Sri Lanka not likely to sign nuclear weapons ban treaty at UN
UNITED NATIONS – Sri Lanka, in an unprecedented move in the country’s diplomatic history, is not signing a major international treaty which it has already voted on.
Along with 121 other countries, Sri Lanka voted last July to approve a landmark UN treaty that bans the possession, development, testing, and use of nuclear weapons worldwide.
Sri Lanka was not listed among the countries scheduled to sign the treaty at a formal ceremony that is to take place at the United Nations on September 20, the day after President Maithripala Sirisena addresses the UN General Assembly (UNGA), where most world leaders are expected to participate.
As expected, none of the “major” nuclear powers – the US, the UK, France, Russia and China and the "notso-major" nuclear powers India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – will sign the treaty. And during negotiations they either refused to participate in the drafting of the treaty or did not vote to approve the treaty.
In a joint media statement, the delegations of the United States, Britain and France said they “have not taken part in the negotiation of the treaty… and do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”
The treaty – adopted by a vote of 122, including Sri Lanka in favour to one against (The Netherlands), with one abstention (Singapore) – prohibits a full range of nuclear-weapon-related activities, such as undertaking to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons.
Dr Palitha Kohona, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, told the Sunday Times a treaty on nuclear disarmament would be consistent with the long standing disarmament dream of the UN Charter.
“Every little bit, even the voice of small countries, helps. But we are only too conscious of the fact that we live in a world of big brothers and smaller and weaker siblings. A nuclear weapon may be the only deterrent to prevent
big brothers trampling rough shod over the others,” said Dr Kohona, a former longtime Chief of the UN Treaty Section and an authority on international treaties.
Asked if, to the best of his knowledge whether Sri Lanka had voted, but not signed, an international treaty, he said: “Not that I can think of.”
Although the two South Asian nuclear powers, India and Pakistan will not sign the treaty, other members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) are expected to participate in the treaty signing ceremony.
Over the decades, Sri Lanka has taken a consistent stand against nuclear weapons, and strongly backed the same stand taken by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the largest single political group at the United Nations.
According to one diplomatic source the President may have been wrongly advised. “I think this is the same old 'keep your head below the parapet wall' mentality."
The speculation at the UN is that Sri Lanka has been lobbied by one of the nuclear powers for non-action on the treaty.
The treaty, described as the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years, will enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries. It comes in the backdrop of heightened fears that a nuclear war could be imminent if North Korea were to fire its weapons it is testing in recent weeks at the US, Japan or South Korea.
“The UN treaty represents an important step and contribution towards the common aspirations of a world without nuclear weapons,” a spokesperson for Secretary- General António Guterres said. President Sirisena arrives in New York today (September 17), to address the UN General Assembly on Tuesday (19), and leaves next Saturday (September 23), with dozens of bilateral meetings in between, and a visit to a Buddhist temple in the New York city borough of Queens.
At a news conference on Friday, the chief of the UN Treaty Section, Santiago Villalpando, said 38 countries are scheduled to sign several multilateral treaties, including the nuclear treaty, but he cautioned that the list gets updated every 24 hours.
As of Friday, Sri Lanka was not listed as a signatory, but that could change if the government decides to sign the treaty at the 59th minute of the eleventh hour, said an official here.
At the time of going to press, a request for clarification on Sri Lanka’s stand or volte-face on the issue went unanswered by the Foreign Ministry in Colombo.
The ancient stone bridge also known as 'Gal Palama' at Mahakandarawa in Mihintale is under threat. Area residents have brought the situation to the notice of the Department of Archaeology.
They claim the bridge has been neglected by the Department of Archaeology with no protection being provided for several years .
The 78- foot- long, 8- footwide bridge, built across the Kandara Oya constructed using only stone pillars with vertical slabs of stone has long been an attraction not only among both local and foreign tourists, it has also been a subject of study among foreign archaeologists as well as it remains largely unchanged and intact since it was originally constructed.
Officials of the Department of Archaeology admit the site has been neglected. The bridge is believed to have been built by King Mahasen, who was also responsible for constructing the Mahakandarawa tank.
Pic by Athula Bandara