our Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for coming.
I am delighted to be here on my first official visit. In the short time I have been here, I have already been overwhelmed by the beauty of your country, the diversity of your culture and the warmth of your people.
That warmth reflects the enduring relationship between our countries. We have strong personal ties, not least thanks to our thriving Sri Lankan community in the UK. We share common interests in security, trade and education; and we share common values which we put into practice through our memberships of the Commonwealth and the UN. Shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law - not to mention our shared love of tea and cricket!
Today, a key part of our relationship is our support for your Government’s commitment to long term peace and reconciliation. Coming to terms with the past and guaranteeing people’s rights for the future are central to achieving this goal.
As you strive to reach it, you have a staunch ally in the United Kingdom. We care deeply about Sri Lanka and its future, and we have our own valuable experiences to share. My discussions yesterday in Jaffna and today in Colombo have focused on these issues.
I have also sought to raise awareness of another issue: preventing sexual violence in conflict.
This is a difficult subject. Sexual violence does immense harm to individuals and to societies and it is difficult to talk about. I would like to explain why the British Government believes tackling sexual violence is so important; why being open about it matters to Sri Lanka and what we are doing to help.
The UK has been campaigning to end Sexual Violence in Conflict for four years. Our Initiative was born of the conviction that sexual violence is not an inevitable part of conflict and that more can be done, both to prevent people suffering during conflict, and to support survivors afterwards. It was launched by William Hague, our former Foreign Secretary, and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Step by step, we are making a difference. The Initiative is providing better support to survivors; educating people to prevent sexual violence; and putting measures in place to hold perpetrators to account.
Accountability is vital. First, because it signals society’s rejection of sexual violence and shows that there will be no impunity. Secondly, it is about valuing the victims and helping to restore their dignity. Finally, and crucially, it is vital for securing post conflict peace and reconciliation in the communities in which survivors live.
Two years ago we created an essential guide to help those working in the field. The International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence– a set of standards on the documentation of sexual violence, drafted by over 200 experts from around the world.
Since its launch, we have provided training on the Protocol in a wide range of countries affected by sexual violence in conflict. To encourage its use we have so far translated it into nine languages including Kurdish, Nepali, Burmese, Serbian, and Swahili. I am delighted that it will soon be available in Sinhala and Tamil. Ending impunity is vital for long term reconciliation, but it is not enough. Enabling survivors to thrive in their communities is just as important. This is not always straight-forward, due to the stigma too often associated with sexual violence.
Over the last 18 months I have travelled to many parts of the world afflicted by sexual violence. Survivors have often told me that stigma has hampered their recovery. It can also prevent communities from coming back together after conflict – and further delay the building of peace. That is why tackling survivor stigma is one of my top priorities.
In order to tackle the problem, we need to understand it fully. The situation is different in every country, and that is why we are holding workshops in a number of countries around the world – and we held one here today. I am grateful to FOKUS Women for their support and to all those who participated. We value your contribution.
International experts will assess all the findings from the workshops at a conference later this month in the UK. Our aim is that they will propose a set of recommendations and a plan for international action to tackle this issue.
I said earlier that sexual violence is a difficult subject to discuss. I know it is difficult here too. However, evidence shows that if it has not been confronted, it can erode hope in the future and undermine trust between communities. That’s why this subject is too important to ignore: addressing it will be an important step forward towards your goal of long term reconciliation.
Each of us knows that confronting some things isn’t easy. Doing so requires vision, courage and combined effort - of government, individuals and from society as a whole. But tough though it can be, doing so helps to get us where we want to be.
That’s why I was delighted that Sri Lanka endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict earlier this year. Another important step was the guidance issued to security forces that sexual violence would not be tolerated, and that perpetrators would be held to account.
I hope that the renewed partnership between the UK and the Sri Lankan military will not only help to achieve our shared goal of having modern militaries focused on future risks, including through Peace Keeping Operations, but also to share experience on how best to tackle issues of sexual violence at home and abroad.
In the course of my visit many people have reminded me both that much has been done since President Sirisena was elected in January last year and also that there is still much more to do, both to end sexual violence and to secure long term peace and stability.
As Sri Lanka works towards this goal, as well as delivering the commitments set out in the UN Human Rights Council Resolution, you can count on the full support of the United Kingdom.
We are already sharing experience on policing. I saw this for myself in Jaffna yesterday when I visited our long running community policing programme, which trains police officers working on women’s and children’s issues.
We are also helping to ensure women’s views are represented in the Government’s plans for truth and reconciliation. Experience from elsewhere shows that when women are involved, peace processes are more likely to succeed long term. Another important area that we support is de-mining. This is vital to enable families to re-build their lives after conflict. I was pleased I had the opportunity when I was in Jaffna yesterday to visit Tellipalai to see what a difference this is making to communities that have been displaced from their homes for many years. I am delighted that the UK will be providing £1.5 million to the HALO Trust over the next three years to support your Government’s target to clear all mines by 2020.
Our countries are fortunate to enjoy a strong and enduring relationship. We do not underestimate the challenges of dealing with the legacy of a thirty year conflict. As I commented to your Prime Minister when we met earlier this evening, we welcome the determination of the Government of Sri Lanka to face up to these challenges. I encourage it to stay the course.
As it does so, the Government can count on the full support and encouragement of the UK. As you seek to come to terms with the past and build a successful future for all the people of Sri Lanka, we will be by your side.