• With expanding Trade deficits  CA deficits were not matched by Capital Account surpluses  resulting in Forex reserves dropping sharply and Growth slowing down.

• In fact, after a debt-fueled post war growth bubble that registered 9 and XXX growth in 2010 and 11, the pace slowed down to 3.5 and 4.5 in 2013 and 2014. 2015 was 4.5 and 2016 expected to be around the same range.

• So periodically, we have been going in for IMF programs to address BOP crises

• Why? With the lack of focus on exports, or in other words an inappropriate incentive structure to drive investments in to exports in the last 10 years or so, what we find is that the low export growth is structural and that is there has been a serious lack of ‘new exports’

• This means that we had not ‘diversified’ enough.

• We have been stuck producing ‘low value’ products except for the ‘outlier’ in certain apparels. In fact, if not for this ‘outlier’ particularly the big 3; MAS, Brandix and Hydramani and a few other niche players, Sri Lanka would have been in much deeper trouble.

• To give an example; while Vietnam in the last 10 years had introduced 45 new products at $545/per capita SL had only introduced 7 new products at $5/per capita.

• Our export basket looks more typical of a poor country than a middle income country.

• It is less complex and not balanced out by service exports. 75% of the products are similar to what is produced in the lowest quintile of countries; by income  that is normally low wage economies

• What this means is that Sri Lankan exports are quite vulnerable to competition and we could, with the exception of the ‘outlier’ subindustry we can get priced out if our cost of production continues to increase relative to others.

• Further; SL export basket is dominated by Buyer Driver products as opposed to producer driven products; meaning typically non-durables such as apparels and footwear etc as opposed to components for branded electronics or automobiles etc.

• Professor Athukorala has analyzed this issue comprehensively and brought to the attention of policy makers back home the need to urgently address the problem before it becomes critical.

• He and others have highlighted the need to attract FDI and establish branches of MN Enterprises to link SL with producer driven GPN.

• They have shown the need to move away from arms-length type sourced production relationships to more solid integrated relationships that are sustainable.

• To do any of this, we must first link up with the world.

• It is in this context I will now talk a little about what our plans are.

• Beyond the UN, Sri Lanka is once again integrating with the world guided by a strong democratic foundation and a balanced policy of international relations.

• Our focus is on Economic Diplomacy.

• In a world where even some of the major players seem to be moving towards protectionism, we will continue to strive towards greater trade.

• For us, to establish our presence in GPNs trade is paramount and we are of the strong view that Sri Lanka’s future lies in how well we integrate with the world and use our geo-strategic location to our advantage.

• In this context, we are repositioning ourselves to maximise our relationships with both our historic and new trading partners; both in the West and East.

• We are on track to regain the GSP + concessions from the EU that we lost in 2010, on human rights concerns.
• We hope to hear the good news by 15 May that will give 6,600 Sri Lankan products complete duty free access to the EU opening up brand new opportunities for investors to locate in Sri Lanka.

• Besides GSP+, we are currently discussing potential Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with several other countries.

• In particular, we are working towards finalizing the Economic Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India by 2017.

• The ETCA will enhance the scope of our existing India Sri Lanka FTA to extend freer movement of goods and also services with the added emphasis on investments.

• Fear mongering among some have made the progress slow, but let me emphasize that we will ensure that the agreement we finally enter in to will certainly be asymmetric and be beneficial to both Sri Lankan consumers and producers.

• And that we will ensure necessary safeguards.

• The ECTA will provide an impetus to the existing synergies and has the potential to benefit from the rapid growth of the five South Indian states, that is Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andra and Telengana which today accounts for and economy of nearly 500 billion dollars.

• We are also negotiating a FTA with China, but that is still in early stages.
• The first FTA to materialize will be the one with Singapore, which is mainly geared towards the provision of a level of comfort for the envisaged large investments in multiple sectors including services.

• I expect that this FTA will come in to force in the next few months.

• The other major area of discussion in terms of global integration is with that of China.

• In continuation of the historical role we have played in the Maritime Silk Route, Sri Lanka is supporting the One Belt – One Road economic initiative.

• Under this initiative we are currently negotiating to enter into an long lease agreement with China Merchant Port company to put in to use the USD 1.3 billion Hambantota port that is currently making enormous losses.

