The Sri Lankan who always went places

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By 2017-09-24

Coming events cast their shadows before. Founding United Nations Under Secretary- General for Disarmament , Eleventh and the immediate past Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Pugwash Conference and veteran Sri Lankan Diplomat Dr. Jayantha Cuda Bandara Dhanapala was no exception.

It was as a 17-year-old Trinity College schoolboy that he was afforded an opportunity that any outstanding schoolboy would yearn and cry for. That was to have a personal audience with a sitting United States President and also a Senator and subsequent US President.

Dhanapala was afforded an opportunity for an audience with the then sitting President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower and Senator and subsequent President of the United States John F. Kennedy.

It all happened when he won an essay writing competition titled and themed 'The world we want' which was hosted by the International Herald Tribune Newspaper, the United States Embassy in Colombo and the Ministry of Education.
"I decided to participate in this competition soon after I sat for my university entrance from Trinity College in 1956, Dr. Dhanapala reminisced with Ceylon Today with obvious pride.
However, what he , in all his modesty, did not say was that he was also the Editor of the Trinity College Magazine, winner of the Current Affairs Prize, a member of the Trinity College Rugby XV and that he was also the Trinity College Senior Prefect and winner of the much coveted Ryde Gold Medal for the Best All Round Student in 1956.
Dhanapala was the only outstation schoolboy to compete in the competition and he was the only one to get selected as well. He spent three months in four hospitality periods in schools in New York, Washington and New Jersey where all 33 international students of the programme were photographed with US President Dwight Eisenhower and Senator John F. Kennedy. "That was awesome," he intoned in an incontrovertibly manifest gush of nostalgia.

Having graduated with a first class from Peradeniya University, Dr. Dhanapala was former High Commissioner to New Delhi and London and Ambassador to Washington (with accreditation to the United Nations and Geneva.) He was widely acclaimed for his Presidency of the 1995 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference, a landmark event in disarmament history, because of his crafting of a package of decisions balancing the twin objectives of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament and the concerns of the nuclear weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states which was adopted without a vote.
The New York Times observed that Jayantha Dhanapala "was a diplomat mostly unknown outside the arms-control world until he was elected to preside over this conference." Dhanapala was handpicked by United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan to take on the challenging job of Under Secretary General to re-establish the Department of Disarmament after the UN reforms of 1997 (1998–2003). During his tenure he piloted the UN's role in arresting the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, anti-personnel landmines, conventional weapons, and weapons of mass destruction while reinforcing existing norms and norm-building in other areas such as missiles. He also broke new ground both in-house in taking managerial initiatives in gender mainstreaming, and in work-life issues, as well as in the disarmament field by innovating the exchange of weapons for a development programme in Albania and other areas, and also in the cross-sectoral linking of disarmament with development, the environment and peace education programmes.

Pointing out about his running an unsuccessful race for the post of UN Secretary-General and responding to a question as to what he would attribute his failure to secure the job, he said, "In a personal statement issued after my withdrawal from the race, I indicated that I didn't feel the time was right for us to analyze reasons for my defeat. But, perhaps, it can be said that 1995 was the zenith of my career and the opportunity should have been seized during that time to field me as a candidate for a senior position in the UN system.
Three years after I had left the UN position as Under-Secretary-General, I did not have the visibility that an incumbent Foreign Minister like Ban Ki-moon had. Nor did I hold the positions that the other candidates held to be able to actively engage governments and be in the mainstream of diplomacy. That was probably one reason.
The other reason is that in today's globalized world, economic relations matter much more than ideology. And, if any proof was needed that the Cold War had ended, we saw it in this election for UN Secretary-General – with China actually voting in favour of the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, despite the mutual security pact that South Korea has with the United States of America, to say nothing of 40,000 American troops on South Korean soil. Times have changed and we have to acknowledge these realities," he said.

"I derived great satisfaction from the fact that an Asian was elected Secretary-General, because that had been a fundamental plank in the Sri Lankan campaign and in my own personal set of beliefs. I am also very happy that a national of a country that has acquired nuclear weapons was not elected, because that would have eroded the moral dimension of the Secretary-General's office, he said.
Dhanapala also served as the Director of the UN Directorate of Disarmament Research from 1987 -1992. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and honorary doctorates. He has also published five books and several articles in international journals and has lectured widely. He speaks English, Sinhalese, Chinese and French. He is married and has a daughter and a son.
Now, fully retired having stepped down as the 11th Chairman of the Pugwash Conference, he lives in Kandy which is no strange place for him, his roots being in Matale and his schooling and University education in Kandy.

His parting comment was: "Except for the giants in history, most of us leave footprints in the sands of time, collectively though, what we leave behind in institutions, remain greater than all our individual contributions put together."



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