J Jeganaathan Research Officer, IPCS email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has recently released the much-criticized report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC). The report came in the midst of international pressure on the GoSL for its alleged war crimes and human rights abuses.
While the UN panel report focuses primarily on the last stage of the war ie 2008-09, the LLRC report narrates events between 2002 and 2009. Although the GoSL claims that the principal mandate of the inquiry committee was to find the real causes for the deterioration of the situation that led to war, the report overlooks the grim reality during the war and military excesses.
It is argued that the LLRC report highlights the GoSL’s pride of war; asserts its prejudice over the perennial ethnic-conflict, and neatly paints a paradisiacal picture of the post-conflict situation.
The report claims that the CFA (ceasefire agreement) failed because of political and security reasons associated with the LTTE. It squarely blames LTTE for not agreeing to any sort of political settlement short of a separate state. But, the official statement from LTTE in 2001 states that it was ready to give up its demand for a separate homeland provided a confederation was offered under the devolution package. Further, it holds LTTE responsible for the deterioration of the security situation by referring to selective killings and massacres of key political leaders. In the subsequent section, the report elucidates the socio-economic dimensions of the failure of CFA, disregarding the strategic dimension: the split of Karuna faction in 2003 and its impact on the events that unfolded thereafter.
Praising the security forces for their two decisive operations in Eastern province and Wanni, the committee observes that the former operations were aimed to scuttle LTTE’s strategy to cut-off the supply route running from Jaffana to Trincomalee district, and the latter was intended to liberate the people from the clutches of LTTE. The Wanni operations were a very crucial part of the war that eliminated LTTE and their remnants, causing huge civilian causalities. No references or inquires were made available on the use of excessive forces and bombings of civilian targets. Although the report provides some figures on causalities (5,556 army personnel and 22,247 LTTE cadres), the authenticity of these figures are still doubtful.
Two substantial chapters of the report are devoted to humanitarian and human rights issues on which the GoSL has been indicted by the international community. Refuting the international allegations of violation of international human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) during and after the war, the report finds, “that the military strategy that was adopted to secure the LTTE held areas was one that was carefully conceived, in which the protection of the civilian population was given the highest priority.” It evenly blames LTTE for violating IHL by not respecting the No Fire Zone (NFZ) and accusing the GoSL for committing war crimes. This expose the committee’s prejudiced notion of human rights and the human rights standards they set for themselves.
In a stark contrast to this observation, Channel 4 video series, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, reveal the ground reality in which many civilians were killed by disproportionate use of forces by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Supplementing this claim, the UN expert panel report observes that the enormous civilian causalities were due to intensive air raids on civilian areas. It is well known that LTTE had improvised fighter craft but there is no evidence to show whether they bombed civilians. Had they had such a haul of ammunitions and armaments, they would have used them against the military forces. Therefore, the report’s observations on humanitarian law and human rights issues are myopic.
The most interesting, yet implausible section of the report, is between chapters six and nine, which primarily talks about post-conflict resettlement, relief, rehabilitation, restitution and reconciliation. The Commission applauds the GoSL for the resettlement of Tamils by allocating land to them. It concurs that almost 80 per cent of the internally displaced people (IDP) were resettled and rehabilitated under the purview of existing Sri Lanka land and property law. But, it does not look into the issue of the militarization of the entire Northern Province and settlement of Sinhalese in the Tamil populated areas.
According to Prof Jose Maria Sison, the Filipino writer and activist, the GoSL has created strategic hamlets for Tamils and their movement and activities are being scanned by the military. If the GoSL is genuinely pursuing the post-conflict resettlement and rehabilitation process under international norms as the report claims, why were they hesitant to allow international monitors to supervise the implementation of the resettlement process? It seems that the report paints a picture that portrays the GoSL-led war as ushering the Tamils from a protracted conflict into paradise.
In sum, the mandate of the commission appears to be unwarranted in terms of the political context, and overstretched in its time period. The members of the committee were hand-picked by the President Rajapaksa, which made the report less credential. The methodology which the committee used to reach certain conclusions and recommendations is weak. It appears for instance that the documents, evidence, testimonies, and facts presented before the commission were predisposed. Instead of driving lessons from an introspective analysis, the GoSL can learn much by listening to what others have to say in order to avoid the recurrence of the conflict.