Several months ago, President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared to the world that the ‘truth’ in regard to the last stages of the war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government forces will be revealed by the Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) commissioned by himself (see Sri Lanka’s state run Daily News on 26th October 2011).
The danger of being hoist on its own petard
Let us take this Presidential prediction further and examine precisely what the ‘truth’ of the LLRC is all about. In so doing, we shall not limit ourselves to the narrow focus of the war theatre as this does not reflect the accountability debate in full measure. Accountability means the responsibility of a State towards its citizens in war time as well as peacetime and is not limited to periods of active fighting. This is why the LLRC’s emphasis on effective investigation and prosecution of the extra judicial executions of seventeen aid workers and five students, respectively in Mutur and Trincomalee in 2006 is so important. Again, this is why its general strictures on the Rule of Law are so crucial. It is axiomatic that without the Rule of Law, talking of state accountability in war time is largely farcical.
But to return to the Presidential statement in focus, the government cannot disingenuously parade only some ‘truths’ of the LLRC Report in defence against expected international pressure and disregard the rest. Literally and quite honestly, it must take all or nothing. If it takes all, it will undermine its highly corrupt and dangerously out of control power base for the good of the people but will safeguard itself at least to some extent, against demands for war time accountability. If it takes nothing, it will open itself to unreserved condemnation and will be, irredeemably if not somewhat rib ticklingly, hoist on its own petard. The choices, as politically unpalatable as they may be for this administration, are clear. What is not acceptable are delaying tactics based on obfuscation and denial. These strategies will not succeed in the hearts and minds of ordinary Sri Lankans as well as outside the country.
LLRC findings contradict government spokespersons
And as we can see, the real ‘truth’ of the LLRC Report as informed to the President by his Commissioners is that of a country deeply in crisis, where the accountability of political government is nonexistent, forget about war time accountability. The Report captures a reality where law enforcement authorities are so politicized as to be virtually negligible in impacting on law and order, where public institutions are politicized equally severely and where the ordinary citizen is skin crawlingly dependant on politicians for the basic crumbs of community existence.
The erosion of confidence in the criminal justice system is repeatedly emphasized. The LLRC’s findings on abductions and on the relatives of those in detention not being given access to proper information, directly contradicts the dramatic explanations of government spokespersons, most recently before the United Nations Committee against Torture, that these are no longer problems of any account. This is a theme that this column has focused on during the past weeks since the release of the Report and will return to, again and again.
Faced with such stern conclusions by a government appointed commission in respect of that very government, official spokesmen are now expectedly bleating out a refrain that the implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations cannot be immediate as ‘critics of the government’ would want but that the ruling party would need to refer the Report to their ‘constituent partners’ and keep to a ‘roadmap’ for this purpose. As predicted in these column spaces, it was no merry coincidence that these very same constituent partners would misdirect themselves in announcing some days prior to the government’s latest statement, that the LLRC had exceeded their mandate so on and so forth. Incidentally, it is a mystery as to why, even if this brief was handed to them by the ruling party, better conceived objections to the LLRC Report could not have been thought of rather than transparently misinterpreting the LLRC’s mandate and making themselves patently ridiculous in the process.
Time needed is not an acceptable excuse
Regardless, the government’s excuse that time and a road map is needed for implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations is sheer nonsense. There is no referral to other political parties and no roadmap necessary, for example, for the government to immediately start disarming its thugs and supporters roaming around the country with unauthorized weapons. If this had been done, the Tangalle incident where one humanitarian worker was killed and his companion reportedly brutalized and raped on Christmas Day by provincial supporters of the administration who thought nothing of emptying their T-56 weapons into the air in lieu of fire crackers, is just one shameful occurrence that could have been prevented. It is a serious mistake to brush off this extraordinary incident as common in other countries as well. What logic and what rationale justifies T-56 weapons being possessed and used by provincial thugs with such impunity? This is a good question that needs to be put to President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, in whose virtual ‘waikkiya’ or political home base, this incident occurred.
In its interim recommendations, the LLRC had called upon the government to immediately disarm all illegal armed groups and had, in its Final Report, expressed serious concern that ‘no conclusive action has been taken as part of a time bound and verifiable process’ (see at p345 of the Report). What is the government’s explanation for delaying full implementation of this particular recommendation? What relationship does this have to national security? Is the non-implementation not designed to aid the extra judicial political control exerted by this administration rather than for any other purpose? These are valid questions for citizens to pose at the dawn of a New Year in which implementation of the Rule of Law promises to get worse before it (hopefully) gets better. The breakdown of government is seen in almost every sector of society, whether it is the mayhem caused by political goons, continuing abductions and killings or the chaos in the Advanced Level examination results.
Taking responsibility for the consequences
Let this be said and said clearly. It is not only the ‘critics of this government’ who demand immediate implementation of at least part of the LLRC’s recommendations relating to the Rule of Law and reconciliation between communities including proper investigation of war time abuses. The position taken by the Council of Religions this week in this regard is particularly commendable in respect of its urging the de-politicization of development activities in the North and East. Its emphasis that the LLRC Report should not be turned into just another report by just another commission should be given heed to.
It remains the firm duty of this Presidency to listen to the inconvenient ‘truths’ in the LLRC Report and implement its recommendations in good faith according to its own promise. In default thereof, the responsibility for whatever consequences that may follow domestically, regionally and internationally should be attributed unequivocally to this government and this government alone. The time for bluster has passed.