He was addressing the Opening Ceremony of the UNESCO Regional Conference on Reinforcing Regional Cooperation to Promote Freedom of Expression and the Rule of Law in Asia through Ending Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, held yesterday (4th Dec.) at Taj Samudra, Colombo.

Minister Samraweeras full statement is as follows:

It is an honour for us in Sri Lanka to have the City of Colombo as the host of this years main UNESCO seminar in connection with the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

I thank UNESCO, the Ministry of Education of Sri Lanka, and my own Ministry of Mass Media, as well as everyone else who was involved in organizing this event. I also thank all the regional stakeholders including the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission of Human Rights, and the Human Rights Commissions Representatives.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Colombo being chosen as the venue for this event is significant for us for several reasons:

First, it is an occasion for us in Sri Lanka to remind ourselves, and acknowledge, that our country used to be a most unsafe place for journalists, not too long ago. It gives us the important opportunity to reflect on our past, and resolve to never allow a recurrence of that dangerous past in our country, for journalists, ever again.

Second, it is an occasion for us in Sri Lanka to recognize, that while we have succeeded to a large extent in creating the safe space required for freedom of expression, we must keep on working hard to sustain and safeguard this space, and that we still have a long way to go in terms of completing investigations into past crimes, including the murder of journalists in the past. It is also an occasion for us in Sri Lanka to recognize and acknowledge that justice is crucial and essential, because impunity will leave open the danger of the recurrence of the heinous crimes that occurred in the past. Therefore, this is an important occasion for us locally, to renew our commitment to justice, in memory of all the journalists who have been silenced, and in recognition of the importance of a free and independent media, for advancing peace, development, and good governance in our country.

Third, this Seminar which brings together regional stakeholders, and focuses on areas such as the role of the judiciary, National Human Rights Commissions as well as civil society and media in the challenge of combating impunity for crimes against journalists in the region, will be an invaluable opportunity for sharing experiences and best practice in this important area. This will help Sri Lanka learn from others as well as share our own experiences.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We all know that freedom of expression is a basic human right, and that it is also one of the most important components of every democratic nation, and an essential component for democracy to function as it should.

For the media to be able to fulfil its important role in a democracy, journalists, media workers, bloggers, media organizations and individuals must be able to discuss and debate issues freely and safely.

Today, internet and social media platforms are empowering citizens to fully use their right to freedom of expression and access to information to disseminate opinions, information and news. New technology is an enabler of democratic development. However, this also means that we have to find effective ways to deal with negative aspects such as disinformation, propaganda, and hate speech. These are real challenges that we must find ways to deal with, including through legal means, without suppressing peoples right to freedom of expression, dialogue, debate and access to information.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The role of the state is to guarantee and further these rights, and it makes me extremely happy to see all of you who firmly believe in these values gather here in Colombo today to deliberate on these important issues, at a time when these values are challenged even in the societies that used to be the guardians for safeguarding and advocating these freedoms in the world.

I want to emphasize that Sri Lanka remains firm in its commitment to work with the international community, including UNESCO, to work towards ending impunity for crimes against journalists, and to uphold the rights of journalists around the world who place themselves at risk every day, to give voice to the voiceless.

I wish your deliberations well, and I look forward very much to hear about the outcomes of your discussions.