Jayantha Dhanapala was invited to manage the peace process by the government in mid-2004 after a distinguished career as a national and international diplomat, peace-builder, disarmament expert and articulate champion of non-discriminatory global norms, the rule of law, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and general concerns of developing countries in the collective interest of the international community. He functioned as Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process till the end of November 2005.He relinquished duties to devote more time to bid for the post of Secretary General of the United Nations which concluded with his withdrawal from the vote to facilitate a consensus decision in favour of an Asian Candidate.
Dhanapala has continued to be active internationally through his membership of several international groups such as the International Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (vide its report on www.wmdcommission.org); the Governing Board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI); the International Advisory Group of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 2003-2007; the United Nations University Council till 2010 (Chairman for the year 2007-8); the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces; the Advisory Council of the Stanford Institute for International Studies; the International Board of the Bonn International Center for Conversion; the International Advisory Board of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies; and as Honorary President of the International Peace Bureau (2003-2007). In November 2007 Dhanapala was unanimously elected President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He is the eleventh person to hold this position following in the footsteps of founder Bertrand Russell, Dorothy Hodgkin, Sir Joseph Rotblat and Dr.M.S.Swaminathan. From January to April 2008 Dhanapala became the first Simons Visiting Professor in International Law and Human Security in the School of International Studies of the Simon Fraser University.
Dhanapala has had a distinguished career spanning the private sector, government, the United Nations and academia from 1962–2004 interacting with different levels of society including Heads of State and Government and a wide diversity of nationalities. Following a stint in the private sector in Sri Lanka, he ranked first in seeking entry into the Sri Lankan Foreign Service in 1965 and served thereafter in diplomatic postings in London, Beijing, Washington D.C., New Delhi and Geneva, culminating in Ambassadorial appointments in Geneva (1984–87) accredited to the UN and in Washington D.C. (1995–97). During his diplomatic career he engaged pro-actively and innovatively in political, disarmament, economic, trade, human rights and cultural matters in both bilateral and multilateral contexts. He represented Sri Lanka and chaired groups in the Non-aligned Movement and SAARC Conferences, Commonwealth meetings, the Conference on Disarmament and disarmament treaty related meetings, UNCTAD, the Commission on Human Rights and other human rights bodies, ILO, WHO, WIPO, and WMO amongst others. Dhanapala was widely acclaimed for his Presidency of the 1995 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference, a landmark event in disarmament history, because of his crafting of a package of decisions balancing the twin objectives of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament and the concerns of the nuclear weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states which was adopted without a vote. He was later invited by the Australian government to serve as a member of the Canberra Commission together with a Group of 17 eminent international personalities publishing an influential report on nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation in 1996.
Schooled and experienced in corporate management, Dhanapala has integrated these skills and experiences into successful governmental, diplomatic mission and international organizational administration. He has an in-depth knowledge of the United Nations, gained from ten years of exposure in working in a senior management capacity in the United Nations. As an efficient and effective senior manager he gained valuable experience in human resource and budgetary management working smoothly with staff representatives and delegations of member states. First, he served as Director (D2) of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in Geneva (1987–92) directing policy oriented research in an autonomous think-tank broadening the financial base through fund-raising with a wider group of countries and foundations. He acted to expand the area of research to include non-military threats to security, handbooks to assist delegations to the Conference on Disarmament, providing opportunities for training of researchers from developing countries, networking of research institutes in regions and increasing the volume and impact of UNIDIR publications.
Later, Dhanapala was hand picked by Kofi Annan to take on the challenging job of Under Secretary General to re-establish the Department of Disarmament after the UN reforms of 1997 (1998–2003). During his tenure he piloted the UN role in arresting the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, anti-personnel landmines, conventional weapons, and weapons of mass destruction while reinforcing existing norms and norm-building in other areas such as missiles. He also broke new ground both in-house in taking managerial initiatives in gender mainstreaming and in work-life issues, as well as in the disarmament field by innovating the exchange of weapons for a development programme in Albania and other areas, and also in the cross-sectoral linking of disarmament with development, the environment and peace education programmes.
Dhanapala has had a solid education in the humanities obtaining a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree from the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka and a Master of Arts (International Studies) degree from the American University of Washington D.C. in the USA. He studied Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. He has also had work-experience in academia as Diplomat-in-Residence in 1997 with the Centre for Non-proliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the USA researching and writing on a non-discriminatory global approach to disarmament. He has published four books and several articles in international journals, and has lectured in many countries. He was awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant to research and write his book on "Multilateral Diplomacy and the NPT: An Insider's account" published by UNIDIR, Geneva in 2005. His contributions towards the international community have been widely recognized through the receipt of several awards including: Georgetown University, Washington D.C., the Monterey Institute of International Studies, the Ploughshares Fund and the School of International Service of American University, Washington D.C. for his work in diplomacy and disarmament, and was the Global Security Institute’s first recipient of the Alan Cranston Peace Award in 2002. He was nominated Sri Lankan of the Year 2006 by the Sri Lankan business journal 'Lanka Monthly Digest'. Dhanapala has also received several honorary degrees including Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) by the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka (2000), Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa by the Monterey Institute of International Studies, U.S.A. (2001), Doctor of Science in the Social Sciences by the University of Southampton, U.K. (2003), Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) by the Sabaragamuwa University, Sri Lanka (2003), and in 2009 he was awarded a honorary Doctorate (Doctor Honoris Causa) from the Dubna International University of Nature, Society and Man in Russia. In November 2007 the International Peace Bureau awarded Dhanapala the Sean MacBride Prize.
As an effective and eloquent communicator to a wide variety of audiences, Dhanapala has been invited to deliver several keynote lectures that include the Olof Palme Memorial lecture at SIPRI in1999 and the Dorothy Hodgkin Memorial Lecture to Pugwash in 2003. He has also published op-ed articles in international newspapers such as the International Herald Tribune and the UK Financial Times.
Jayantha Dhanapala was born on 30 December 1938 and is married with two children. He speaks fluent Sinhala and English, and is proficient in both French and Chinese.