Unity is strength
In his address on Sri Lanka's Independence Day, High Commissioner to the UK, Dr Chris Nonis emphasised that the wealth of the country was in the diversity of its people of varying backgrounds, ethnicities and religions.
He said it was imperative to make optimum use of that diversity and build a strong and unified Sri Lanka which would then be able to resist those external forces that seek to divide rather than unify Sri Lanka.
Dr Nonis was speaking to a large gathering of the British polity including parliamentarians from the House of Lords and the House of Commons, heads of diplomatic missions, members of the Commonwealth Secretariat including its Secretary-General, members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the business community, think tanks, international organisations and representatives from HRH Prince Charles' office and Buckingham Palace, at a reception held at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London to celebrate the 66th Independence Day of Sri Lanka.
The High Commissioner thanked the 53 London-based Commonwealth high commissioners who, in their capacity as members of the Board of Governors of the Commonwealth Secretariat, played a pivotal role in ensuring that Sri Lanka hosted CHOGM 2013 so successfully. He thanked them for their friendship, cooperation and solidarity with Sri Lanka, especially in not succumbing to the strong pressures from lobby groups in the years leading up to the CHOGM.
He referred to the value that had accrued to Sri Lanka in hosting CHOGM for it provided an opportunity to a large cross-section of the global community such as governments, business leaders, youth and media to visit Sri Lanka and form their own views of contemporary Sri Lanka without depending on hearsay and jaundiced opinions.
Dr Nonis invited those present to view the special exhibition at the High Commission premises on CHOGM 2013 and its three parallel fora, the numerous heads of state and government of the Commonwealth with whom President Mahinda Rajapaksa had fruitful bilateral meetings. The exhibition also portrayed the visit of HRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who had endeared themselves so graciously to the Sri Lankan people.
The exhibition also depicted the comprehensive rehabilitation, reconciliation and reconstruction programmes undertaken in post-conflict Sri Lanka.
The exhibition was also viewed by a substantial number of the Sri Lankan diaspora who gathered earlier in the day to participate in the traditional ceremonies associated with Independence Day and listen to the prayers of Buddhist, Hindu, Islam and Christian religious dignitaries who bestowed blessings on Sri Lanka and its leaders.
Reminding his different audiences of Sri Lanka's history, Dr Nonis said that universal franchise was granted to both men and women in 1931, 17 years before independence. Exercising the right of the ballot even before independence helped Sri Lanka build the vibrant democracy that it is today.
Member of British Parliament Ian Paisley jr spoke from his perspective of Northern Ireland having endured terrorism and said that its post-conflict situation still had many unresolved issues after forty years. Having visited Sri Lanka on several occasions his view was that Sri Lanka had made comparatively far greater progress in four years and should be applauded.
Mayoress Frances Stainton, in her address, spoke of her work for “Walking with the wounded” the charity for British soldiers injured during conflict, and stated how remarkable it had been to meet the young Sri Lankan soldier who had won a bronze medal in the Paralympics last year, and the importance of looking after the differently-abled who have fought so valiantly for their countries.
High Commissioner Dr Chris Nonis proposed a toast to Her Majesty the Queen and the people of Britain, and Sir Peter Heap KCMG proposed a toast to HE the President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the people of Sri Lanka.