Sri Lanka not likely to sign nu­clear weapons ban treaty at UN

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - FRONT PAGE - By thalif deen

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

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