A reiteration of Sri Lanka’s commitment to peace, reconciliation and non-violence | Daily News
President J.R. Jayewardene in US, 1951 and US, 1984

A reiteration of Sri Lanka’s commitment to peace, reconciliation and non-violence

President Reagan and Nancy Reagan with President Jayewardene and Elina Jayewardene.
President Reagan and Nancy Reagan with President Jayewardene and Elina Jayewardene.

During the early 80s period Sri Lanka was very much ahead of the crowd, a trailblazer in thinking, when President J.R. Jayewardene came up with a bold idea to suggest creating a United Nations Anti-Terror Organisation.

If you read this carefully this is why Japan should have voted at the UN Human Rights Council in favour of Sri Lanka rather than abstaining. After all, J.R. Jayewardene at that time defended Japan against the intentions of the Western powers and prevailed with his intellect and rationale not to impose punishment on Japan. After the First World War in 1919, the victors demanded reparation from Germany to the value of 269 billion gold marks to be exact - the equivalent of around 100,000 tonnes of gold, during that period.

Ronald Reagan, the late USA President, was full of praise about Sri Lanka’s potential and the richness of its society during the state visit to the USA by the President of Sri Lanka President Jayewardene and Mrs Jayewardene on June 18, 1984.

The following quotes are from the speech delivered by President Ronald Reagan: “Although our two countries are on opposite sides of the globe, we share a common bond in the great institution of democracy. You have held elections at regular intervals with almost equal regularity. Losers as well as winners accept the verdict of the people and the true winners are the people of Sri Lanka.

It is a pleasure for us to have you as our guest. You underscored this heartfelt commitment during your first visit here in September of 1951 during a gathering of the representatives of nations who had fought in the Pacific War. Some at that San Francisco Conference insisted that Japan should not be given its full freedom. They argued that Japan should remain shackled as a punishment for its role in World War II, but as the representative of Sri Lanka, you spoke out for the principle of freedom for all people including the Japanese. You quoted the Buddha, the great teacher and said that hatred ceases not by hatred but by love.

We share your dedication to freedom and goodwill. This is more than political theory. It is a way of life. This spirit makes it natural that our two nations should be friends. I hope that the international community will be able to eradicate terrorism which has become a major challenge to those of us who believe in the democratic process.

I know this sentiment is shared by the people of all the democracies - when I say the free men and women of this planet will never cower before terrorists. Human liberty will prevail and civilisation will triumph over this cowardly form of barbarism. We applaud your determination not to yield to terrorism in your own country as well as your efforts to find through the democratic process a peaceful resolution of communal strife. There is no legitimate excuse for any political group to resort to violence in Sri Lanka, a country with a strong democratic tradition and a nation of many races, religions and ethnic groups.

We Americans know from experience that there is room for all in a democracy. Dividing your country into separate nations, as some would have you do, is not the solution. Instead of separating people, now is the time to bring them together in the same spirit you spoke about in San Francisco three decades ago of love, not hatred. A united progressive Sri Lanka can flourish and live in peace with itself and the rest of the world. We wish you every success in your search for reconciliation and a better life for all your people. Sri Lanka is among those enlightened nations that understand incentives hold the key to greater economic growth and personal opportunity.

Sri Lanka is an example of independent people determining their own destiny and a country which the United States is proud to count among its friends. Welcome to America.”

This is how Sri Lanka was received by President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy Reagan.

Then it was the turn of President Jayewardene to make his opening speech and I quote: “This is not our first visit. We came in September 1951 to your West coast to attend the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference held in San Francisco. I came as my country’s representative. I received then a full measure of praise and gratitude from members of the United States Government of the day - Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles and others who attended the conference - for helping to secure the acceptance by the conference of the peace treaty with Japan. The Japanese leaders Prime Minister Yoshida and others are equally grateful. The thinking of the people of my country which was expressed by me on that occasion was that we should not ask for reparations from a fallen foe, who had harmed our land and people also; that we should forgive those who were enemies quoting the words of the Buddha that hatred ceases not by hatred but by love, which you also just quoted. We should restore to Japan the freedoms of democracy. Those were the ideas which inspired us then and inspire us now.

