LLRC Report:stuck in translation en route to parliament; when will it be published?


by Rajan Philips

The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission presented its long awaited report to President Rajapakse on November 20. It was expected to make its way to parliament in a couple of days. Now it is being held up as parts of the report are translated into Sinhala and Tamil languages. It is now promised that the report and its translations will be sent to parliament before the end of the year. Why could not the report have been published soon after it was received by the President? What is the requirement that it should be vetted by parliament? Wouldn’t it be like casting triple pearls before an assembly where ayes and nays have been giving way to hoots and hooves?

As a report intended to set the stage for reconciliation, it deserves full disclosure rather than selected releases. Anything less would be unfair by the Commissioners, those who gave evidence before the Commission, and others who took the time to make written submissions. The Opposition true to form seems to have decided to ignore the matter. But there is interest overseas. The completion of the report has been welcomed at the UN, in Australia, South Africa and the UK. Speaking for the UK government, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt has noted that "many hope this report will mark a significant milestone in Sri Lanka’s recovery from conflict, and I call on the Government of Sri Lanka to seize this important opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to national reconciliation and accountability. Making the report public at the earliest opportunity is a vital part of this commitment and I look forward to the Government of Sri Lanka setting out the steps it will take in response to the report."

Continuing controversy

It will be unfortunate if the efforts of the LLRC that started its mandate in controversial circumstances should now end in controversy over its publication. Ever since the end of the war the government has been under pressure from abroad to agree to international investigations of what happened during the final stages of the war. The government’s answer was the commissioning of the LLRC, modeled apparently on South Africa’s post-apartheid reconciliation commission and the UK government’s own inquiry of its involvement in the Iraq war.

But the government muddied its own position by incredibly insisting that there were no war crimes or civilian casualties and claiming that there could not have been any because the war was only a humanitarian operation to liberate the Tamils from their Tiger oppressors. The government could easily have taken the diplomatic and humble approach that no war is a bed of roses and offered to look into allegations of civilian casualties and military excesses. More importantly, the government could have moved speedily and sincerely after the war to redress the civilians displaced and affected by the war, and to address the political question involving the Tamils. Here again, the choice was made to deny the existence of the problem rather than deal with it.

As well, the government framed the scope of the LLRC to focus more on the failure of the peace process rather than the prosecution of the war process. The framing was intended to score domestic political points by targeting Ranil Wickremasinghe and the ‘peace professionals’ as unpatriotic while ignoring the need to protect the country’s international credibility on the question of accountability during the war. The government’s hubris, its previous record on inquiries and commissions, and its postwar indifference and impunity contributed to the questioning of the credentials of the LLRC and its members by Sri Lanka watchers overseas, such as the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Crisis Group, as well as UN agencies.

The void of credible information on the final stages of the war came to be filled notably by the Darusman Report commissioned by the UN Secretary General, the British Channel 4 television documentary, as well as Gordon Weiss’s monograph entitled ``The Cage.’’ A short while before the LLRC completed its report, Norway released its own report assessing the Sri Lankan peace process and the reasons for its failure.

The truth on these matters is in the eye of the beholder. The Norwegian report acknowledges that the story of the peace process is the story of its failure, but asserts that it was not Norway that was solely or primarily responsible for the failure. The main reason according to Norwegians is that the peace process reproduced rather than transformed the underlying structural obstacles to achieving permanent peace and political solution to the Tamil problem. The government and the LTTE did not have the sincerity of purpose nor was there any trust and confidence between them. The peace process produced only intermediate benefits – the ceasefire agreement and the Oslo consensus on federalism. Both were repudiated subsequently by both parties.

From Oslo to Colombo

While releasing the report in Oslo, Erik Solheim reiterated that "there is no military solution to political problems. Problem in Sri Lanka is not military. It is political and it is for the president to reach out to solve that political problem."

