In the course of his comments the High Commissioner spoke about the importance of post-conflict reconciliation, drawing on the UK’s own experience in Northern Ireland. He commented that truth and accountability work in both the national interest and the armed forces’ self-interest, were necessities for modern militaries.
High Commissioner Dauris explained that a process of truth and accountability advanced reconciliation and prosperity – “this is in the wider national interest. It builds confidence and trust between communities, and between the armed forces and the communities it is the responsibility of our servicemen and women to protect”. “And among many reasons why it is in the military’s self interest,” he suggested that “it enhanced credibility and self-esteem, strengthened morale and wins respect.”
He also talked to the audience of officers from all of Sri Lanka’s armed forces about the UK’s recent Strategic Defence Spending Review (SDSR) and particular challenges that would drive UK security priorities and thinking for a decade. Priorities included the increasing threat posed by terrorism, extremism and instability; and the impact of technology, especially cyber threats. Events of the last year had shown that those remain as important now as they were when the review was published.
Since January 2016 the UK and Sri Lanka have enhanced their defence ties, including through the appointment of defence attachés and programmes involving army, navy and air force personnel.
“The UK and Sri Lanka have a long shared history. Our two countries are linked in so many ways – through history, tradition, language, culture, education, sport, business. And, of course, for two hundred years they have also been linked through our armed forces and through defence. Though our countries are geographically far apart, we have long been partners.
“In Sri Lanka, look at how much land that was unusable because of landmines is now back in the hands of the families and farmers displaced by the conflict. In my High Commission we are proud of the funding that we have contributed to this work, much of which has been led by two British NGOs, the HALO Trust and the Mine Action Group. Handing land back has required some tough decisions, I know. Making it work is harder than it sounds and requires clear sighted and determined leadership.
“One thought I would like to leave you with is this. That further land returns will win further confidence and that a further shift in the relationship between the soldiers and airmen and sailors who are doing their duty in the north, and local populations will also win further confidence. Things are much better, but all is not yet as well as it could or needs to be.
“I believe that you can all be confident that all this is worth the effort. You can be confident that the steps that have been taken are ones that are contributing to building confidence between communities, to re-establishing the bond of trust between ordinary people and their armed forces.
“In the UK we are proud that our country is a close and long-standing friend of Sri Lanka. And we welcome the steps your government has taken, and which it wants to take, that have enabled the renewal of the partnership between our forces that we are enjoying today.”