• In fact, the success will ultimately lie in the establishment of the proposed Industrial zone that would help us address the issues pointed out by Prof Athukorale and others in terms of linking up with producer driven GPNs.

Sri Lanka is in a way lucky.

• We have perhaps the most enviable geo strategic location advantage in the Indian Ocean.
• From our location in the Spice Routes as the half way point between the two great empires of Rome and China Sri Lanka possessed strategic geographical advantages in the ancient world.

• Exports of spices, particularly cinnamon, became an increasingly lucrative activity. During the period 13th-15th centuries, Sri Lanka’s position as a trade hub on the East-West maritime route had been established, as had its position as a gateway to India. Sri Lanka had direct commercial links with Malacca, and also with regions in India such as Gujarat and Bengal.

• However after 500 years of colonial dictates and thereafter post-colonial cold war concerns the global economic balance of power is once again shifting towards Asia.

• It is estimated that by 2030, Asia will surpass North America and Europe combined in global power based on GDP, population size, military spending and technological investments.

• Sri Lanka’s challenge is now to capitalize on our location and transform nation as the true hub of the Indian Ocean.

• We are focusing on defining the two development corridors across the country – this will be a focal area for investment by the public and the private sector.

• They will correspond to the two distinct halves of the country irrigated by the two monsoons.
• (1) The South-Western corridor will have as its major axis the proposed Kandy-Colombo highway linked to the existing Southern highway. This region has the strongest potential to link up with global value chains, because of its close proximity to the Katunayake airport and the Colombo harbour. This project envisages:

• Creating a Megapolis Development Authority to develop the entire Western Megapolis-an urban area of over 8 ½ million people.

• Colombo is one of the nicest cities in the region with emerging opportunities in real estate and leisure. We have hopes to transform Colombo into a uniquely Sri Lankan, modern, cosmopolitan city—the most livable city in the Indian Ocean region. This would involve integrated planning, transition to mass transit, transforming housing, enabling private investment and leadership, and strengthening governance.

• A brand new financial city centre that will be based at the new reclaimed land development project alongside the Port of Colombo. Under this scheme, a US$ 1.4 billion reclamation is now underway adjacent to the city of Colombo for the creation of a 560 acre Financial City, under English law, to fill the vacuum for offshore financial service between Singapore and Dubai.

• With the strong interest in utilizing the zones along the Southwest Corridor centered around the Colombo port and the Western Megapolis; logistics and industrial zone centered around the Hambantota air-sea hub and the North East corridor centered around the Trincomlee port development by investors from China, Korea, and Japan and also likely from India, we plan to create an export market focused on Europe, China, Japan and USA and the crescent of markets around the Indian Ocean.

• Among the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia there exists a fast-growing population currently of over 2 billion people. This combined market has the potential of 3 billion consumers by 2050.

• (2) The second North-Eastern development corridor will connect the Eastern Province and the North Central Province to Jaffna linking the Trincomalee Port City to the Rajarata.

For those who didn’t know, Sri Lanka is home to the second largest natural harbor in the world in Trincomalee; said to be one of the finest deep sea harbors in the world. We have now initiated action to develop the port cenetred the larger Trinco development zone. The proposed container terminal at the Trincomalee Port will serve trade in India’s east coast as well as Bangladesh and Myanmar.
• The government is working with India and Japan to develop Trincomalee with SurbanaJurong of Singapore already being contracted to draw up a city master plan.

• As touched upon earlier, we have recently inaugurated the 15,000 acre (50 square kilometer) ‘Sri Lanka China Logistics and Industrial Zone’ to become a serious player in producer driven global production networks.

• It was revealed at the inauguration that Chinese investors were ready to bring in 5 billion USD in investments in to the zone in just the next 3 years.

• Chinese investors have made significant commitments to invest equity in the Hambantota port and the Mattala international airport that the previous Government built.

• The economic cooperation with Japan is as important to us.

• Japan is once again also getting involved in several major infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka including Light Rail and expressways. The Japanese Prime Minister has also appointed a senior official to especially coordinate Japanese Sri Lanka Joint Comprehensive Partnership Programme that was entered in to last year.

• Before I conclude, let me say a few words about our bilateral ties.

