Statement by Satya Rodrigo, Chargé d’Affaires
Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations , General Debate of the First Committee
75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
New York, 14th October 2019
Sri Lanka congratulations H.E. Agustín Santos Maraver, Permanent Representative of Spain on his election as Chair of this Committee and also the members of the Bureau on their election. Please be assured of Sri Lanka’s fullest cooperation and support to you in steering the work of this Committee to a successful conclusion.
At the outset, my delegation associates itself with the statement delivered by the distinguished representative of Indonesia on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.
We wish to thank the President of the General Assembly H.E. Volkan Bozkir and the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu for their valuable remarks to the Committee at the start of these sessions.
We share the views expressed by the President of the General Assembly that “this Committee is passing through one of the most critical periods in constructing and sustaining the existing principles of cooperation and agreements on disarmament and arms control” and his concern that we cannot afford to unravel what has been painstakingly built for the past 75 years.
We listened carefully to the address by the High Representative and remain concerned about the continual worrying trends in the realm of nuclear disarmament in the past years that has been marked with deteriorating conditions on the global political landscape, an increasing sense of distrust, rhetoric and animosity between Nuclear Weapon States and a widening chasm between Member States on how to work on our collective goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. We continue to be dismayed at the annulment of previously agreed agreements on arms control and disarmament and roll back of many common understandings and agreed benchmarks.
In this bleak international landscape, key achievements of the past global disarmament and arms control architecture are being undermined and States are withdrawing from vital arms control agreements.
It was under Sri Lanka’s chairmanship of the Non-Aligned movement, that a call was made for a special session of the General Assembly to be devoted to disarmament and Sri Lanka introduced the Resolution that led to the First Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD) to be held in 1978.
At the time of the First Special Session, the world was spending approximately US $ 400 Billion a year on arms. Some four decades on, global military expenditure has steadily increased. We are alarmed that the total expenditure has now exceeded $ 1.9 trillion- the highest level since the end of the Cold War.
Sri Lanka joins others in the call for directing some of these funding to economic and social development for the betterment of humanity.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that we have all committed to, acknowledges the link between peace and development. Achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals requires a substantial financial investment, and redirecting funds from military expenditure to crucial economic and social development can make a key contribution.
It has been estimated that the cost of achieving quality universal primary and early secondary education for all - Goal 4 would only be over 3% of global military expenditure. Similarly, eliminating extreme poverty and hunger - Goals 1 and 2, would only cost about 13% of annual military expenditure. Extending basic water, sanitation and hygiene- Goal 6, to people would only cost less than 2% of annual spending. The global COVID-19 pandemic has shown how vulnerable the world can be to pathogens and disease and is a sharp reminder that there is a pressing need to improve global health security. As every country across the globe struggles to control and mitigate the spread of the pandemic and its socio-economic affects; it is regrettable that more funds are spent for military arsenals than investing in human health.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)
Sri Lanka underscores that the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty is an essential pillar of international peace and security, and remains the heart of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime, with 191 State Parties. Sri Lanka was amongst the first States to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968 and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996.
Sri Lanka attaches the highest priority to full compliance with, and effective promotion of, the implementation of the NPT without further delay, and respect for its three pillars; the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. We support the need for a delicate balance between the pillars that is built into the structure of the treaty, that are integral to global efforts at strengthening international peace and security.
We strongly believe that nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing and are vital for the strengthening international peace and security. Both must be pursued and we note that nuclear disarmament has not received the same focus by many States as the issues of proliferation. The goal of nuclear non-proliferation should not undermine the inalienable right of States to acquire, have access to nuclear material, energy and technology for peaceful purposes.
Unless we take collective and concerted action together, next year’s NPT review conference will take place in an uncertain international environment. The Conference next year will be crucial to give Member States the opportunity to rededicate themselves to strengthen the global efforts towards non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Although the third Prep Com for the Review Conference held last year could not forge consensus on recommendations, we would like to commend the work of the Chair to present a Working paper with key recommendations and we appreciate the work of Ambassador Syed Hasrin to come out with a balanced document that reflected the views of the entire membership of the NPT, and not just the two main groups. Given the widespread conviction of the importance of the NPT and its relevance towards the goal of global nuclear disarmament, we are of the view that these recommendations cover essential issues where there is common ground, as well as important priority issues, such as risk reduction, transparency and reporting and gender. We hope that these recommendations can serve as a guide to work collectively towards success at the Review Conference next year.
Dialogue and cooperation will be the only way to realize the objectives and purposes of the NPT, de-nuclearisation and bring lasting peace. Therefore, Sri Lanka encourages all parties to persevere through dialogue and to refrain from actions that can lead to create mistrust among the parties.
