It is with deep sadness that we mark the passing of Jayantha Dhanapala on May 27th at his home in Kandy, Sri Lanka at the age of 85. A distinguished diplomat, Dhanapala represented the interests of his country and the broader international community in a series of foreign assignments. Most prominently, he was a dedicated champion of disarmament and served as an effective leader in a number of key disarmament positions.
As President of the 1995 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty’s Review and Extension Conference, he was instrumental in facilitating the conference’s historic decision to extend the treaty indefinitely. In his soft-spoken, measured manner, Dhanapala presided over the “package” of decisions with respect to objectives for non-proliferation and disarmament, a strengthened review process and a resolution on a Middle East WMD-free zone that enabled the conference to agree on the indefinite extension of the NPT. This diplomatic triumph was only one aspect of his dedicated pursuit of “the indefinite extinction of some of the world’s deadliest weapons”, a task he pursued as the Under-Secretary General of the UN for Disarmament Affairs from 1998 to 2003.
Even after his retirement from diplomatic service, Dhanapala continued his disarmament vocation as the 11th President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. A firm believer in public engagement, he consistently encouraged people to engage with international security issues, advocating for a “disarmament complex to take on the nuclear weapons complex”. During his tenure at International Pugwash, he adeptly represented civil society, consistently advocating for sane security policies and progress towards a world devoid of nuclear weapons.
A thoughtful, modest, and empathetic individual, Jayantha Dhanapala was an inspiration to the young people he would speak to as much as for his diplomatic colleagues. His humanity and devotion to disarmament will not be forgotten.
Paul Meyer is Adjunct Professor of International Studies and Fellow in International Security, Simon Fraser University. Director, Canadian Pugwash Group