• Australia is special to us as so many Sri Lankans have come to Australia in search of better opportunities, for themselves and their families. They; you, have worked hard and many of you have excelled in your chosen fields. You have adapted well and become part of the vibrant, multicultural landscape of this country.

• Australia is also a favoured destination for Sri Lanka students with over 5,500 Sri Lankans studying at Australian universities.

• Therefore, we welcome Australia’s support and cooperation at this important stage of our country’s history, a period of transition when we are striving to overcome challenges and seize opportunities.

• Thank you.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Harsha de Silva invites Australia to establish long term collaboration in area of natural resources and assist Sri Lanka with its first ever survey of mineral resources

IMG_3085 (1)

The Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva, on a visit to Australia last week on an invitation extended by the Australian Government under their Special Visitor Program sought to utilise the expertise of Australia which is one of the world’s leading explorers of minerals and metals, to expand the investment opportunities in the mineral sector of Sri Lanka. The discussions on the mineral industry were among the several agenda items for the Deputy Minister’s visit which sought to develop collaborative and innovative relationships between the two countries. The Deputy Minister was following up on the discussions relating to the visit of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in February 2017.

The need for mapping of Sri Lanka’s mineral resources which has never been done was discussed during the Prime Minister’s visit. The Deputy Minister held discussions with officials of GeoScience Australia which is the repository of data on Australia’s natural resources. He pointed out that an island wide survey of Sri Lanka’s mineral resources is a prerequisite for Sri Lanka to utilise the potential of the mineral industry and get investors interested in establishing linkages from Sri Lanka to global production networks. GeoScience Australia responded positively regarding bringing Australia’s experiences and expertise to Sri Lanka and undertaking a needs assessment visit.

In Canberra, the Deputy Minister called on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the Minister for International Development Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells where a range of issues of bilateral interest and concern were discussed. Foreign Minister Bishop expressed support for the Government’s reconciliation efforts and conveyed Australia’s appreciation for Sri Lanka’s cooperation in combatting people smuggling. Both Ministers highlighted the contribution made by the Sri Lankan community in Australia and who possess expertise and skills that can be harnessed for development work in their country of birth.

In Melbourne, the Deputy Minister visited the Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the Australian Synchrotron which is a world-class research facility that uses accelerator technology to develop scientific applications in sectors from medicine and nanotechnology to manufacturing and mineral exploration. The Deputy Minister invited the scientific leadership at the Australian Synchrotron to focus on finding root causes of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) which is affecting several tens of thousands, mainly farmers, in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka.

During discussions with Asialink at Melbourne University, the Deputy Minister reached an agreement to send teachers at Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte Maha Vidyalaya who are piloting Sri Lanka’s first ever “cloud smart classroom” on a tour to Australia to learn from Australian practitioners about applying technology in the classroom.

The Deputy Minister also met with officials of the Business Council of Australia in Melbourne and discussed a proposal to prepare a presentation to be shared with the top 100 Australian CEOs about the opportunities for investment in Sri Lanka. He also discussed expansion plans of Sri Lankan operations of KOOKAI, an Australian owned fashion label which has a significant presence in Sri Lanka.

During the visit the Deputy Minister had two speaking engagements where he delivered a public seminar titled “Sri Lanka in Transition: Opportunities and Challenges” at the South Asia Research Centre of the Australian National University in Canberra and a Roundtable Discussion at Asialink, Melbourne University with academics, INGOs, and business community.

Deputy Minister was accompanied by High Commissioner Somasundaram Sakandakumar and Consuls General in Sydney and Melbourne, Lal Wickrematunga and Prasanna Gamage to the meetings.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka

4th April 2017

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A group of Treasury Officials visit High Commission

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A group of 25 officials from the Ministry of Finance were in Canberra for a week long Executive Training Program on Strengthening the Public Policy Making Process at ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy. The delegation was led by Deputy Secretary to the Treasury S.R. Atygalle and comprised 25 officers at the Director Level or equivalent, from sectors including the Fiscal Policy, Treasury Operations and Development Finance departments. The delegation visited the Sri Lanka High Commission with representatives from the Crawford School on 21 March and was hosted to dinner by High Commissioner S. Skandakumar.

Remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva at Interactive Dialogue at the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council

Remarks by
Hon. Dr Harsha de Silva, MP., Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights
34th Session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva, 22 March 2017

Mr. President
High Commissioner
Deputy High Commissioner
Ladies and Gentlemen

I thank the High Commissioner for the presentation of his Report in which many of the achievements made by Sri Lanka during the period concerned have been acknowledged.

As this Council is aware, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Hon. Mangala Samaraweera addressed this Council on the 28th of February on behalf of the Government, and outlined what we have achieved in terms of Resolution 30/1 and beyond, what still remains to be done, and the challenges that we face in the process.

Most importantly, he stressed that Sri Lanka’s resolve to the reconciliation process has not diminished. He said – with the help of all our citizens in all walks of life, our friends and partners in the international community, and Sri Lankans overseas; with patience, understanding, and constant and consistent effort and perseverance; we strongly believe that we can make the reconciliation process a success, and establish a progressive and united society, working in harmony to take our nation towards new heights of socio-economic development.

I take this opportunity today, to reiterate our resolve and reaffirm our commitment to the reconciliation process and commitments articulated in Resolution 30/1.

As the Council is aware, Sri Lanka has been working with the United States and the other main co-sponsors of 30/1, UK, Macedonia, and Montenegro, on a Resolution for a two-year extension of the timeline for fulfilment of commitments made in Resolution 30/1. We are pleased to announce that Sri Lanka will be co-sponsoring this Resolution, and we thank the Council, the UN, and our bilateral partners for their support to strengthen reconciliation in Sri Lanka, and for this extension of the timeline.

We are especially appreciative that the Council, in recognition of the firm commitment of the National Unity Government to the process of reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, endorsed the proposals made by the Government in 2015, for credible ‘Government of Sri Lanka-led’ processes embodied in Resolution 30/1.

Mr. President,

We work closely with the High Commissioner and his Office and we are committed to continuing this constructive and meaningful engagement for the benefit of all our people. The views, observations and recommendations of the High Commissioner are useful, as we work to strengthen, promote, and protect human rights, good governance, and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

This Council knows that no country’s human rights record is perfect. It is always work-in-progress. The people of Sri Lanka have been through extremely difficult and painful times, and although much has been done, there is much still left to do, including strengthening our institutions and achieving economic progress. There are multiple challenges that we face. But, as a responsible and committed Government, under the leadership of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, we are determined to stay the course. We will listen to all, we will study all reports carefully, we will exchange information, share our concerns and comments, engage constructively and meaningfully with our partners, and take the necessary steps required to ensure that Sri Lanka is a nation that is prosperous, united in its diversity, upholding human rights, justice, and the rule of law.

We remain firm in our resolve to enhance the fundamental rights of all citizens as equals in a free and democratic country, where fear and intimidation have no place. We are committed to the reconciliation agenda including truth, reparations, justice and non-recurrence with a victim-centred approach, recognising the impact of conflict on all our citizens, irrespective of their communities of origin, gender, social status, age and other identities.

As we go through the complex process of establishing new mechanisms, we are considering the Report of the Consultation Task Force, and we will continue to consult with all segments of our society. We will also seek international expertise and assistance, as all countries do, when they undertake such responsibilities.

We request the support of all Council Members and Observers to help Sri Lanka succeed in this transformative and challenging agenda that we have undertaken, including economic development, that plays an important role in ensuring the success of the reconciliation agenda.

Thank you. 

Text in Sinhala            Text in Tamil 


Environmentalist and Wild Life enthusiast Srilal MIththapala gave a talk on Sri Lankan Elephants, Wildlife and Tourism at the Sri Lanka High Commission in Canberra on Friday 17th March.

Wildlife enthusiasts and members of the Canberra public who came to listen to Mr Miththapala appreciated very much the informative presentation which provided an overall view of Sri Lanka’s tourism with a special focus on wildlife.

Sri Lanka is home to the largest animal on land, the elephant, and the largest mammal on earth, the Blue Whale, as well as the Sri Lankan Leopard and Sloth Bear. Despite its small size, Sri Lanka is an island with rich bio diversity and is home to a large number of species that are endemic to Sri Lanka.

The highlight of the presentation was the Sri Lankan elephant: Elephas maximus maximus,, which is one of the three recognised sub species of the Asian elephant and is native to Sri Lanka.

