By Malinda Seneviratne –
There is a lot of irony in the Government mulling the setting up of a Truth Commission on the lines of the model adopted by post-apartheid South Africa just days after the Chairman of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), former Attorney General C.R. De Silva passed away.
The LLRC was maligned even before it began sittings by many who were virulently opposed to the Government. Its independence was questioned, its mandate found fault with and the value of conclusions pre-judged. Ironically, these very same objectors praised the LLRC report and, true to form, castigated the Government for not implementing recommendations therein. The objectors turned cheer-leaders, naturally, indulged in a pick-and-choose exercise that amounted to an affront to the Commission and the tireless and thankless work it did.
Part of the irony is Bishop Desmond Tutu’s involvement in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of South Africa. Tutu has uttered unadulterated nonsense on Sri Lanka, regurgitating fabrications circulated by the LTTE. That said, the TRC is still worthy of visitation by a nation facing multiple post-conflict challenges, including the unfair and pernicious attacks by outside forces that cannot stomach the fact that their outcome preferences did not materialize.
The LLRC is said to have exceeded mandate, but few if any will claim that C.R. De Silva and his fellow commissioners were moved by anything but good intention. The proposed Commission must not only complement the LLRC but be teethed in a manner that makes implementation of recommendation a non-negotiable outcome.
Critics will no doubt scoff at this move, citing the numerous commissions that have been appointed whose reports and recommendations gather dust to this day. They will also question the independence of such commissions. Such commissions can only be appointed by the President, after all, and any forum set up to tackle issues pertaining to the conflict will have to contend with allegations of human rights violations which, as we know, include accusations of direct or indirect involvement by the Government. Wild and politically motivated though these allegations are, with little evidence to warrant finger-pointing, they have acquired, as designed, lives of their own. That’s a political reality that the Government has to contend with.
The only way that questions over independence can be met would be for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to solicit recommendations of modalities as well as composition from people conversant on the subject of justice who are also widely (locally and internationally) recognized for their impeccable integrity. Sources close to the President indicate that the views of people such as Justice Weeramantry will be solicited.
While a document leaked to and published by Wikileaks clearly indicate that even the ICRC (which had a ‘presence’ in the conflict area right until the end) was convinced that there was no ‘policy’ of killing civilians and as such clearly absolves the central command of all operations (headed by the President and the Secretary of Defence) of any wrongdoing, wrongdoing there probably was as in the case of all conflicts. In Sri Lanka, what was seen was a massive hostage rescue operation, indeed the biggest the world has ever known. It is unthinkable that innocent lives were not lost. It is also unthinkable that there were no errant soldiers who fought out-of-line, so to speak.
Cynics will pooh-pooh this move by the President, claiming that it is eye-wash timed to placate those who might give the Government a hard time during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which begins next week. The onus then is on the President to prove them wrong. The only way he can do this is to ‘fix’ modalities, mandates and composition by acting strictly on the recommendations of people like Justice Weeramantry.
All it will take is a single phone call followed by a public statement indicating directions and naming persons relevant to the exercise.
Not least of all, it would be fitting tribute to the late C.R. De Silva and the exhausting work he presided over.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com