‘Threat to human civilization’
Speech by Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, at the Bali Democracy
Forum, Indonesia on December 10
I am delighted to be present here today in this beautiful island
resort of Bali, at the launch of the Bali Democracy Forum, a commendable
initiative of the Indonesian Government, ably supported by the
I believe this is both timely and relevant in the world today, where
democracy has become universally accepted as the most efficacious and
desirable system of governance.
As Sir Winston Churchill speaking in the British Parliament in
November 1947 remarked in his inimitable style, and I “Many forms of
government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and
woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it
has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all
those forms of government that have been tried from time to time.”
While many States today may be democratic, the history of their
political institutions reveals the fragility and vulnerability of
The history of 20th century Europe alone makes clear that democracy
is quite a difficult form of government to create and sustain - Fascism,
Nazism and Stalinism came very close to eliminating democracy
altogether. Democracy means a form of government where, in contrast to
monarchies and aristocracies, the people ruled.
After the Mumbai terrorist attack. AFP
Electoral democracy has emerged as a universal value as the peoples
of the world aspire their governments to be accountable and capable of
being voted out of office. Some people may still wish for their
countries to remain as monarchies for historical and cultural reasons,
but even they will want the Royal families to share power with
democratically elected parliaments.
Recognizing these fundamental values, democracy offers a system of
government rooted in the reality of the human condition as well as human
Democracy cannot be denied to the peoples of the world on the basis
that it is a Western concept.
If it is a Western value, so be it. A little known fact is that in
Sri Lanka, the seeds of its present day vibrant multi-party democracy
were sown long before its independence from the British in 1948.
Sri Lanka’s deeply rooted democratic tradition can be traced to the
granting of universal adult franchise in 1931, just 14 years after the
people in the United States were granted this right.
Thus, Sri Lanka became the first country in Asia to enjoy this right
to vote without discrimination of race, gender, educational or property
qualifications. In any event, the assertion that the democratic values
that we take for granted today are derived from Western culture is
The right to vote without discrimination on the basis of race or
gender is accepted by all as a universal value. But this has not always
been so in liberal Western democracies even half a century ago.
For example, women in America did not get the right to vote until
1920, while Swiss women were able to do so only in 1971. Sri Lanka
blazed the trail in producing the world’s first woman Prime Minister,
with the election of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1960.
African American citizens got full voting rights only after the
peaceful agitation for civil rights led by Martin Luther King in the
Today the American people can be proud to have elected their first
African American President Barack Obama, Racial equality has emerged
from the struggle of the down trodden people against slavery,
segregation, apartheid and discrimination, all of which had been
practised widely by Western societies not too long ago.
Just as much as the doctrine of separation of powers is steeped in
antiquity, so is the rule of law deeply rooted in ancient natural law
thought. The appeal to law as a check over abuse of power has been
apparent since the times of the Greek civilization. Aristotle in his
seminal work, “The Politics” remarked, “The rule of law is preferable to
that of any individual”.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United
Nations, whose diamond jubilee which co-incidentally falls today (10th
December), declared “It is essential, if man is not compelled to have
recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression,
that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”.
RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE
The mere trappings of democracy as manifested in the right of the
people to go to the polls periodically and elect a government of their
choice or in the many magnificent edifices housing the seat of
Parliament, the Presidency or the Palaces of Justice, do not qualify a
country to be a true democratic state.
Real democracy becomes alive in a state where the government is
accountable to the people and where the rule of law is upheld by an
independent and fearless judiciary.
To this, I would also add the existence of a free and independent
media, as a watch dog of the public interest, to report and expose
corruption in high places, as well as performing the useful role of
providing wholesome information of educational, cultural and current
interest to the public.
It therefore goes without saying that persons holding public office
in the three branches of government, whether they be from the executive,
legislature or judiciary, should be men and women of the highest probity
and personal integrity, and would treat their office as a public trust
and not as their personal fiefdom.
Such a society would be a functioning democracy; it is not an ideal
or utopian goal, but one which can be practically achieved if the
necessary political will and broad public support exists for the
creation of such a society.
Once these essential ingredients are present, it would be possible to
harness the resources available to work towards the establishment of a
democratic society. This would entail resources to be invested in
capacity building of the three branches of the state, as well as
educating the people of their rights and duties in a democratic state.
Thus, the existence of a thriving democracy would be indicated by the
institutional strengths of its executive, legislature and judiciary, as
well as the presence of a free and independent media.
In more recent times, we have also seen the increasing influence of
the civil society in fashioning policies of democratic governments. In
newly emergent democracies, there is a certain weakness that is apparent
in these pillars of the state, which can be attributed to a deficiency
in capacity building in these areas.
Hence, it is incumbent upon long established and mature democracies
to lend their support to help the new and fragile democracies to set up
and develop the institutional mechanisms of a modern democratic state.
In this respect, Sri Lanka can share its own rich experience gained
over 75 years of uninterrupted democratic governance, with other members
of the Bali Democracy Forum.
We would consider such an opportunity as a means of drawing the best
practices out of each other’s experience and not to try to impose our
values and system on another country, in an imperialistic sort of way.
As Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, it would be frivolous for me to
confine myself at this august gathering to merely an academic exposition
of the virtues of democracy and its institutional strengths, which none
I am more concerned with the challenges that democracy faces in the
contemporary world. Long established democracies like Sri Lanka and
India are confronted by several challenges that threaten the very
foundations of the democratic institutions.
For developing nations, these challenges such as poverty,
unemployment and social inequality are long-term issues which are being
addressed by the respective governments in their development agenda
through the implementation of pro-poor policy initiatives. However, the
most potent and ominous challenge that many of our democracies face
today is that emanating from the threat of terrorism.
