59th Session of the Commission for Social Development (CSocD)
Statement by H.E. Mohan Peiris,
Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
Monday, 15 February 2021
My delegation takes this opportunity to extend warm felicitations to you and the members of the Bureau on your election. Sri Lanka aligns with the statement made by Guinea on behalf of the Group of 77 & China.
The Commission for Social Development is convening this year while we are at a juncture in our efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda whilst mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is indeed a moment to reflect on how we got here and what the future holds for us. Though we committed in 1995 to implement and monitor the outcome of the World Summit for Social Development, we find ourselves in a situation where poverty, unemployment and social exclusion continue to be rampant unabated in every part of the world. Did we really need to wait until a microscopic virus exposed to us the inequalities that exist in our world order and weaknesses of our current systems to do something about this?
As such, let us focus for a moment, about the future of social development in the context of the pandemic. Dear colleagues it is most likely that that we may have to live with this for quite a while. Let’s say five years from now, do you think we’ll look back at the coronavirus and say, “the pandemic changed a lot of things about the way we in the UN do things?” I’ll tell you that some members that I talked to a few days ago, think that this may be transformative in the way we as the UN will provide sustenance to the global public.
How should we re-orient the global social system in the context of a global novel virus that has kept us confined to our homes already for over almost a year? It has had the impact of already reorienting our relationship to government, to the outside world, and even to each other. This reorientation that we have so far seen and in the times to come will make us feel unfamiliar or unsettling. The questions that will haunt us will be; will nations stay closed? Will touching each other be something strange? Will debate in open unrestricted session as in the past at the UN be something of the past? Where is the human being in the representations that I make? But remember that moments of crisis such as this, also lends itself to opportunity. The crisis has expounded the important role played by digital technologies when attempting to deliver essential services to the people. It will undoubtedly continue to be essential in ensuring a just transition towards sustainable economies and societies.
The Government of Sri Lanka took a number of measures to ensure the continuity of work in the country, despite the pandemic. Free internet facilities were provided to undergraduate students to enable them to continue learning without disruption. E-learning special student data packages were introduced at concessionary rates. However, one cannot hide from the fact that given the low level of internet penetration, the accessibility of online education tools is low in geographically remote areas. As such, regional and global cooperation is essential to develop digital connectivity and electronic platforms in the education sector.
Digital technologies are also being used to disseminate agricultural information among farmers in the country. The Sri Lanka e-agriculture strategy was developed with the aim of harnessing ICT potential to achieve agricultural goals. The new digital transformation in the financial sector in Sri Lanka seeks to ensure financial inclusion through mobile banking.
As we continue to harness the goodness of technology, while taking all efforts to minimize the digital divide we cannot prophesies exactly what will come. Here is a forecast of a prophecy that one academic put, that has a serious impact on the dream of a perfect World as we would contemplate it to be.
The comfort of being in the presence of others might be replaced with a greater comfort of absence especially with those we don’t know intimately. Instead of asking the question ‘is there a reason to do this online?’ You’ll be asking the question ‘is there any good reason to do this in person?’ The online representative will create more distance whilst no doubt it will give you more connections. As we communicate more often with others who are physically far faraway, and who feel safer to us because of that distance. Who then is our member state? Who then is the global organization that we belong to? Let’s guard ourselves from being represented by a binary notation?
Dear members, as we progress, you will then see a new kind of patriotism. You will start to understand patriotism more as cultivating the health and life of your community rather than blowing up someone else’s. It is just possible that the need for demilitarization and love of community will be one of the benefits to come out of this major debacle. There will be a decline in polarization. I say this in the context that given our current level of tension at every level of society, the pandemic scenario suggests that the time is ripe to begin to promote constructive patterns in our cultural and global discourse. There will come a serious change in our communities in that information matters, it was easy to reject and ignore environmental and medical experts until a pandemic arrived.
There will be less individualism as one academic puts it; this pandemic marks the end of our romance with market society and hyper-individualism. We will reorient our global political ethos and make substantial investment in public good for justice and not in pure law as we teach and offer international justice as a facilitator of life .We will teach our communities to become more human and learn to look beyond legalistic positions. We will be better able to see how our fates are linked irrespective of our ethnic / religious / and cultural differences and our status of being powerful in every sense.
The corona virus has and will cause immense pain and suffering, but from the point of view of the international community we will be forced to reconsider who we are and what we value and in the long-term; it will help us to rediscover the better version of ourselves to enable us to rediscover the core values of being human; for the achievement of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.
Religious worship will look different; all faiths have faced the challenges of keeping the faith alive under difficult conditions but never have we had a situation where these efforts were practiced at the same time. We are all now in constant prayer. The planet must surely now be a heaven on earth. The times of quarantine challenges the conceptions of what it means to minister and fellowship. Contemplative practices may gain popularity. We will begin to teach our communities to realize our interconnected humanity as we were pleased to observe in this very Assembly a few days ago. Do we really now worry too much to our right to personal liberty?
Covid-19 has swept away many of the artificial barriers for moving more of our lives online. As one academic observed we may perhaps use our time with our devices to think the kinds of community we can create through them. The governments responsible for global order will be asking the question, what can it authentically offer? The system has a life story, a history. What is it that that the community needs? If moving forward we apply our human instincts to our devices that will be a powerful Covid-19 legacy; not only alone together, but together alone.
The list or realities that would unfold appears to be unending. There are many lessons to be learnt and it is my final wish that we will be rid of this terrible menace of Covid-19 and that we would find the right blend and balance between the a socially just transition towards sustainable development. After all, isn’t it the happiness and well-being of the global community that we ultimately have to ensure?