Introductory Remarks By FM Samaraweera For The Keynote Speech By UNESCO Director General

On the occasion of the keynote speech delivered by the visiting UNESCO Director-General today (16) at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera spoke on the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s firm beliefs on UNESCO principles and introduced the speaker, UNESCO Director-General Mme. Irina Bokova. Mme. Bokova delivered a speech on “Soft Power for Peace and Development: UNESCO and SDGs.”

Minister Samaraweera's introductory remarks are as follows:

Ladies and gentlemen,

I feel most honored today to have the opportunity of introducing to you Mme. Irina Bokova, the Director General of UNESCO, who has so generously accepted our invitation to deliver this Keynote Lecture at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies. Thank you Mme. Bokova, we warmly welcome you to Sri Lanka, and to this Institute.

Madam Bokova’s keynote speech today will be on the very timely and interesting topic of “Soft Power for peace and development: UNESCO and the Sustainable Development Goals”.

Madam Bokova,

This Institute, as you know, is named after one of my predecessors, Lakshman Kadirgamar, who held the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1994 to 2000; 2000 to 2001; and from 2004 to 2005, until he succumbed to the bullets of a terrorist. He was a much respected and much loved Foreign Minister who yearned to see peace and reconciliation in our country.

Although he called himself a citizen of the world, he had the highest appreciation and respect for the beliefs, customs and traditions of others. Yearning to see his dream of ‘unity in diversity’ become a reality in Sri Lanka, he said: “I believe that all our peoples can live together, they did live together. I think they must learn to live together after this trauma is over. I see no reason why the major races in this country, the Tamils, Sinhalese and the Muslims cannot again build a relationship of confidence and trust. That is my belief. That is what I wished for and in working for that I will not be deterred.…”.

Lakshman, unfortunately, did not live to see the day the guns fell silent in our country, or the day the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted. He was a firm believer of the principles UNESCO and the persuasive approach to durable peace, progress and development.

He often echoed the words of the preamble of the Charter of UNESCO when he spoke to us –

“Since wars begins in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed; 

-That ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war;

-That the great and terrible war which has now ended was a war made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men, and the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and races;

-That with the wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of man and constitute a sacred duty which all the nations must fulfil in a spirit of mutual assistance and concern;

-That a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind…”.

Madam Bokova,

Your visit to Sri Lanka takes place at an important time, when, under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, our nation seeks to build a new Sri Lanka that,

-safeguards, promotes and protects the rights and dignity of all, and equality of all;

-respects and celebrates the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious nature of our society;

-empowers our youth and our women;

-upholds the rule of law; respects democracy and fundamental freedoms including the freedom of the media;

-preserves our environment while taking steps to ensure integrated and equitable sustainable development;

-gives priority to securing the best education possible for our children and youth, including the skills they require to meet the demands of the job market both in Sri Lanka and overseas;

-focuses on infrastructure development, and economic growth required for the prosperity of all our people;

-and enhances and encourages understanding and preservation of culture, respect for each other’s traditions and beliefs, and is always conscious of the need to be a responsible and respected member of the international community.

We see this path as the means to enhance our own soft power.

Before I invite our distinguished guest to speak to us, let me provide you with a brief snapshot of her illustrious career and contribution as the Director General of UNESCO.

Mme. Bokova has been the Director-General of UNESCO since 2009, and was successfully re-elected for a second term in 2013. She carries the significant honour of being the first woman and the first Eastern European to lead UNESCO.

As Director-General of UNESCO, Mme. Bokova has been actively engaged in international efforts to advance gender equality, quality education for all, and combat terrorist financing by preventing the illicit traffic of cultural goods.

A leading figure in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, Mme. Bokova has spearheaded UNESCO’s activities on Holocaust remembrance and awareness. She is also the first UNESCO Director-General to appoint a Special Envoy for Holocaust Education.

Mme. Bokova is a strong advocate of gender equality, and has made it her personal priority at UNESCO. She has also made commendable contributions in the field of scientific cooperation for sustainable development, such as early warning systems for tsunamis or trans-boundary water management agreements, and global advocacy for the safety of journalists and freedom of expression.

It is also noteworthy that during her tenure as Director General of UNESCO, Mme. Bokova has emphasized and taken steps to further empower and strengthen national UNESCO commissions.

With that brief introduction, I now have the pleasure of inviting Mme. Irina Bokova to speak on “Soft Power for peace and development: UNESCO and the SDGs”.