Disarmament community remembers Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala

October 3rd, 2023

The extraordinary life and career of the first Under-Secretary-General of the reestablished Department for Disarmament Affairs, former Sri Lankan diplomat Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, was honored at a memorial ceremony on Tuesday, 12 September.

Co-organized by the Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA), the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka and the Global Security Institute, the ceremony included eulogies from High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu, H. E. Mr. Mohan Pieris, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, and Mr. Dhanapala’s son Sivanka Dhanapala, who heads the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Damascus. His former UN colleagues Randy Rydell, Chery Stoute, Pat Fernando, as well as close friends Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute, Cora Weiss, former President of the International Peace Bureau and Anna Vassilieva, Professor of Middlebury Institute of International School at Monterey also eulogized Mr. Dhanapala. Former High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Sergio Duarte and former Canadian Senator Douglas Roach sent video messages, while Hans Blix, former Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Committee (UNMOVIC) and Director-General Emeritus of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Thomas Graham, former Special Representative of US President for Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament, and Jennifer Allen Simons, Founder and President of the Simons Foundation, provided written tributes, which were read by Ambassador Olof Skoog, Permanent Representative of the European Union to the United Nations, Jonathan Granoff and Randy Rydell respectively.

Mr. Dhanapala, who served as UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs from 1998 to 2003, was remembered with immense warmth, admiration, and respect. His principled character and kind nature were held in as high regard, as were his skills in diplomacy and the diplomatic successes he achieved.

High Representative for Disarmament Affairs delivers remarks at memorial service for former Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala

Acknowledging his legacy, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu emphasized that Mr. Dhanapala’s leadership laid much of the foundation for disarmament to become as important to diplomacy as it is today and that many initiatives that he pioneered continue to shape the work of ODA. Among his notable achievements, she highlighted his efforts to facilitate multilateral agreements on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia, lead support for weapon inspections in Iraq, raise the profile of the newly-established Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), promote inter-agency cooperation to control small arms through the Coordination of Action on Small Arms (CASA), and strengthen the linkage between disarmament and development by the establishment of the Steering Group on Disarmament and Development.

Without question, one of the greatest achievements of Mr. Dhanapala’s career was the critical role he played as President of the 1995 NPT Extension and Review Conference in securing the Treaty’s indefinite extension. This achievement was mentioned by every speaker, whose admiration of his ability to foster an environment in which unity among delegations was not only possible but able to flourish. It was showcased by their earnest and warm recollections of this time.

Sri-Lanka Ambassador Mr. Mohan Pieris delivers remarks at memorial service for former Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala

Mr. Dhanapala was also a champion for civil society. He recognized the value in civil society partnerships and that their inclusion in discussions was key to enriching dialogue, transferring knowledge between stakeholders and deepening understanding around disarmament issues. He was awarded the Séan MacBride Peace Prize by the International Peace Bureau in 2007 in recognition of his alliance with civil society and overall contribution to disarmament.

One of the warmest recollections of the former Under-Secretary-General was that he saw himself to be in the service of all humankind. He was known for his unfailing honesty and deep respect for all human beings, regardless of their nationality. Describing him as a global citizen extraordinaire, Ambassador Pieris stated that Mr. Dhanapala had left us with the message: “the goal is not to live forever, the goal is to create something that will live forever”. That he lived by this goal is evident in the legacy of his invaluable contribution to the maintenance of world peace.

Mr. Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute, delivers remarks at memorial service for former Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala

He was also remembered as a mentor. His son, Mr Sivanka Dhanapala, described him as a present and loving father and husband, who endeavored to impart the same principled wisdom he was known for, to his children.

All eulogies were given, not in grief of his passing, but in gratitude for his life. Mr. Tsutomu Kono, a former advisor to Mr. Dhanapala at the United Nations, closed the ceremony with the remark “without his life, we would not be having this wonderful moment of memories right now.”