In Remembrance of Jayantha Dhanapala (1938-2023)

May 30, 2023

It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala on May 27, 2023. He was a giant figure in the nonproliferation and disarmament community, who devoted his long career in government, the United Nations, and the non-governmental sector to promoting international peace through multilateral diplomacy.

I had the great fortune to know Jayantha during many phases of his career—first in the 1980s when he served as Director of the UN Institute of Disarmament Research in Geneva, next during his presidency of the historic 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference in New York, then as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States, an all too short stint in 1997 as Diplomat-in-Residence at CNS in Monterey, and then as Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations.

Perhaps indicative of the remarkable career Jayantha Dhanapala would pursue was a photo he proudly displayed in his living room. It pictured a 17-year old Sri Lankan student shaking hands with Senator John F. Kennedy—an opportunity afforded Jayantha when he won a contest with an essay titled “The World We Want.”

Jayantha was a masterful diplomat and an eloquent speaker, who worked his magic in almost everything he undertook. This included pulling a package of three decisions and one resolution out of the hat at the NPT Review and Extension Conference. As Under-Secretary, he also played a significant but underappreciated role in jumpstarting the negotiation of the Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty.

Notwithstanding his impressive list of diplomatic accomplishments for which he received many accolades (including a Doctor of Humane Letters Honorsis causa from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 2001), Jayantha was perhaps most unusual for his unfailing honesty, deep respect for all individuals regardless of nation or creed, and unwavering belief in mankind’s potential for peace and justice.

Jayantha Dhanapala was an extraordinary global citizen, who will be sorely missed by all.

Bill Potter

Jayantha Dhanapala

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