Ms Sonali Samarasinghe, Minister
Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
“Combatting Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Racism and Hate – The Challenges of Teaching Tolerance and Respect in the Digital Age”
organized by the President of the General Assembly
26 June, 2019
General Assembly Hall
Sri Lanka welcomes this meeting on Combatting Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Racism and Hate – The Challenges of Teaching Tolerance and Respect in the Digital Age. We also welcome the UN Strategy on Hate Speech initiated by the Secretary General and stand ready to assist and support all efforts to stem – as the Secretary General so aptly put it, ‘the Tsunami of hatred’ we see today.
Sri Lanka condemns in the strongest possible terms all forms of racism, hatred, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
We were pleased to be present at a meeting on the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious sites organized by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations two weeks ago on 11 June 2019, where we were happy to present our suggestions for possible inclusion in the Plan. Sri Lanka welcomes this UN Plan of Action to safeguard religious sites, and stands ready to work with UNAOC in this regard.
All attacks on religious sites, concert halls, restaurants and hotels such as in Christ Church and Sri Lanka, are particularly debased in their cruelty and in their locations - carried out when devotees have closed their eyes in prayer or celebrating life with their families. Terrorists attack soft targets because they are easily accessible, there is a vulnerability associated with it and it is considered by terrorists as low risk and high impact with large numbers of victims. It gives such attacks an added dimension of inhumanity.
When hate and racism are allowed to thrive against any of us, it is an attack on all of us, and therefore it is incumbent for all of us to show solidarity and unity of purpose in combating this scourge.
It is no less important that media - especially with the rise in social media tools - helps disseminate the values that will foster a culture of peace and a forum for dialogue and understanding rather than a platform for hate, bigotry and rumor mongering. It is vital if we are to preserve democratic space that such valuable tools as Facebook and twitter among others, are preserved as spaces to nurture healthy debate rather than to breed hate, violence and extremism while crowding out moderate and reasonable voices.
In this regard it may be noted that it is indeed the advancement of technology, globalization, cross border migration and heightened human interaction that on the one hand enables the international community to be made aware of such acts of hatred. It is the rapid transfer of information that allows us to appropriately respond to racism and hatred.
This Madam President is the promise and peril of technology. It is precisely this Janus faced aspect of technology and social media that we must understand and proceed to harness to our advantage in order to do the most good - so that we can have a tsunami of goodness, respect and decency instead.
And in this regard we must also ensure that human rights and the rule of law is observed in these global efforts to counter hate speech and bigotry and xenophobia.
Hatred and racism tears apart the very fabric of our societies and creates schisms in the rich mosaic of our civilizations. It causes chaos, bitterness, resentment, sullenness, insecurity and fear and opens up space for terrorism to operate.
Madam President as you so rightly said, “hate speech is racism.” Racism is practiced by only a few. But these voices are strident and amplified and given space to operate. We have to make every effort at the national and international level to marginalize these voices and call them out for what they are and what they represent.
When terrorists attacked worshippers on Easter Sunday this year on the holiest of days for Christians, what Sri Lanka experienced in our time of grief and in those moments of horror was the essential goodness in all religions. Temples and Mosques opened their doors to hold Christian services. People flocked to hospitals irrespective of race or creed to donate blood. In fact one of the sites destroyed by the horrific Easter Sunday Attacks – St Anthony’s Church – has already been rebuild in a matter of two months, demonstrating the resilience and determination of our people and the religious harmony that largely exists in our country. The underlying human spirit, overcame barbarity and cruelty as people reached out to each other.
Sri Lanka believes that in order to combat racism, hatred, xenophobia including anti-Semitism it is important that we strengthen Multilateralism and invest in Education.
Threats to multilateralism often emanate from politically motivated fear mongering. The fear of globalization – an inevitable phenomenon that has taken place for thousands of years, and has only served to enrich societies and nations, surges in migration, among others, have fed into a suspicion of multilateralism and fuelled protectionism, populism and unilateralism.
We are proud to collectively serve in an intergovernmental body, that despite its many challenges, has in the past 74 years, demonstrated that multilateralism is the only path to a peaceful world, and that protectionism and isolationism are anachronistic concepts that have no place in a mature and forward looking international order.
Equally Madam President, if we are to promote the Culture of Peace and combat hatred and fear of the other, we must do so with our youth and in our schools. As the great Mahatma Gandhi said “If we are to teach real peace in this world, we shall have to begin with the children."
There is a crying need for transformative change and the need to begin at a young age. It is important to change the mind sets and attitudes of children during their formative years through value-based education that focuses on social and emotional learning.