I don’t want words to sever me from reality.
I don’t want to need them. I want nothing
to reveal feeling but feeling—as in freedom,
or the knowledge of peace in a realm beyond,
or the sound of water poured into a bowl.
from Henri Cole’s ‘Gravity and Center’ (2009)
It was almost an year to the date after the LTTE supremo was killed and his organisation decisively defeated that President issued a Warrant appointing the Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation. In its preamble, the Presidential Warrant stated, inter alia, ‘it has become necessary that while we as an independent and proud nation of multi-ethnic polity undertake a journey of common goals in a spirit of co-operation and partnership, we also learn from this recent history lessons that would ensure that there will be no recurrence of any internecine conflict in the future’. In the mandate to the Commission, the Warrant required the Commission to recommend ‘the institutional, administrative and legislative measures that will need to be taken in order to prevent any recurrence of such concerns in the future, and to promote further national unity and reconciliation among all communities, and to make any such other recommendations with reference to any of the matters that have been inquired into under the terms of this Warranr’. The Commission commenced public hearings three months later. In September 2010, it submitted some interim recommendations and its final report in November 2011.
When the LLRC was first appointed, there were many cynics who dismissed it as a mere face-saving device by the President to show that he was interested in investigating human rights concerns raised by various parties in the conduct of the war, particularly in its closing stages. Many, including some international NGOs declined to give evidence before the LLRC, presumably either because they considered it a waste of time and effort to present evidence before a Commission whose findings they considered were already pre-determined or because they did not want to give legitimacy to a Commission that would merely repeat the government line. In the end, these cynics were proved wrong. The LLRC gave a fairly independent analysis and observations. The Commissioners presented some remarkably discerning and perceptive recommendations, which if implemented in the same spirit would have gone a long way towards achieving the objectives of the LLRC, so that all Sri Lankans could undertake a journey of common goals towards national unity and reconciliation in a spirit of co-operation, partnership and friendship. The Commissioners not only proved the cynics wrong, they also did the country proud. One cannot single out any one or the other of the Commissioners as being primarily responsible for this. Those who attended the sittings of the LLRC would have noticed that the Chairman C R de Silva, former Attorney General was in the centre. On his right was former diplomat H M G S Palihakkara and on his left was seated the former Foreign Ministry official Rohan Perera. But there was not a single dissentient voice among them. So we salute all the Commissioners as being jointly and severally responsible for a fine report and a set of recommendations written and presented under challenging conditions.
Implementing LLRC Recommendations
There have been earlier Commissions and Committees appointed and which reportedly made some reasonable recommendations. One was the All Party Committee headed by Tissa Vitarana to work out a political formala for the National Question. The other was the Commission of Inquiry headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Nissanka Udalagama which inquired into the killing of five students at Trincomalee, the killing of seventeen aid workers in Mutur and several other serious incidents of killings of civilians, security services personnel, etc. That Commission had to abruptly end their public hearings before they could conclude all the inquiries when their warrant was not extended. But both the Tissa Vitarana Committee and the Nissanka Udalagama Commission presented their reports to the President. But neither report has been released to the public and presumably is gathering dust in the Presidential Secretariat. It has not been released because it is rumoured that their recommendations are at variance with the government’s stance on the matters inquired into. But the LLRC Report has become too high profile for it not to be shelved. Still there has been tardiness in releasing it in all three languages. The public is however grateful to the Centre for Policy Alternatives for their public spiritedness, despite their initial scepticism about the LLRC, for publishing and making available to the general public, the recommendations of the LLRC in all three languages.
Government spokespersons have repeatedly claimed, at various fora including the United Nations Human Rights Council, that the Government is committed to implementing the LLRC recommendations. But a rider is added to this statement. Recommendations it is claimed cannot be implemented overnight. They require time and the government is working out the modus operandi for implementing them. The hollowness of this claim is seen even by a cursory examination of some of the recommendations and the manner in which they have been ignored.
Certainly, some of the land issues raised in the LLRC recommendations will take to be implemented though we are not sure if any attempt has been made to address them. But there are many recommendations which can be implemented immediately but is seemingly been deliberately ignored. One of these was that the Police should be de-linked from the Ministry of Defence. They were of the opinion that we should revert to the system that prevailed under the 17th Amendment where a a strong and ‘independent’ National Police Commission.
