By Sinha Ratnatunga* –
It was a year ago that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report was submitted to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Commission was not without its share of ‘Doubting Thomases’, especially in the West who felt that it was merely going to ‘whitewash’ the Government of Sri Lanka of accountability, especially in regard to the allegations of violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) during the final military offensive against the LTTE in 2009.
To ward off international pressure for an impartial war crimes tribunal, the Government announced in 2009 that it would appoint its own inquiry. At the United Nations, Sri Lanka’s diplomats were successful in preventing the Sri Lanka situation getting on to the Security Council agenda. This permitted President Rajapaksa to stand firm against Western powers who wanted a stop to the fighting; it paved the way for the Security Forces to liquidate the LTTE and end the menace of terrorism that had bathed this country in blood and tears for nearly three decades.
But the Government prevaricated in appointing the LLRC for more than a year, giving ammunition for the seething Tamil Diaspora lobby to muster the slighted Western powers to gang up on Sri Lanka. At the UN, the diplomatic victory in ensuring the Sri Lanka situation escaped a Security Council watch was lost in the post-conflict situation of reconciliation and a UN Report commissioned by the Secretary General (the Darusman Report), highly critical of Sri Lanka’s war effort came to be published. In March this year, the US spearheaded a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC (Human Rights Council) sessions in Geneva. To the credit of the LLRC, its report won credibility in the eyes of the international community, especially the suspicious Western powers thereby easing the pressure on the demand for war crimes investigations. Without however grasping the opportunity, the LLRC afforded as an escape route from international interference, the Government pussy-footed on its implementation.
Three and a half years since the final battle was fought and won at Nandikadal, and a year after the LLRC report was submitted, the Government continues to prevaricate. The result, a new report by the UN critical of the UN Secretary General for not bringing the Sri Lanka situation before the Security Council in 2009 and a fresh call for an international probe on what happened on the battlefield.
Whether the UN SG will want to atone for his so-called ‘inaction’ by appointing a panel to inquire into civilian deaths in 2009 is left to be seen. That he will consult the Western powers that run the UN, and India is certain. He will only have to contend with Russia and China which are Sri Lanka’s international safety net in these matters.
Fortunately, the official Sri Lankan position on this report has been to contest it and not to bury its head in the sand, ostrich-like, claiming it is merely an internal document. That was exactly the approach it took initially with the Darusman Report, only to later go secretively and try and sort matters out, to no avail. The Government has challenged the contents of the report, but not the credibility and the chequered record of the report’s author, Charles Petrie, now involved with the Norwegians in Myanmar.
The report is already being quoted in an effort to bring about a resolution in the Canadian Parliament to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka next year. The earlier prevarication by the Government to set in motion a post-conflict action plan saw the Darusman Report and then the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka. Now comes this Petrie Report which is further fodder for the anti-Lanka lobby worldwide.
The Government’s overall reaction to such international pressures has been wayward. Instead of doing what it should, i.e. agree upon and implement at least some of the least controversial recommendations of the LLRC, and thereby do what is best by the citizens of Sri Lanka, it decided to woo the voting member-states of the UNHRC. Thus began a new and skewered foreign policy campaign to open missions in Peru, Burkina Farso, Nauru with whom Sri Lanka has very little business– and a ‘Focus on Africa’ drive that has seen tin-pot monarchs and dictators who keep their people in abject poverty visit this country as our guests. The effort and emphasis is to win the next round in Geneva rather than give to the people of Sri Lanka what is their right.
The Government can still remedy the situation:
- Insofar as the alleged disappearances are concerned, it can appoint a Special Commissioner under the Attorney General to handle some 4,000 pending cases. It can assign a DIG of Police in each province to announce deadlines for surrendering of arms held by illegal armed groups, or deploy the Police STF to enforce it if that does not happen. The rising instances of crime in general have been placed squarely at the increased number of illegal weaponry in the hands of unauthorised persons and the Government’s Nelsonian eye towards this problem.
- Set up a Citizens Grievance redress mechanism to look into many situations of despair arising from citizens’ encounters with those in authority. Already, the AG has examined 200 cases of detainees and it is necessary to act on these, by either prosecuting them, or releasing them if there is no evidence.
- In the case of the 13th Amendment, if the Government has shown an interest in dismantling this law, use the devolution language of the LLRC to get rid of the 13A label and discuss meaningful devolution alternatives at a lower level, plus for good measure, a Senate as a second chamber to Parliament.
- Have a well-publicised programme of Land Kachcheris in the North and East on the lines recommended by the LLRC so that IDPs (internally Displaced People) will feel that their most precious asset — land — is being cared for by the Government without allowing land grabs by politicians and influential businessmen in Colombo. The LLRC outlined a detailed programme of land settlement issues and land policy formulation. The Land Commissioner’s Department is quite capable of handling this provided it is given the resources. A draft bill is ready to implement a National Land Commission along with a national land policy statement which will settle the ‘homeland theory’ once and for all and ensure that land policy will not be an instrument of demographic change exploited by either Sinhala or Tamil politicians.
There are many other recommendations of the LLRC report that the Government needs to urgently take up. To its credit goes the fact that the IDPs have been more or less resettled and the refugee camps closed down. The Government must know that the next round of Geneva is only a few months away and knives are being sharpened meanwhile on the sidelines. There are miles to go before it can sleep.
* the Sunday Times Editorial