Though not without flaws and lacuna, the long awaited LLRC report does not disappoint, and reaches high standards, ranking with the best reports emanating over the decades from official and semi-official/autonomous Sri Lankan commissions, reviews and probes. It is a serious, thoughtful, carefully written and constructed text, striking in its fair-mindedness and balance. It deserves constructive engagement with, by all concerned Sri Lankan citizens and those in the world community who are concerned about and with Sri Lanka.
Let us first dispense with the flaws and gaps, of which there are chiefly two. Firstly, the Report echoes the conventional wisdom, as does the Norwegian (NORAD) post-mortem, that the CFA was the result and in the context of the military weakness of the Sri Lankan state. This is factually incorrect since it ignores the chronology of events, in which the deadly LRP missions which were taking down the Tiger command structure, followed and not preceded the disastrous Agni Kheela operation and the devastating raid on Katunayake airport. Thus the lopsided character of the CFA which heavily favoured the LTTE did not reflect the real balance of forces and was not inevitable. Secondly, the LLRC Report draws a veil of silence over the even more lopsided post-tsunami relief mechanism, the PTOMS, which was negotiated at the tail end of the Chandrika presidency and was frozen in its dangerous middle tier, by the Supreme Court, responding to a petition by the JVP. These errors and omissions should not, however, detract from the essential merits of the Report.
The Report is Janus-faced in the best, original sense of the term. It looks back at the war and the context of the conflict and provides a perspective of the kind of society we need. It constitutes the only road map so far, to a durable peace and a better future. It does not stop at a vision, sometimes more implicit than explicit, but pinpoints wrongs and shortcomings that require rectification while listing reforms that cry out for urgent implementation.
Responses to the LLRC report have been of two sorts. One is that it is basically laudable and balanced, containing recommendations which should be promptly acted upon. This response then subdivides between those who are hopeful of action and others who are pessimistic or cynical. The second response is that the LLRC report is far from satisfactory, and is a whitewash or to change the metaphor, a sweeping under the carpet of war crimes and accountability issues.
To my mind the first response –with its optimistic and pessimistic subsets– constitutes a reasonable reaction, while the second does not. I say this because those who dismiss the report as His Master’s Voice make the fundamental mistake of being teleological in their approach. Having concluded a priori, that the Sri Lankan state and armed forces were guilty of war crimes and/or crimes against humanity, they fault the LLRC Report for not having arrived at the same conclusion, and dismiss it out of hand, echoing calls for an international inquiry.
These critics overlook or fail to undertake at least five basic tasks. They fail to grapple or even make reference to the rigorous reconstruction and argumentation that leads the Report to conclude that despite episodic crimes, civilian casualties were not, for the most part, intentional. They ignore the fact that this finding is the same as that which was arrived at by at least two impeccably non-state, independent sources, the oldest civil society think tank in Sri Lanka, the Marga Institute and its respected founder and outstanding liberal thinker Godfrey Gunatilleke, as well as a joint commission of three private sector business confederations. They fail to examine and disprove the extensive and solid argument on international humanitarian law in the LLRC report. They disregard the listing of specific cases, based on testimony, which require independent investigation. They ignore the chapter on Human rights, which, unlike that on international humanitarian law, is quite critical of the status quo.
The Report also cuts like a surgeon’s knife through the old questions as to what the grievances of the Tamil community are, which of them are genuine and legitimate and how they differ from the grievances of the Sinhala community. This is done in excellent segments entitled ‘Grievances of the Tamil Community’ ‘The Historical Background relating to Majority-Minority relationships in Sri Lanka’ and ‘The Different Phases in the Narrative of Tamil Grievances’ (pp291-294, 369-370).
Perhaps the single most important contribution of the LLRC Report is its clear and unambiguous identification of the causes of the Sri Lankan conflict and crisis, the resolution of which remains the central challenge before the country. The LLRC has, in short, undertaken a diagnosis and provided a prescription.
“The Commission takes the view that the root cause of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka lies in the failure of successive Governments to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil people. The country may not have been confronted with a violent separatist agenda, if the political consensus at the time of independence had been sustained and if policies had been implemented to build up and strengthen the confidence of the minorities around the system which had gained a reasonable measure of acceptance. A political solution is imperative to address the causes of the conflict…” (p 291, articles 8.150, 8.151)
The LLRC Report justifies its most ambitious claim, which is to provide a post-war programme and pathway.
“… To this end, the success of ending armed conflict must be invested in an all-inclusive political process of dialogue and accommodation so that the conflict by other means will not continue… However, if these expectations were to become a reality in the form of a multi-ethnic nation at peace with itself in a democratic Sri Lanka, the Government and all political leaders must manifest political will and sincerity of purpose to take the necessary decisions to ensure the good-faith implementation of the Commission’s recommendations... While not being an exhaustive agenda to address, let alone cure, all ills of post conflict Sri Lanka, the recommendations of the Commission could nevertheless constitute a framework for action by all stakeholders, in particular the Government, political parties and community leaders. This framework would go a long way in constructing a platform for consolidating post-conflict peace and security as well as amity and cooperation within and between the diverse communities in Sri Lanka.” (Preamble, pp.1-2)
Overall, perhaps the most vital contribution of the Report is its potential to re-balance the Sri Lankan policy (and political) discourse, re-constituting a tragically vacated middle ground or centre space. Indeed, the LLRC report is that rarity: a welcome example of an enlightened Middle Path, at a time of strident affirmations of dogmatic fundamental positions.