Mr Miththapala described the quasi-religious status of the elephant in Sri Lankan society: elephant behaviour: and the importance of this animal to Sri Lanka’s wildlife and tourism industry.

He concluded by discussing the issues surrounding human elephant conflict resulting from the decreasing forest cover and human settlements in elephant habitats.

The full presentation can be viewed here:

Correction: Slide 2 – Languages: Sinhala (official) Tamil (official)

DFAT wins the 50th Anniversary match for the General Anton Muttukumaru trophy at Duntroon

The 50th anniversary cricket match for the General Anton Muttukumaru trophy, which is played between the Commonwealth represented by Canberra based High Commissions and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was won by the DFAT team at Duntroon on Sunday 19th March 2017. The match is jointly organised by the Royal Commonwealth Society, Sri Lanka High Commission and DFAT.

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President holds bilateral discussions with several leaders during IORA Summit


President Maithripala Sirisena met with several heads of state and other leaders during his participation at the Indian Ocean Rim Association Leaders’ Summit held today (07) in Jakarta, Indonesia.

During these meetings the President drew his special attention to further strengthen the trade and economic relations between Sri Lanka and those countries, and the leaders who met the President today assured their fullest support to Sri Lanka which move forward with new plans.

First, the President met with the Indian Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari.During the meeting the Indian Vice President expressed his happiness over the forward march of the India-Sri Lanka relations in a fresh sphere under the leadership of the President Maithripala Sirisena.He also pledged to provide full assistance for the development works of Sri Lanka as a friendly neighboring country.

He further said that the initiatives taken by the President Sirisena to establish peace and reconciliation among communities while build the country as an independent and sovereign state,is an exemplary process.

The President expressed his gratitude for donating rice to Sri Lanka, as part of drought relief for the country .

Later, the President met with the South Africa President Jacob Zuma. During the meeting, both leaders discussed ways to strengthen Sri Lanka- South Africa ties, and the President appreciated the assistance extended to Sri Lanka by South Africa in international fora.

South Africa President commended the initiatives taken by the President Sirisena to establish sustainable peace in Sri Lanka. The South Africa President Jacob Zuma promised to provide every possible assistance to Sri Lanka in international affairs as well as other sectors.

The President also met with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The Australian Prime Minister stated that Australia has been a long-term consistent friend to Sri Lanka and the frequent meetings between the leaders of the two countries further strengthen those relations.

During the meeting it was discussed regarding the development works of the energy sector of the country and the Australian Prime Minister pledged to provide required technical assistance to Sri Lanka in this regard.

He also said that the Australia is ready to move forward with Sri Lanka in the fields of the economic and trade. The Australian Prime Minister also extended an invitation to the President to visit Australia.

Subsequently, the President met with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. During the meeting both leaders stressed the importance of strengthening the ties between the two countries and she further said that Bangladesh is ready to enter into new economic and trade relations with Sri Lanka. President Sirisena also said that he will send a special team to Bangladesh to explore the ways in enhancing the trade and economic relations between the two countries.

President Sirisena also expressed his happiness over effective workings of the initiatives that has been taken with Bangladesh in relation to the health sector of the country when he was the Health Minister.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina invited the President to visit Bangladesh.







Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka paid an official visit to Australia from 13 -17 February 2017 at the invitation of Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia, accompanied by Hon. Wijith Wijayamuni Zoysa, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Management, Hon. Arjuna Ranatunga, Minister of Ports and Shipping and Hon. (Dr). Harsha de Silva, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Prime Minister Turnbull warmly welcomed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe on his first official visit to Australia to mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

Prime Ministers underlined our strong historical ties, common values and shared interests – including a commitment to democracy, the rule-of-law, and support for a stable, liberal rules-based international order.

Prime Ministers commended the sustained efforts of both nations to build on these foundations to realise the benefits of closer cooperation. They welcomed strong achievements, particularly in countering people smuggling and strengthening people-to-people links. They underlined new opportunities to expand the economic relationship presented by Sri Lanka’s ambitious economic reform agenda, deeper integration with the global economy and progress toward becoming an important Indian Ocean economic hub.

