15th October 2000
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"When human life is involved, all else is secondary"

Early in her political life, Mrs Bandaranaike spearheaded the Non-Aligned Movement and in this speech to the Non-Aligned Conference in Belgrade in 1961 she addressed the assembly appealing for peace not just as leader, but as a woman and mother. Extracts:

I consider it a great honour to represent my country at this Conference which could prove to be of historic significance in the cause of world peace. I am happy to attend this great assembly not only as a representative of my country but also as a woman and a mother who can understand the thoughts and feelings of those millions of women, the mothers of this world, who are deeply concerned with the preservation of the human race.

I am also happy that we have chosen to hold the Conference in this beautiful city of Belgrade not only because of the warmth and hospitality of the Yugoslav people of which there is so much evidence but also because in holding it in a European city we have demonstrated to the world that the ideals and hopes which we all share are not confined to a continent or region but reflect an awareness on the At the NAM summit, Belgrade - 1961part of human beings, wherever they may be, of the urgent need for international peace and security.

We in Ceylon count ourselves fortunate that the people of our land were spared the horrors of two World Wars and that we were able to throw off the shackles of colonial power without strife or bloodshed. But it was not until eight years after the attainment of independence, when my late husband was elected Prime Minister, that the foreign bases were taken over and a definite and positive policy of non-alignment with power blocs adopted in foreign affairs.

This Conference at Belgrade has not been convened, however, for the consideration of specific problems peculiar to individual nations; we are gathered here in the firm belief that the positive policy of non-alignment with power blocs followed by each of our several countries and that our common dedication to the cause of peace and peaceful co-existence gives us the right to raise our voices in common decisions and declarations in a world divided into power blocs and moving rapidly towards the brink of a nuclear war.

Many of the Heads of States and Heads of Governments who addressed this Conference in plenary session have emphasized the point that our group of nations do not propose to become a third bloc or a third force. None of us can really disagree with that view, for that would be inconsistent with the very idea of non-alignment. But it is important to remember that in our anxiety to avoid becoming a third force we must not allow our spirit of unity and purpose which has been so evident at this Conference to disintegrate and fall apart. 

We believe that the ideals which have drawn us together will continue to inspire our thinking on international problems. We must recognise, however, that national policy is seldom divorced from national interest and that it is in the nature of international politics that competitive interests should arise. It would be unreal for us to believe that such conflicts of interest can be resolved by any appeal to principle alone. It would be equally unreal, and indeed positively dangerous, to allow these conflicts to remain unresolved. It is in this spirit that I would like to express our thoughts on some of the problems which confront us.

None of the countries of the world, big or small, rich or poor, can afford to look with indifference at the increasing international tension and at the steady deterioration in mutual trust and understanding among the committed nations of the world, particularly the Big Powers. The present crisis in Berlin must be reviewed not as a separate question but as part of the larger problem of a divided Germany and against the background of the failure of the Great Powers to agree on a firm peace settlement for that country.

The tensions which have grown in various parts of the world in recent years can be traced to the clash of interest between the two power blocs. The fact remains that the German problem is one of the legacies of the last war, and the earlier this question is resolved of uniting the two sections, the better it will be for peace and understanding among nations.

Disarmament is a crucial question of our times. An early settlement of this question will be of paramount importance in building confidence among nations and in decreasing the dangers of war. It would also be an important milestone in the improvement of relations between nations and would mark the end of two-power blocs with all this portends for the future peace and security of the world. Vast sums of money that are expended in manufacturing these weapons of destruction could usefully be spent on economic and social development in various countries of the world.

As countries having a vested interest in peace we should make an immediate appeal to the big powers to resume negotiations with a view to the achievement of complete and general disarmament. In my view, it would help these negotiations if a certain number of the non-aligned countries are also included in the Disarmament Commission. 

This Conference of non-aligned states does not in any way act contrary to the aims and objectives for which the United Nations stands. On the contrary, this Conference supports and supplements the work of the United Nations. The United Nations stands for the maintenance of international peace and security and it is in the interest of all concerned, particularly the small countries, to maintain and strengthen this organisation.

We would prefer basic changes in the UN Charter in order to strengthen this organisation, but disagreement among the big powers makes this difficult. The failure to seat the representative of the People's Republic of China has contributed to this impasse. It is our earnest hope that wise counsels will prevail and that China will take her legitimate seat in the United Nations.

The composition of the Security Council and the other institutions of the United Nations does not adequately reflect the present membership of the United Nations. When a satisfactory solution is reached as regards the representation of the People's Republic of China we feel a reallocation of seats could be made in those bodies so that greater representation might be given to the Asian-African Group.

Before I conclude I should like to express my firm conviction that there is no single country in the world at this moment that looks forward to the prospects of war without dismay. I do not for one moment believe that there is a single mother in the world who could bear to contemplate the possible danger of her children being exposed to atomic radiation and slow and lingering death, if not swift annihilation. 

The statesmen of the great powers, who have been placed in positions of trust and authority by millions of ordinary people who do not want war, have no right to assume that they have a mandate to precipitate a nuclear war and immense destructive power either to defend a way of life or to extend a political ideology. 

If I may attempt to assess the contribution that the non-aligned countries can make at this time, I would say that our endeavour should be to influence world opinion to such an extent that governments, however powerful, cannot regard warfare as an alternative to negotiation. Too much is at stake today to allow us the luxury of considerations of prestige and honour. When human life is involved all else is secondary. Let us in our deliberations make this clear in no uncertain terms. ---> More

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