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Text of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s address to the Rotary Conference in Colombo

[Hindu, Monday, 5 September 2011 07:37 No Comment]

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Photo: N. Ram The President of Rotary International Mr. Kalyan Bannerjee

The Governor of Rotary District of South Asia

The Governor of the Rotary District – Sri Lanka

Governors of other Rotary Districts and members of Rotary International,

Hon. Ministers,

Friends,

Let me first welcome you most warmly to Sri Lanka and say how glad I am to be with you at this Rotary South Asia Conference on Development and Cooperation, in the Eighty Second anniversary year of the first Rotary Club established in Sri Lanka. From its beginnings in Chicago more than a century ago in 1905, it took only 20 years for Rotary to mark its presence in Sri Lanka in 1925.

When one looks back at that time, Rotary in our region was almost a SAARC among the business community, with membership drawn from Afghanistan, Burma, India and Ceylon. This speaks much for recognition of the spirit of service and high ethical standards that prevailed among the regional business community of the time, and especially of the small but very active business world of Ceylon, as we were then known. It is a spirit and tradition that all of you seek to foster wherever you are established in the world today.

The world is today engulfed in one crisis after another. Whole regions and continents suffer the effects of unregulated and wasteful expenditure with unacceptable levels of national debt pushing more societies into costly bail outs. At such a critical time for the world economy, Rotary stands out as an organization with the ultimate aim of service to society through your enterprise. You stand ready to serve the community and society from your prudent and far-sighted business practices.

Friends,

The message of Rotary is one that has special significance in Sri Lanka. From the time the first Rotary Club was established, the contributions made by Rotary to our society are significant. Not only has Rotary done so much in so many fields of activity, more importantly, it has brought out the best among our business community and professionals. This was so during the days of British Rule and ever since we won our Freedom and Independence.

You have ventured into fields that many thought were the monopoly of the State. Interestingly, you have shown how the state and the business community can work as partners in service to society.

All of this becomes greater when your work is non-political, non-religious, and open to all cultures, races, and creeds. I understand this flows from the commitment you have to your motto – “Service Above Self”. The service that Rotary has done for our country and people in many fields, from the time it was a single Club in Colombo till now, the District covering the entire island is much valued and appreciated.

Distinguished Guests,

It is relevant to think of the work the Rotarians have done in the context that Sri Lanka is placed in today. We now stand proud as a nation that has eradicated terrorism from our country. In doing so, we have made South Asia too, safer from terrorism. We have achieved this with much less of the assets, and none of the deceit and duplicity of those who have been waging a War on Terror for more than a decade; those with much more economic and fire power than we had and many more allies than we ever had, but are still caught up in the killing fields made by un-manned drones and other lethal devices that attack civilians, too.

It is regretted that the very individuals and institutions that point their fingers at us for our defeat of terror seem to be unaware of the truth about our prolonged battle against terrorism, and the very nature of those terrorists.

We are now being warned that the same terrorist groups are rapidly raising funds for their bloody cause. Many of those who fault us today are harbouring those who funded terror in our country, and still raise funds for this brutal cause. They were also glad to give safe haven to the very theoreticians of terror in Sri Lanka. Have they no concern for the truth about Sri Lanka’s agony and the humanitarian actions that under-scored our battle against terror? Have they no interest in the truth?

We now seek to consolidate the peace we have won so hard, and to bring much needed relief to civilians; to parents, children and elders who were forced to carry arms for terrorists. Relief to mothers whose children were made child soldiers, to women who were made to be suicide bombers, and rehabilitation to those who fought with the forces of terror.

Yet, there are loud voices raised against us on accountability. To most of these voices, accountability is only a verbal apology for civilian deaths that are dismissed as collateral damage in heavy bombings. Are their actions fair by all concerned?

Friends,

The Rotarians of Sri Lanka know very well the details of the Humanitarian Operation carried out by our Security Forces to liberate our land from brutal terrorism. They know it because they were associated with our relief and humanitarian work, from the time that people held captive by the forces of separatist terror and used as human shields, came in their thousands to the safety of their motherland and her Security Forces. These innocents were fleeing the terror of false liberators.

It is because of the good work of the Security Forces, other government agencies, many non governmental organizations such as Rotary, that we have now been able to resettle more than two hundred and eighty thousand of the Internally Displaced by last month; that is about 90 percent, which is a record for any programme of relief and resettlement anywhere in the world.

This fact is accepted by international bodies engaged in humanitarian relief for refugees, and all who are interested in the truth. Therefore I am compelled to ask the next ethical question. Does distorting facts about our humanitarian operation help to build good will and better friendship?

Distinguished Guests, Dear Friends,

Sri Lanka is now in the process of Reconciliation and Reconstruction. We are diverting all our energies to put the tragic years of terror well behind us. We are building a new society, learning from the lessons of the past, and moving towards the promise of future success. We have already shown the world that terrorism can be defeated. That it can be done with a commitment to the humanitarian traditions that are part of our region’s culture and heritage.

Our commitment to human rights is second to none, and with such commitment we seek to transform our society to one of peace, pluralism and equality. It is a society where the great spirit of Service above Self, that is the guiding motto of Rotary, will have much relevance. Will this not be beneficial to all concerned?

We believe in a society where the entrepreneur is an asset. One that recognizes the role that investors and the business community can make to the progress of society, moved by the principles that have made Rotary such an important institution for service and professionalism, for generosity, sharing and philanthropy, and a great cause for good in society.

In conclusion, let me say that I look forward to the continued participation of Rotary as partners in the development of Sri Lanka and the South Asian Region, in the true spirit of cooperation. A partnership to take all our peoples to the heights of achievement that await them. A partnership that shares our traditional humane values, with those of business that is focused on the best interests of society.

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