He stressed that it is the Tamils within Sri Lanka, such as the TNA, and not the diaspora, who should take the leadership in finding a solution. Mr. Solheim also warned that "the most difficult issue of accountability for what happened in the last days of the war … will not go away, it will remain for a long period of time."

For Sri Lankan neo-realists the peace process was foredoomed because it was based on the utopian premise that the LTTE could be transformed. The LLRC has reportedly concluded that Norwegian-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) is not "a model for managing conflicts between States and non-state players", and has criticized the then Sri Lankan government for agreeing to the CFA hastily and without adequate safeguards. The LLRC’s premise seems to be that no state should be asked to suspend military operations aimed at rescuing civilians forcibly held by a heavily armed terrorist group. The failure on the part of a state to proceed with such operations will only allow terrorists to go on the rampage, the commission has said.

But what happens when a state goes on the rampage? There are living examples of rampaging states in the Middle East. Of course there will never be agreement whether or not the Sri Lankan state went on the rampage in 2009, and as Erik Solheim has said the questions over what happened in the last days of the war are not going to go away in a hurry. The LLRC report has tried to come to terms with this question by acknowledging that there is prima facie case to investigate incidents during the final stages of the war. While dismissing the Channel 4 video, ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ as total fabrication, the LLRC has admonished that the government should not dismiss eye witness accounts of what happened during the war.

Remarkably, days after the LLRC report was handed over to the President, the President’s brother and Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, publicly confirmed that the government will investigate and deal with transgressions during the war in accordance with the laws of the land and not under any international mechanism. The younger Rajapaksa was addressing a one-day conference in Colombo on ‘Reconciliation: The way forward for post-conflict Sri Lanka’. He also went on to affirm the government’s commitment to implement the general recommendations made by the LLRC with regard to reconciliation.

From Interim to Final Recommendations

The general recommendations of the LLRC are also statements of concern on the capacity of the government to implement the Commission’s recommendations even if it is able to muster moral courage and political will to do so. In a well-meaning advice, the LLRC is said to have noted that if the government fully implements its recommendations, there will be no need for any international mechanism to inquire into Sri Lanka’s domestic issues. But how robust are the domestic mechanisms to implement these recommendations? Also, what are the chances that the LLRC’s final recommendations will fare better in implementation than its interim recommendations made one year ago?

There have been reports that the government’s current thinking is to entrust the Police and the CID with the investigation of war time incidents recommended by LLRC. But going by the recent record of police investigations and the political interferences in these investigations, wouldn’t it be necessary to undertake a transparent revamping of police and prosecutorial agencies before they can be credibly entrusted with investigating war time incidents?

The LLRC reportedly alluded to the disgraceful Mulleriyawa gun battle in bemoaning the government’s failure to disarm the armed groups and thugs in the country. But the questions before the government are not only about the failure to disarm non-security persons but also the inability of the police to properly investigate and prosecute those involved even in broad daylight crimes.

The Commission also reportedly referred to the attack by armed political thugs on the news editor of the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna, while emphasizing the urgency to disarm armed groups in keeping with the LLRC’s interim recommendations to government in 2010 September? One year gone, and what is the record of implementation on the LLRC’s interim recommendations?

The interim recommendations covered five broad areas: detention of LTTE suspects, law and order involving armed groups and kidnapping, land matters, language policy, and livelihood matters. The government with usual fanfare set up a seemingly high-powered Inter-Agency Committee comprising Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs, Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Development, Secretary to the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs and the Secretary to the Presidential Task Force, all under the chairmanship of the Attorney General. The Committee can perhaps show results on paper, but how do they compare to realities on the ground?

If the Committee had done even half the work that it could have done, there would not have been a reason for TNA parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran to produce the long list of concerns in regard to the situation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. One last question: Why is not there any representative from the North and East included in the Inter-Agency Committee? One would hope the government will address this lacuna if and when it moves forward to take on all of the LLRC’s recommendations after doing precious little with its interim recommendations. After all there cannot be much reconciliation without involving accredited representatives of the people with whom reconciliation is being sought.

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