Sri Lanka strongly believes that the total elimination of nuclear weapons is the only guarantee against the threat of nuclear weapons. In this regard, all States have an obligation to negotiate in good faith to achieve the objective of total elimination of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons States must make progress in eliminating their nuclear stockpiles.
The threat of Nuclear weapons has not diminished and little progress has been achieved to eliminate Nuclear weapons. We remain concerned that States are now modernizing their nuclear arsenals with increasingly destructive capabilities and developing new weapons and delivery systems. The grave risk of accidental, mistaken or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons remains ever present. There is also the looming danger that these weapons are also vulnerable to technical failures, human errors and cyber-attacks or falling into the hands of terrorist.
The physical safety of nuclear materials is a continuing concern, and all States that possess such materials as well as other States should continue to ensure that terrorists do not have access to them under any circumstances. We strongly support and call for the effective implementation of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
Chemical and Biological Weapons
Sri Lanka seeks to advance and promote respect for the objectives of the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention and continue to call for their effective and non-discriminatory implementation.
This year marked the 45th anniversary of the entry into force of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the first multilateral disarmament treaty to ban an entire category of weapons of mass destruction and with the support of 183 State Parties continues to be relevant and a priority for States. Today, the norm against biological weapons remains strong, and there is common acceptance by the international community on the non-use of disease / biological weapons. However, the international community must remain vigilant and State parties should update the mechanisms within the Convention for reviewing advances in science and technology and work together to improve bio-security and bio-preparedness, to enable countries to be equipped to prevent and respond to the possible use of biological weapons.
Sri Lanka signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 and remains committed in delivering on its national obligations related to the Conventions. The National Authority in Sri Lanka has been re-oriented, with greater focus on security and disarmament aspects. In the backdrop of alleged use of Chemical Weapons in certain parts of the world, Sri Lanka joins other Member States in urging all State Parties to respect their obligations under the Convention, and refrain from the use of these horrendous and indiscriminate weapons.
Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZs)
Sri Lanka calls for practical steps towards the establishment of WMD-free zones and building upon the nuclear free zones that already exist, and, in particular, in the regions where such zones are not in place.
In this regard, we are pleased that the adoption of General Assembly Decision 73/546 on convening a conference on the establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and other WMD led to the holding of its first session last November under the Presidency of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. We urge all States to participate and bring to a conclusion a legally binding treaty on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs)
As a country that has experienced a thirty years-long separatist terrorist conflict, Sri Lanka is acutely aware of the devastation and destruction that is caused by small arms and light weapons (SALW) and illicit trade of weapons, where non-State actors are able to easily acquire illicit access to SALW. We remain committed to the prevention, curbing and eradication of the illicit trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). These illicit trade flows of trade often have devastating impacts on fueling violence and crime, forced displacement of civilians and massive human rights violations.
Sri Lanka is a signatory to the UN Programme of Action to Combat the Proliferation of Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Aspects and has established a National Commission against the proliferation of illicit small arms to address the spread of such weapons in the country.
Greater steps must also be made to address all related aspects of the problem of illicit small arms, including weapons collection and destruction, adequate legal and policy frameworks, institutional arrangements, proper stockpile management, as well as education and awareness. We underscore that any measures relating to conventional arms control, including small arms and light weapons, must be taken on the basis of placing human beings at the center of all efforts.
In this regard, Sri Lanka looks forward to a positive outcome next year, when member States review the 7th Biennial Meeting of States of the Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons and it is hoped that this would provide an opportunity to look at aspects such as national target setting and recent technological developments, as recommended by the Secretary-General.
We would like to commend the work of the three UN Regional Centres for Peace and Disarmament (UNRCPD) that play an important role to assist member States in capacity building and training. Sri Lanka took part with nine other States in the region in a Baseline Assessment for Disarmament Education with the UN Regional Centre in Asia and the Pacific based in Nepal. We also appreciate the assistance provided by the UNRCPD/ Nepal in conducting an assessment of national measures to curb illicit flow of SALW, with the participation of experts and national stakeholders early this year.
Having initiated State level discussions on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems during its Presidency of the CCW in 2015, which paved the way to the Government Group of Experts (GGE) in 2016, Sri Lanka supports the ongoing discussions within the framework of the CCW GGE on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), and encourages the continuation of the GGE process. While recognizing the positive benefits that could accrue from the dual–use nature of the technology, new technological developments, Artificial Intelligence (AI) - the development of LAWS devoid of any human control have created unprecedented risks and challenges to humanity.
