Viewpoint: Ban Ki-moon, Former Secretary-General, UN

The entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is centred on respect for human rights. It aims to ensure that no one is left behind by reaching out to the most vulnerable and marginalised first. Sustainable Development Goal 16, on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, provides the clearest example of this approach. Goal 10 on reducing inequalities, Goal 5 on gender and several other goals focus on inclusivity in education and economic growth. These are all testimony to the mutually reinforcing links between sustainable development and peace. In the same way that Sri Lankans called for more accountable government, people the world over have called for good governance and the rule of law, inclusivity and equality, justice and human rights through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They asked for transparency and accountability in how governments plan and deliver development and ensure security.

In Sri Lanka, the world’s work for human rights faced one of its most difficult tests. The decades-long civil war saw terrible violence, terrorism, the use of human shields and other grievous violations of human rights and humanitarian law. In the conflict’s decisive final stages, tens of thousands of civilians perished. The war was ended – an unquestionable good for Sri Lanka, the region and the world. But we also know that even in its ending, the price was high.

Sri Lankans are deeply engaged in a process of reckoning and reconciliation. The UN has also engaged in self-scrutiny. Reports by expert, independent panels that I appointed found serious systemic problems on the part of member states and secretariat alike. It seemed clear that the fog of war had obscured the centrality of human rights.

Sri Lanka has taught us many important lessons. Building on these, the UN has taken wide-ranging steps to strengthen our focus on human rights, particularly during times of political and humanitarian crisis. In particular, I launched the Human Rights up Front initiative, which aims to focus early attention on violations before they escalate to a point of no return. This work often faces opposition, from repressive governments to individual hatreds. But we are determined to ensure that human rights are where they belong: at the centre of our decision-making. I again commend Sri Lankans for examining the difficult period you have now begun to leave behind. I am sure those efforts will continue to generate important lessons for the international community that can save many lives in many places.

The watchwords for the path you have chosen are inclusivity, transparency and accountability. All sectors of society must be involved in planning for peace and sustainable development, and the results must benefit all. Young men and women have the energy and the motivation to break down barriers, reach across cultural divides and lead peace-building efforts.

Women must also take their rightful place and must be involved in plans for peace, reconciliation and sustainable development as community representatives, as project managers and as partners in consultation. There must be robust participation mechanisms to secure the broadest possible ownership of the post-conflict reconciliation and sustainable development agendas. There is a place for representatives of people who have suffered human rights abuses, as well as international actors. I call on international partners to come forward with coordinated support for the framework the government has put in place. I call on parliament to be an active partner, providing initiatives as well as checks and balances. I invite the private sector to invest its energy and resources. I applaud the courageous and vibrant civil society of Sri Lanka and count on you to bring forward your brightest ideas, as well as constructive criticism when it is due. I salute the women and young people of Sri Lanka and look forward to your contributions in taking this country forward on the new path of peace and reconciliation. The UN is here to support you every step of the way.