Prime Minister Turnbull commended Sri Lanka on its strong economic growth and considerable progress toward national reconciliation since the end of the conflict in 2009. As a close friend and Indian Ocean neighbour, Australia will continue to stand with Sri Lanka on this journey, including through lending practical support for reconciliation measures.

Prime Ministers underlined the importance of continuing to counter the illegal people smuggling trade, which puts vulnerable peoples’ lives at risk and enriches criminal networks. They emphasised their commitment to detect and deter people smuggling ventures and to strengthen the close working relationship between agencies.

Prime Ministers reiterated our shared interest in regional stability. As Indo-Pacific neighbours, Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) members and trading nations, both countries benefited from a peaceful and secure maritime domain. Prime Ministers committed to closer cooperation and engagement in the Indo-Pacific to help create a more prosperous and secure region.

The Prime Ministers emphasised the significant opportunities of greater trade and economic integration in the Indo-Pacific region to both countries and their continued commitment to work together in building regional trade. In this regard, Prime Ministers noted the Kotte Statement on International Trade and Investment adopted by CHOGM 2013 in Colombo and welcomed opportunities to deepen trade and investment links.

Prime Ministers underlined opportunities to expand two-way trade and investment, particularly in agribusiness, mining, skills, tourism and energy.

Prime Ministers discussed new and growing opportunities for greater energy cooperation. They noted Sri Lanka’s changing energy requirements and that Australia was a major global energy supplier. Australian companies could play a role in securing energy supply to fuel the next stage of Sri Lanka’s economic development. They noted investment in energy infrastructure could be a major driver of economic growth in Sri Lanka in the future.

Prime Ministers noted strong and growing education ties, which boost the human capital of both countries. Many Australian education providers are active in Sri Lanka, including delivering high quality education and conducting research with local partners. Around 7,600 Sri Lankans are currently studying in Australia. Australia has sent around 300 New Colombo Plan participants to study in Sri Lanka since 2015 including in health, science, architecture, information technology, commerce and law.

Prime Ministers reiterated their commitment to ongoing defence engagement, particularly on maritime security. Strong navy-to-navy links and increasing defence student exchanges were a highlight of the bilateral relationship.

Prime Ministers agreed Australia and Sri Lanka’s longstanding development partnership had made an important contribution to Sri Lanka’s growth and prosperity during the past 70 years. Prime Minister Turnbull reiterated Australia’s strong ongoing commitment to assisting the Sri Lankan Government achieve its inclusive development goals, including through developing skills and opportunities for small business, boosting trade competitiveness and encouraging greater participation of women in the workforce. Reflecting this commitment, Prime Ministers welcomed the signing of a new MoU for a Development Cooperation Partnership.

Prime Ministers emphasised the positive role of our extensive people-to-people links, which were the foundation of our warm bilateral relationship. Australia’s large Sri Lankan community – drawn from all ethnicities – had made a significant contribution to many different sectors of Australian society and economy. They noted overseas Sri Lankans, including those based in Australia, could make a significant contribution to Sri Lanka’s future development.

Prime Ministers launched the tour of Australia by the Sri Lankan cricket team and noted the role of sporting exchanges in the bilateral relationship. They also welcomed the signing of aMoU on Cooperation in Sport to deepen cooperation between professionals in cricket, basketball, swimming, volleyball, tennis, boxing, rugby, cycling, golf and baseball, as well as in sports integrity measures.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe thanked Prime Minister Turnbull for the warm hospitality extended to him and his delegation by the Australian Government.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe extended an invitation to Prime Minister Turnbull to visit Sri Lanka at a mutually convenient time.

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Photo Courtesy : Michael Masters/Auspic

Sri Lanka High Commission celebrates 69th anniversary of Independence in Canberra

Sri Lanka High Commission in Australia celebrated the 69th anniversary of Independence on 4th February at the High Commission premises with the participation of over 300 Sri Lankans in Canberra.

After the hoisting of the National Flag by High Commissioner Skandakumar, school children supported by adults sang the National Anthem in Sinhala and Tamil which was followed by two minutes silence to honour all those who sacrificed their lives for the Independence , sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

Clergy representing the Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Islam faiths, invoked blessings on the people of Sri Lanka.
Thereafter, the National Day Messages of President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera were read out.