In our view centrality of human control is fundamental. Legal clarity on exact parameters of prohibitive and permissive limitations through the adoption of a new legally binding instrument is the only way forward which would provide clear legal limitations on autonomous weapon systems while complementing and strengthening the existing IHL norms.
Sri Lanka encourages the State Parties to the CCW to deepen and fast track the discussion within the GGE to urgently address the issues of possible development and deployment of LAWS to ensure that our efforts on this very important issue are not over -run by the fast-moving realities on the ground. .
Of all the weapons that have accumulated over years of war by States, few are more persistent and more indiscriminate than land-mines. Landmines have devastating health and socio-economic impacts for individuals and entire communities. It has been estimated that Sri Lanka had half a million land mines buried in the conflict area. Mine clearance was accorded high priority as part of the post conflict development and reconciliation efforts of the Government, working closely together with a number of mine clearing NGOs and local organizations. The Sri Lanka Army has been responsible for nearly 90% of the mines cleared that has enabled the speedy re-settlement of the internally displaced and the redevelopment of these areas. Sri Lanka stands ready to share our experiences and best practices to help countries in de-mining tasks. To date, Sri Lanka has cleared 140 square kms with 15 Square kms remaining
While Sri Lanka has set the target of becoming mine – free by 2020, through an accelerated national strategy, various practical constrains, including inadequate funding has delayed the achievement of the target. We remain committed on the path to make Sri Lanka landmines-free through sustained national efforts, focusing on mine clearance, resettlement of affected persons, mine risk reduction and victim assistance. Sri Lanka appreciates continued assistance from development partners in achieving this target at the earliest.
In September of last year, Sri Lanka was privileged to have presided over the 9th Meeting of States Parties (MSP) to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM),to review of the implementation of the Convention, and play a role in the advocacy for the universalization of the Convention and its norms, and the prohibition of use, production, stockpile and transfer of cluster munitions.
During Sri Lanka’s Presidency, measures were taken to advance the key objectives of the Convention, universalize the Convention and its norms, Risk Reduction Education and Transparency Reporting, and progress in other thematic areas including Clearance, Stockpile Destruction and Retention, International Cooperation and Assistance, and Victim Assistance.
In addition to these traditional and conventional areas, new technological advancements in ICT have given rise to new challenges in the international security landscape, particularly in cybercrime, cyber warfare and cyberattacks, that are alarmingly on the rise.
Sri Lanka welcomes the ongoing UNGA processes established to address these issues, namely the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) and the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE). Both of these processes are doing valuable work and it is important that we collectively work to ensure that cyberspace does not become an area of conflict and competition and we stand united against any illegal or malicious use of ICT, including social media tools and networks.
Sri Lanka would like to stress and underscore that Outer Space is part of the common heritage of humanity. It is our global commons. It remains humanity’s last frontier- that needs protection and equal opportunity for humankind for its exploration and utilization for peaceful purposes and for the collective benefit of all countries. There is a pressing need to ensure that outer space remains free of conflict, and it is vital that we prevent any militarization and weaponization of space.
It is for these reasons, that Sri Lanka and Egypt have jointly tabled an annual Resolution for almost 4 decades titled “Prevention of an Arms race in Outer Space” that had enjoyed consensus for many years and today has almost universal acceptance.
This year, this important Resolution, will be introduced by Egypt and we hope it will continue to enjoy your wide support like in the last year.
Sri Lanka also welcomes the work of the GGE on further practical measures for the prevention of an arms race in outer space established through resolution 72/250, and while regretting that the Group failed to agree on a final report by consensus, due to one delegation, underscores that the report provides a strong foundation for further negotiations and our work towards a legally binding instrument.
Sri Lanka would like to reaffirm the vital importance of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) as the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament. We underscore the need, more than ever, for the CD to get down to its substantive task of addressing these challenges through negotiation of disarmament treaties and are disappointed that the CD has not been able to advance in its work. Sri Lanka stands ready to extend its support for any practical proposal or efforts that could return the CD to substantive work.
In conclusion, Sri Lanka reaffirms its commitment to the disarmament agenda, and continues to pledge its full support and commitment to the multilateral disarmament machinery.
We would like to reiterate once again, the necessity for concerted, collective action towards non-proliferation and eradication of nuclear weapons, the curbing of the illicit trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons and the prevention of an arms race in outer space. Sri Lanka looks forward to meaningful and constructive engagement on these issues and others at this Session.
At this critical juncture, let us all re-dedicate ourselves to work with renewed vigor and commitment to collectively work towards reinforcing and enhancing the global agenda for peace and disarmament, and search for collective, constructive and cooperative ways to work with a greater purpose for a better tomorrow and our future generations.
I thank you.