Terrorism is by no means a new phenomenon. It has existed in some
form or other since the dawn of human civilization. But, what is new
today is that terrorism in the last three decades or so has acquired an
international dimension that has brought with it, novel and
sophisticated concepts and methods, which makes it a highly sinister and
The live television coverage of the dramatic scenes that unfolded in
the siege of Mumbai in last month’s multiple terror strikes, literally
brought home quite vividly, the cold-blooded horro and the shocking
reality of terrorism.
The fact that the terrorists launched these attacks by commandeering
a vessel in the Arabian Sea and slipping in ashore, virtually
unchallenged and unnoticed, has exposed a chink in the defensive armour
to prevent such incursions. It should serve as a wake-up call to the
international community on the urgent need to beef up maritime security,
in order to forestall such deadly attacks.
Speaking in Parliament in the aftermath of these attacks, I drew the
attention of the House to the similarity of the methods employed by the
LTTE and the Mumbai terrorists. I said on that occasion on November 27:
“The methodology and well-coordinated precision of these savage attacks
are reminiscent of the terror tactics employed by the LTTE against
innocent civilians and vital infrastructure in Sri Lanka. I have no
doubt in my mind that terrorist groups the world over, study and mimic
the modus operandi of each other to cause maximum death and
In this context, I cautioned the international community of the
danger posed by the LTTE to maritime security at the 6th Shangrila-La
Dialogue in Singapore in June 2007. Speaking on that occasion, I said
and quote “The challenge the LTTE poses is not confined to the waters of
the Indian Ocean.
In this modern globalized world where the element of technological
transfer amongst different terrorist groups takes place at a rapid pace,
the LTTE’s maritime terrorist attacks offer ‘copycat models’ for other
The LTTE also provides a convenient transport facility for other
terrorist organizations. Thus, the LTTE’s activities are being watched
as an early example of emerging trends and patterns in maritime
The LTTE had carried out ten suicide attacks on Sri Lanka Navy
vessels with the use of explosive laden boats before the Al-Qaeda,
attacked ‘USS Cole’ in Yemen in October 2000. In fact the Al-Qaeda
attack on the ‘USS Cole’ was a copycat of the LTTE’s attack on “Abheetha”,
a Sri Lankan navy supplies ship on May 4, 1991.
In a 19th March 2003 interview with the BBC, the Sea Tigers Chief
Soosai was to state “I think in Yemen they used our strategy of
targeting the hull in their suicide attack to blow up an American ship,
“USS Cole”- this is exactly what we used to do.”
Similarly, there is convincing evidence that democratic institutions
and the rule of law are under increasing threat from the trans-national
networking between terrorist groups and criminal syndicates engaging in
illicit arms and narcotics trafficking, money laundering, piracy and
human smuggling. It was former French President, Jacques Chirac who
said. “Terrorism has become the systematic weapon of war that knows no
borders or seldom has a face.”
Despite the serious challenge posed by the LTTE aptly described by
the FBI of the US, as among the most deadly terrorists in the world, the
Government of Sri Lanka places the highest priority in the observance of
human rights and respect for the rule of law, even as it engages in
military operations to clear the last remaining pockets in Northern Sri
Lanka of the LTTE terrorists.
As former Swedish Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh said “Terrorism can
never be accepted. We must fight it together, with methods that do not
compromise our respect for the rule of law and human rights, or are used
as an excuse for others to do so.”
Our people in the North have had to endure over two decades of misery
and privation under the brutal and despotic reign of terror of the LTTE.
As the Sri Lanka military makes steady inroads into LTTE held areas
they do so with utmost professionalism and are at pains to avoid causing
civilian casualties. We are confident that our fellow citizens in the
North will soon be able to once again breathe the air of freedom and
enjoy the fruits of democracy that the rest of our people have for so
long taken for granted.
DEFEAT OF LTTE
The defeat of LTTE terrorism will herald the dawn of lasting peace
and stability in Sri Lanka. Our bitter experience in negotiating with
the LTTE in the past has convinced us that unless the capacity of the
LTTE to inflict its terror attacks on innocent civilians is neutralised,
no political solution that the Government is formulating through the All
Party Representatives Committee (APRC), drawing upon the collective
wisdom of all democratic political parties, can be practically
It is our considered view that disarming the LTTE is an essential
pre-requisite to the unveiling of a political solution to address the
genuine grievances of the minority communities in Sri Lanka.
A study by a research body, the Copenhagen Consensus recently has
revealed that increasing defensive measures worldwide by 25 per cent to
counter terrorist attacks would cost at least US$75 billion over the
next five years.
In contract, fostering greater international cooperation to cut off
terrorist financing would be relatively cheaper and much more effective.
As Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh has quite rightly said
“Together with international unity and resolve, we can meet this global
scourge and work to bring about an international law of zero tolerance
A terrorist attack is an attack on society as a whole and its
fundamental principles and core values. Terrorism spells the death knell
for democracy. Terrorism anywhere is a threat to human civilization
The dark and evil forces of terrorism can never co-exist with the
sublime values of democracy and the rule of law. The assassinated former
Pakistan Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto underscored the importance of
democracy as an effective deterrent to terrorism, when she declared.
“Democracy is necessary to peace and to undermine the forces of
terrorism.” It is my fervent conviction that the clarion call that we
proclaim in unison from the Bali Democracy Forum will be a beacon of
hope to the peoples of the Asian region, whether they belong to vibrant
and functioning democracies such as my own country, Sri Lanka, or others
which have just begun to make their first tentative steps into this
hitherto unchartered but exciting brave new world of democracy.