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Acceptance Speeches

Grand Prize : Jehan Perera

Mr. Mayor, members of the Screening Committee, my fellow panelists, ladies and gentlemen, I am greatly honored to receive the inaugural SAKAI Peace Contribution Award today in the City of Sakai, which has a long history and tradition of an empowered citizenry. This award is very special as it comes from the people of Japan, represented by the people of Sakai City. I am also grateful to the members of the Screening Committee and those who nominated me for having reposed their trust in me and to the members of Sakai’s Human Rights Department who have taken so much trouble to prepare for this event.

Receiving this award will do much to strengthen me and all those who work for peace in Sri Lanka. You show us that we are not alone, we are not isolated in the work we do for peace and human rights, and that people of goodwill throughout the world stand in solidarity with us. There are other workers for peace and human rights in this region who also merited this award. For whatever reason, you gave it to me. My sincere hope is that the ties that now link Sakai with Sri Lanka will grow in the future and bring us closer together in one universal family.

As an Asian country, Japan is greatly respected by the people of Sri Lanka. You have shown how to transform a society that has been shattered by war into a society of peace and human rights and to be a provider of aid to the world. Japan has been Sri Lanka’s largest provider of aid for many years. In more recent years Japan has also been assisting Sri Lanka in its quest for peace. The government of Japan appointed Mr Yasushi Akashi to be its peace representative to Sri Lanka. The Government of Japan also hosted peace talks during the period of cease fire in 2002 and 2003 in Japan, and Japan also hosted a very big donor conference in July, 2003.

Japan has supported the work of numerous civil society and NGO groups to promote peace. The sincere interest in Sri Lanka and the well being of its people is not limited to the Government of Japan and its representatives. It also extends to members of civil society in Japan who have demonstrated a long term commitment to the well-being of Sri Lanka. I will only mention two such persons, Professor Yoshiko Ashiwa, who I see sitting here, and Professor Nakamura, who have devoted many years of their lives to Sri Lanka.

The new peace award that Sakai City has established and decided to award to a Sri Lankan peace worker is yet another peace initiative from Japan. Through this award, Sakai will be sending to Sri Lanka and the rest of the world a message from Japan about the importance of peace and human rights in the governance of countries. The award also highlights the bonds that link us in Sri Lanka and the National Peace Council, to which I belong, to the larger civil society outside. As this is the very first time this prize is being given I am especially honored and moved by the trust that you have placed in me. I will do everything possible to live up to your expectations.

I have given much thought as to what I should do with the generous prize money of 3 million yen that is being given to me. I have decided that it should be given to the three most important groups of people who have supported me in my work for peace. One such group consists of the grassroots peace workers I work with. It is my intention to set aside one third of the Sakai prize money amounting to 1 million yen to establish a fund that will honor the peace work of grassroots activists in my country.

I am happy to inform you that my organization, the Governing Board, has agreed to match my contribution of 1 million yen with an equivalent amount and establish a NPC-Sakai Trust Fund for peace prizes to grassroots peace workers. There is much peace work that is taking place amidst very difficult conditions at the grassroots level. But those who do such work will not receive international recognition. But now those who work for peace at the grassroots level will receive some national recognition in Sri Lanka.

I also recognize that the work I do for peace is built upon the institutional support that I receive from my organization the National Peace Council. My colleagues in the Governing Board and the staff who work with me give me strength and insights that I cannot do without. Therefore I have decided to set aside 1 million yen of the Sakai prize money to the Staff Welfare Fund of the National Peace Council to be used for charitable purposes.

Finally I must acknowledge the moral and financial support extended to me by my family over the past two decades. When I returned to Sri Lanka after obtaining my education in the United States, I did not do what was expected, and join the ranks of the foreign-qualified professionals in my country. Instead I accepted a volunteers pay and joined the grassroots level organization called Sarvodaya, which is based on Gandhian principles, headed by the Niwano Peace Prize winner Dr A T Ariyaratne. My family supported me in my decision to work for the development of the poorest in my country.

Today I am happy to say that my family continues to support me in my work for peace in a time of war. When I have faced death threats, my family has stood by me, and said that I must do my duty without stepping back. When I have faced insults and been called a traitor, my family has sided with me, and defended me. So I have decided to set aside one million yen for my family. My wife is present here to support me.

It is now time for me to end my acceptance speech. Once again I wish to thank Sakai City, the members of the Steering Committee, and the staff of the Human Rights Department of Sakai City for everything they have done to make this inaugural event a successful and memorable one. My sincere hope is that the Sakai Peace Contribution Award will soon take its place amongst the great awards of the world. I, for my part, will do my best to be deserving of the great trust you have placed in me.

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