Our history and civilisation have survived unbroken from the fifth century BC for 2,500 years. There were glimpses of modern democracy even then, as in the appointment of mayors to our ancient cities. We were the first in Asia in 1865 to select members to the municipalities that governed our major cities and in 1931, under universal franchise, we exercised our right to elect the government of our choice. I happen to be the 193rd in the line of heads of state from 483 BC to date. We had ambassadors of the court of Claudius Caesar - you find it recorded in Pleiade’s letters - he even mentions the name of the ambassadors. We had sent delegations to China in 47 AD. The great Chinese pilgrims Xuanzang and Faxian came to our country in the fourth century AD and the sixth century AD. So did Sinbad, the sailor Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta.

For the first time, Westerners came in the 16th century and the Portuguese came as tourists but stayed for 150 years, after that, came the Dutch and then came the English and we are now once again a free country. We wish to be friendly with all and the enemies of none - that is my policy and the policy of our people. We would like the people of America to understand us through the long history of Sri Lanka.

In our modern history, we cannot forget the contribution made by an American, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, when he helped the Buddhist leaders of Sri Lanka hundred years ago to establish a movement for the revival of education through schools owned and managed by the Buddhists themselves.

Sri Lanka has been for 53 years a practising democracy, where the freedoms of speech and writing, of electing governments at regular intervals and the independence of the judiciary and of the opposition are safeguarded.

In the non-aligned world of developing nations, which covers the whole of Central and South America, the whole of Africa, the whole of Asia from the Mediterranean Sea to the Seas of China and Japan, there are very few countries which could be called a democracy. Ours is one. That is why the assistance that developing nations of the world received from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is appreciated though there are many matters which we feel should be changed to help them to exist as free countries.

We have been able to commence and have almost completed the largest development programme which in our long history has ever been attempted by King or President. We have, however, problems. Some of them are unique to our country - excessive rains, sometimes floods, landslides, and cyclones. A modern problem and one of universal occurrence today is terrorism. This happens in the extreme north of our country where a group of misguided people seeks separation from a united Sri Lanka. There are more Tamils living in the East and among the Sinhalese, the major community, than in the regions that seek separation who do not support them. My party holds 10 out of 12 seats in the Eastern Province.

The terrorists are a small group who seek by force including murder, robberies and other misdeeds to support the cause of separation including the creation of a Marxist state in the whole of Sri Lanka and in India, beginning with Tamil Nadu in the South. I am glad that your country is taking a lead in creating an international movement to oppose terrorism. If I may suggest, it may be called the United Nations anti-terrorism organization. It is vital that the developed world helps us with finances in this sphere and that all nations cooperate to eliminate the menace of terrorism from the civilized world.

I was very happy when I heard your address to the Irish Parliament on June 4. You made an appeal to Nations to reaffirm the principle not to use force in their dealings with each other. You said the democracies could inaugurate a programme to promote the growth of democratic institutions throughout the world. You spoke on behalf of hundreds of millions who live on the borderline of starvation while nations will spend next year a trillion dollars on the manufacturing of armaments for the destruction of human beings and their products.

I have never failed to express similar ideas. Non-violence is compassion and the Great Teacher whom I follow, the Gautama Buddha, and the Great Teacher you follow, Jesus Christ, and India’s great son, Mahatma Gandhi, preached and practised the doctrine of non-violence successfully.

I remember when one of your representatives came to see me, I told her, a leader must know only two words - yes and no. I think President Reagan knows those two words very well. Once you say “yes”, or “no” stick to it whatever happens.

We all are human beings. We extend our affection not only to human beings but also to animals - to the little elephant that we gifted to you. That is the philosophy which we have learnt in our country. That is the philosophy which if I can spread throughout the world and I find in you and Madam Reagan - very good disciples.”