LLRC on Inter Religious Tensions
The importance of this recommendation becomes clear when we refer to another comment and recommendation made by the LLRC in respect of inter-religious tensions. This was long before new extremist religious groups began their hate campaign directed particularly at the Muslim community. The Commission had in their report stated: ‘The Commission was deeply concerned to hear of several recent incidents where places of worship have been vandalized by unknown mobs. The continuation of these incidents would certainly be inimical to the reconciliation process. Strong deterrent action should be taken to prevent such incidents. The Commission notes with regret that law enforcement agencies have hitherto failed to investigate and prosecute persons responsible for such unlawful action. The Government should make every endeavour to arrest the occurrence of such incidents. Such action would instill a sense of security and confidence among the affected groups.’ This statement has greater relevancy now than then. And the Government’s unwillingness to implement this key recommendation of the LLRC can only be construed as deliberate.
Powerful sections of the Government seem to be actively encouraging the activities of these new extremist groups, the Bodhu Bala Sena in particular. This group’s latest target appears to be Ferial Ashraff, the mild mannered Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Singapore. Their grouse is that she had rejected a suggestion to call the forthcoming New Year as Sinhala New Year. She had very correctly said that Sri Lanka had always been referring to it as Sinhala and Tamil New Year. She had even suggested, despite being a Muslim for whom this New Year has no religious significance, that it be referred to as the National New Year. But such national sentiments seem anathema to the Bodhu Bala Sena and their fellow chauvinists probably in the High Commission in Singapore. The people of Singapore will be appalled if they were to hear that there was a demand here to recall our High Commissioner for the reasons adduced by this extremist group. It may interest the Bodhu Bala Sena and its fellow travelers to know that Singapore, a smaller island than Sri Lanka, is also a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. The Chinese form nearly 75% of the population; yet it has four official languages; its national anthem Majulah Singapura is in the Malay language, the language of a minority community. It was an old Malay patriotic song that was adopted as the national anthem at independence. No wonder there is ethnic and religious harmony in that country. There will be no room for chauvinist groups like the Bodhu Bala Sena to exist in Singapore. It is also a recommendation of our LLRC that we revert to singing our national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil, a tradition that was stopped by the Rajapakse Government a few years ago. The Army ensures that Tamil children in the North sing the national anthem only in Sinhala. the LLRC recommendation is another promoting reconciliation that could have been implemented immediately, if there was a political will.
UNHCR Resolution on Sri Lanka
Unfortunately, our political leadership seems to prefer promoting narrow domestic political agendas rather than allowing Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans to enter into and participate fully as equals in the nation’s affairs. The government spokespersons continue to refer to the recent UNHCR resolution as being against Sri Lanka. Various people are being encouraged to abuse all countries that voted for this particular resolution. Obviously, very few have read the text of the resolution that was passed. There has been little effort, including by the mainstream media, to educate the public about the content of the resolution. The preamble to the resolution acknowledges that the progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka in rebuilding infrastructure, demining, and resettling the majority of internally displaced persons, but notes nonetheless that considerable work lies ahead in the areas of justice, reconciliation and the resumption of livelihoods, and stressing the importance of the full participation of local populations, including representatives of civil society and minorities, in these efforts. It further notes the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of Sri Lanka and its findings and recommendations, and acknowledging its possible contribution to the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka; it also notes the national plan of action to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of the Government of Sri Lanka and its commitments as set forth in response to the findings and recommendations of the Commission, but regrets that the national plan of action does not adequately address all of the findings and constructive recommendations of the Commission; it also expresses concern at the continuing reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as intimidation of and reprisals against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists, threats to judicial independence and the rule of law, and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.
The main body of the resolution reiterates the call made earlier to implement effectively the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to take all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans; it also encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations made in the report of the Office of the High Commissioner, and also calls upon the Government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable.
We would term this resolution as being pro-Sri Lanka, reminding the government of its stated commitment to implement the LLRC recommendations and its obligations to the people of Sri Lanka. to ensure those fundamental rights which all member states of the United Nations are pledged to uphold. These are recommendations which are own Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation have made. If we are to achieve any sort of reconciliation in our country, there is a need for genuine self-reflection and self-examination and to implement the LLRC recommendations. Only then can we hold our heads high in the international comity of nations. Only then can all our people experience the feeling of freedom and the knowledge of peace.