Addressing the large gathering High Commissioner Skandakumar said that the messages explicitly outlined the national unity Government’s vision for the ensuing year.He thanked the community for their participation at all events conducted by the Mission and recalled that the success of the Sri Lankan festival held at the Mission on 12th Nov 2016 was an indication of what was possible when we came together and supported each other.

He reflected on the commendable cross nation walk a few years ago from South to North that enabled a cancer hospital to be built in Tellipalai and an identical initiative by equally dedicated Srilankans of all ethnicities and religious faiths who covered over 600 kilometres in the month of October 2016, to raise funds for a similar facility in the South. These projects he said underlined the true meaning of unity and reconciliation and impacted our people deeply. The High Commissioner related an incident associated with that walk where a disabled beggar seated on the road with crutches by his side, donated his day’s collection to the project, touching the hearts of all.

All of these he said remind us that we are indeed a nation of caring and compassionate people and expressed the hope that a year from now when we celebrate our 70th year of Independence, we can each look back on the preceding twelve months and say with conviction that we did make a sincere contribution to the Government’s pledge for Peace, and reconciliation.

Sri Lanka High Commission

4th February 2017

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Independence Day Messages

Independence Day Message of the President

Many freedom struggles of humankind have aggrandized the story of human progress. We Sri Lankans too have inherited a long history of such struggles, that brings forth memories of grief and glory, from the times of our Kings to that of modern democracy. The nation is indebted to our forebears, whose selfless sacrifice of sweat and blood have brought about the freedom, in which we breathe today.

It is at a challenging and decisive moment, that we celebrate the 69th Independence anniversary this year. The responsibility of strengthening the recently secured democratic freedom, as well as ensuring that, enriched by indigenous wisdom, so that all communities could live with dignity, lies on our shoulders. We have been able to overcome a dark era and reillumine our unsurmountable aspirations for democracy, freedom, and human dignity. However, the realization of the true meaning of freedom and independence lies in our potential to free ourselves from the shackles of all kinds and forms of poverty, ill-health, and confines of divisive identities of race, religion and caste, and enrich ourselves, as a society that values equity and rights of all.

We are a nation that deserves to live a prosperous life in a country where peace and justice and equality prevail.

It is my sincere wish that we continue to prosper by vanquishing ignorance by knowledge, untruth by truth, hatred by compassion and violence by nonviolence and become a compassionate nation.

Maithripala Sirisena
President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

February 04th, 2017

Message in Sinhala         Message in Tamil           Message in English

Independence Day Message of the Prime Minister



 Message in Sinhala                          Message in Tamil                      Message in English


Independence Day Message of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

On the sixty-ninth anniversary of Sri Lanka’s Independence, I extend warm greetings to all Sri Lankans and persons of Sri Lankan origin who live and work across the world in different capacities.

Our Nation’s journey since the 4th of February 1948 has been mixed with achievements that we can be proud of, as well as challenges fraught with pain and anguish.

Following the decisive step taken under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to form a National Unity Government, we proceed on the path of formulating national policies required to ensure our nation’s progress as a strong democracy, where good governance, the rule of law, individual rights, justice, freedom, and the dignity of all are upheld; the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious nature of our country is cherished and celebrated; where all forms of discrimination are denounced; and we build a strong nation with equitable economic development, that would be at peace with itself and with the world, working together with the international community for the benefit of all.

The path we have chosen for ourselves is a challenging one. The task of nation-building is one that requires dedication and commitment of all Sri Lankans living both in Sri Lanka and overseas.

As we approach the seventieth year of our Independence, I urge all of you to seize this historic moment in our nation’s history to contribute your strengths, your goodwill, your energy, skills and wisdom, to build an inclusive and prosperous nation that is reconciled and at peace so that we march forward as the brothers and sisters of one family, with respect towards all, to ensure the non-recurrence of conflict and build the Sri Lanka of our dreams as proud citizens.

Mangala Samaraweera, MP
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Message in Sinhala             Message in Tamil        Message in English

Register with the High Commission

The Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra would like to keep in touch with Sri Lankans and persons of Sri Lankan origin living in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands as well as Sri Lankan community organisations in those countries.

If you are a current/former Sri Lankan or an office bearer of a Sri Lankan community organisation we invite you to register with the High Commission.


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