The theme of the reception was the strong relationship between Sri Lanka and the UK, with a special focus on sport and youth. The following is the transcript of the British High Commissioner’s speech at the event.
Address by H E John Rankin, British High Commissioner
19 June 2014
“First Lady Madam Shiranthi Wickramasinghe Rajapaksa, Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development, Members of the Government and Parliament, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It was in 1954, 60 years ago, that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II made her first visit to Sri Lanka. I am pleased to welcome you to this event today to mark the official birthday of Her Majesty, and to celebrate the close ties between Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom.
Our two countries of course have a deep historical relationship. We are reminded of this every day, from place names, the railway system and many of the beautiful buildings from the British period here in Colombo and beyond.
As British High Commissioner, and also a Scot, I am particularly reminded of the links with Sri Lanka’s tea estates and plantations, with names such as Inverness, Edinburgh and Strathclyde. The Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish- people from each part of our United Kingdom-all played a role together with the people of this island in the period up to independence in 1948.
But our relationship is far from being merely a historical one. The links between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka, and between our peoples, remain strong and vibrant to this day.
In the field of education, to which I know that the First Lady has a deep attachment, some 4000 Sri Lankan students study in the UK each year at our world class universities, and perform very well there. We remain committed to the Chevening Scholarship awards, many of whose recipients have gone on to distinguished careers here in Sri Lanka. I am delighted that a number of Chevening Scholars are with us this evening.
The British Council continues to provide access to British qualifications and English language teaching across Sri Lanka, including at its centres in Colombo, Kandy and most recently in Jaffna.
And some 28 UK Universities provide access to their degrees through local education providers here in Sri Lanka. I look forward to the first overseas UK direct campus in South Asia being established here in Sri Lanka.
Our business relations are also strong. Over 100 UK companies successfully operate here, including our sponsors today, and the UK remains among your top 5 investors. The UK is also one of your largest export markets, with the quality of your products, made under good labour conditions, being in high demand. UK companies continue to welcome the opportunities provided by Sri Lanka’s strongly growing economy. UK tourists continue to visit Sri Lanka in ever increasing numbers.
And the UK continues to provide practical support for Sri Lanka, through demining, helping people to return to their land and put it to productive use; through police training, helping to share the UK model of community policing and helping to develop your Police Academy and College; and through support for reconciliation projects that help to bring the different communities of Sri Lanka together.
Our two countries also share membership of the Commonwealth. Last November Sri Lanka hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Colombo, during which I was delighted to celebrate the 65th birthday of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales here at Westminster House.
As Commonwealth Members, Sri Lanka and the UK have both committed to the values set out in the Commonwealth Charter: commitment to democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law, commitment to sustainable development, good governance and gender equality.
It is in context of such commitments, both in the Commonwealth and in the United Nations, that we continue to call on Sri Lanka to cooperate with the international investigation mandated by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March, and to fully implement the specific recommendations in your own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission report, including on accountability and ensuring justice for victims of all sides during the conflict.
Following the Summit in London last week co-hosted by our Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, we also continue to encourage Sri Lanka to join all of those countries- more than three quarters of all the world’s nations -to endorse the Declaration to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and to ensure that there is no impunity for acts of sexual violence in conflict in Sri Lanka as elsewhere.
And together with our colleagues in the European Union we reiterate our concern over the recent outbreak of communal violence which has resulted in the loss of lives in Sri Lanka and trust that clear steps will be taken to deter incitement, protect communities and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. We welcome the Government’s assurances to that effect.
We say all this as a friend of Sri Lanka. We believe that by such steps, Sri Lanka will enhance its stability, prosperity and reach its full potential.
In my remaining time as British High Commissioner, I look forward to engaging further with the Government and people of Sri Lanka on these issues.
I also look forward to furthering our relationship in the area of sport. I congratulate the Sri Lankan Cricket team on its recent win in the One Day Internationals in England and I hope that the upcoming second Test match is as exciting as the first.
The England cricket team will be coming here for further matches in November, and next month Sri Lanka’s athletes will be welcomed at the Commonwealth Games in my Home City of Glasgow. I wish your Commonwealth Games team every success.
As I’ve seen for myself in Sri Lanka, and as we saw at the London Olympics two years ago, sport is a wonderful way of bringing young people together from all different cultural and ethnic backgrounds in celebrating what unites them, rather than what divides them.
So let us at our Queen’s Birthday Party this evening look forward to what our young people can and do achieve. In both Sri Lanka and the UK it is young people that represent our future, and who will build the relationship between our two countries in years to come.
Madam Rajapaksa, Minister, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to join me in celebrating the relationship between our two countries, and to raise your glasses in a toast to His Excellency the President and the People of Sri Lanka.”