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5 Oct, 2003

In UN Speeches, Leaders of Sri Lanka, Indonesia Assess the “Root Causes” of Conflict

Originally Published: 5 Oct 2003

The annual UN General Assembly session is often dismissed as a meaningless talk shop. To some extent, that is true. But the speakers are among the seniormost national leaders and, after clearing the diplomatic niceties, their statements do reflect strong views about the state of the world today.

Their frustrations, bitterness and anger usually find no outlet in the global networks and wire services whose UN reporters generally pooh-pooh the developing countries. But thanks to the glasnost now prevailing in the UN, these speeches are posted on the UN website, free for all to read.

Last week, I spent some time wading through them to learn for myself what the networks had not told me. Two high-impact speeches were by Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, especially references to terrorism and its root causes.

These two countries’ views are important because Sri Lanka has suffered horribly at the hands of years of terrorism, and Indonesia is presently experiencing the trauma.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe referred to “identifying and recognising the root cause of the conflict” and the support of the industrialised countries in the success of the Sri Lankan peace talks. In turn, President Megawati made no bones about what she thought the root causes were.

Most interesting is how these views differ so starkly from those of the industrialised countries who insist that their spin on the causes of terrorism as well as the means of combatting it are the right ones. The vast gap in policy approach towards terrorism in Sri Lanka and in Indonesia makes clear why many in the Islamic world suspect double standards and outright hypocrisy in the Westís policy towards the Islamic world.

Here are the quotes, excerpted verbatim in order to understand the full context:


The progress of the peace process in Sri Lanka is because we stopped talking about talking to each other – we started doing the talking. We have been lucky because the international community did not simply talk about helping us – they did it.

In moving from conflict to peace in Sri Lanka we initiated fundamental change in policy and strategy. We shifted from confrontation to negotiation, identifying and recognising the root causes of the conflict. The success story that Sri Lanka is fast becoming also demonstrates the value of the support of the international community acting in concert.

That the global community moving with a common purpose can succeed in re-establishing peace, democracy and prosperity has been amply demonstrated in the Sri Lankan experience. After 20 years of conflict our people are now enjoying the fruits of 20 months of peace.

The role of the international community in enabling us to move from war to peace has been outstanding. The facilitation that Norway provided, has resulted in bringing the Government and LTTE together in several rounds of negotiation. President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s continuing declaration of commitment to a political solution has been invaluable.

The moral and material support which our other front line sponsors – India, the EU, Japan, Canada and the US along with the multilateral institutions of the UN and the rest of the international community have given, and continue to give us, has guaranteed that our efforts to consolidate and maintain the peace will strengthen and develop.

In Oslo last November our international partners endorsed and underwrote a paradigm shift in policy when the Government and LTTE accepted that the future political order in Sri Lanka would include moving towards a federal polity where the unity and territorial integrity of the country would be ensured.

Again, in Tokyo in June this year, 52 nations and 21 multilateral agencies, many of them of the UN system, pledged their support to Sri Lanka’s peace efforts, rehabilitation and development programmes. The massive, and unparalleled, financial contributions alone totalled US$4.5 billion over a four-year period. These are indeed landmark events underlining the value and strength of international action.

I must however inform this Assembly that like in all negotiations of a peace process we find ourselves today at a temporary impasse in the talks. Within the next few weeks we should know the results of a comprehensive review undertaken by the LTTE in response to our earlier proposals regarding an interim administrative arrangement for the north and east of our country. That they should take so much time and effort can be seen as a positive sign.

We in turn will look positively at the proposals put forward by the LTTE and will do everything in our power to keep the peace process moving forward to a successful conclusion.

Meanwhile our collective efforts, handsomely supported by the international community and the multilateral agencies, at providing relief, rehabilitation and development to the conflict affected areas of the country proceeds apace. Economic growth is marching ahead from a negative growth of – one per cent in the year 2001 to possibly 6% this year and tourism is booming.


It is difficult to refute the impression that the policy on conflict resolution in the Middle East is not only unjust but also one-sided. Clearly, the Middle East problem is not a conflict of religions or of religious adherents though there might be some religious nuances in the issue.

We are very much aware of the background. Whatever the reason held by anyone of us, we all must admit that the absence of a just attitude, exacerbated by a feeling of being sidelined and ignored, in addition to the deficiency of formal means to channel aspiration, has cultivated a climate of violence to grow. In our view, this is actually the seed and root of the problem, which tends to grow and expand, and among others leads to even devastating and tragic acts of terrorÖ..

It is very depressing to observe that we have been very slow in understanding the root causes. The war in the Middle East a few months ago is just another reflection of the situation. The war has created far many more problems than those it intended to solve. I do believe that a great many lessons can be learnt from the Iraq War.

In order to prevent, deter or eradicate the problem of international terrorism, I should like to propose that the countries, whose citizens become the main target of terrorist groups, should review their conventional anti-terrorism policies, particularly in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. They should adopt a policy that ensures that all involved parties are given just and equal treatment.

Indeed, so many eminent Muslims in Indonesia believe that once the major powers behave in a more just manner and make clear their impartiality in the Middle East, then most of the root causes of terrorism, perpetrated in the name of Islam — which in any circumstances cannot be justified — would have been resolved.

As Head of State of the largest Muslim country in the world, I sincerely invite all world leaders to pay particular attention to this issue. Let us prevent the root causes of terrorism from spreading and triggering the emergence of other unsatisfactory aspiration, including in social and economic spheres. The failure to reach consensus in recent WTO meeting, and the still slow movement — if not to say stalemate — in the implementation of various social and economic global agendas would even complicate and proliferate the existing global problems.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed reinforced Mrs Megawati’s views thus:

“The unipolar world dominated by a democratic nation is leading the world to economic chaos, political anarchy, uncertainty and fear. We are not going to recover, and have peace for as long as threats are used for political and economic reforms that most of the world is not ready for and not willing to accept.

“If we want to have democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, the powerful must demonstrate their commitment to all these noble ideas. And they can begin by restructuring the United Nations, in particular the abolition of the undemocratic single country veto. This should be replaced with a modified veto where, two veto powers backed by three other members of the Security Council would be needed to block any United Nations Resolution. But slowly even this should be dismantled in favour of majority decisions in the Security Council.

“..The other important agencies of the United Nations must be freed from the domination of any single country. Gradually they should be made more democratic.”

The message could not be any clearer: Want to end terrorism? Fix the double standards, end the one-sided vetoes and show some even-handed justice. Unfortunately, the West does not seem to believe this to be the right course of action.