Lankan expats pay tribute to outgoing UN Ambassador
The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka : Sunday, June 16, 2019
NEW YORK — When Sri Lanka’s outgoing Permanent Representative Dr Rohan Perera first stepped into the United Nations as a delegate back in 1980, he entered the building, accompanied by then Permanent Representative Ambassador Ben Fonseka, “through the UN’s revolving door at the main entrance,’” as he recounted last week.
Since then, he has been in and out of that “revolving door”, literally and metaphorically, for the last 39 years– first as a delegate, then an advisor, followed by stints as chairman and vice chairman of several UN committees, vice president of the 193-member UN General Assembly and eventually as Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations (2015-2019).
In a tribute to Dr Perera, the Sri Lanka Association of New York (SLANY), along with over 70 Sri Lankan expats, hosted a farewell dinner to the departing envoy and his wife at a restaurant in the heart of New York city last Saturday.
Dr Perera was best described as “an institution within an institution”. At the UN, and in Foreign Ministry circles, he was considered a diplomat par excellence—and a seasoned lawyer.
But one of his most enduring jobs was chairman of the UN Adhoc Committee on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism, a post to which he was elected in 2000.
The day he was elected, the outgoing chair and Canadian Ambassador Philippe Kirsch, patted him on the back and joked: “Congratulations Rohan, you are going to be chairman for life.”
And that was a premonition that may well be proved right. The reason: the UN will never agree on a definition of what constitutes terrorism because one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. The 19-year-old committee, which remains sharply divided, is expected to live for forever – with Dr Perera as the life-time chair.
Vajira Gunawardana, a former President of the Royal College Old Boys East Coast Association (RCOBECA) and Master of Ceremonies said that while traditionally and genetically “we find it difficult to compliment a Thomian, this is one person we are proud to make an exception. In our books, you will always be an Honorary Royalist!”, he said amidst loud laughter, before an audience where old Royalists outnumbered old Thomians.
Dr Wije Kottahachchi, a former President of SLANY, singled out Dr Perera’s support for, and involvement with, the activities of SLANY & other expatriate groups during his four year tenure in New York when Dr Perera hosted receptions or dinners to commemorate Vesak, Christmas, Sinhala and Tamil New Year, Deepavali and the Ramadan Ifthar, in conjunction with the Association of Sri Lankan Muslims in North America (TASMINA).
Addressing the gathering, Dr. Perera referred to the fact that the two-fold mandate given to him was to reinvigorate and strengthen the relationship with the United Nations and also to reach out to the Sri Lankan community in the context of post conflict peacebuilding and reconciliation and to bring together all sections of the Sri Lankan expatriate community in the tri-state area, irrespective of race, religion or creed.
He expressed his deep appreciation to all the Sri Lankan professional associations in New York which helped in discharging his duties, including SLANY, Old Boys Associations of Ananda, Royal and St. Thomas’ Colleges, Sri Lanka Arts Society, and the University of Colombo Faculty of Science Alumni Association for the unstinted support he has received from them in discharging his duties as Permanent Representative.
He said that Sri Lankan Professional associations were the great tower of strength in building bridges with the Sri Lankan community. He appealed to them to extend same degree of support and cooperation to his successor and continue to maintain a close relationship with the Permanent Mission.
Also present at the dinner was his wife Therese Perera.