The long-awaited report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has now been placed in the public domain through Parliament, with the Leader of the House doing the honours.
The Commission was not something the Government had in mind in the flush of its military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009. Pressure from Western powers which could not prevent the liquidation of the LTTE at the time, however, succeeded in arm-twisting the Government to include the appointment of such a Commission as part of its post-conflict agenda. It was something done to stall an international commission of inquiry especially into the last stages of the ‘war’ (why only the last stages is anybody’s guess); something done to keep at bay the ‘bleeding hearts’ who were — partly due to the sheer inefficiency of our own diplomatic drive and partly due to foolhardy domestic compulsions — baying for the blood of Sri Lanka’s political and military leadership.
The LLRC with its rather quaint name and even more peculiar mandate was set up ‘to inquire and report on certain incidents that may have taken place between February21, 2002 and May19, 2009’. This covered the period when the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was introduced and the military liquidation of the LTTE took place. The LLRC rolled up its sleeves, ventured on a fact-finding mission, and provided a host of recommendations for reconciliation between the two major communities in this country.
Not that these two communities were that much polarized. The Commission has quite correctly placed much of the blame for this polarization on politicians who were looking to bolster their vote base by whipping up the communal drum. Parochial and not national politics was the order of the day. Many are the strenuous arguments that what this country witnessed in the past 30 years was not an ‘ethnic problem’, but an armed insurgency aimed at splitting the country into two nations. That it was terrorism, no more, no less. Its initial stages was the uprising of youth who felt they were left out of the mainstream of politics and society, very much like what happened in the South in the 1970s only to be exploited by interested parties thereafter to add a communal flavour.
The Leader of the House made a statement on Friday while tabling the LLRC’s report, but in it, there was nary a word to what could be said is an underlining message from the Commissioners, and that is, that the entire gamut of society has been so politicized and the law enforcement agencies so corrupted by political influence that the whole edifice of a democratic state is at risk of collapse.
The LLRC says it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that citizens can live in safety and security and that anyone who surrenders himself or herself to the police has a basic fundamental right to be ensured of that safety and security, and be free of harassment by paramilitary groups (as is continuing to happen in the North to date) and those carrying illegal weapons in the South. That is some indictment by the Commission on the Government whose writ now runs through the length and breadth of this country unlike before.
To those foreign Government and INGOs (International Non Governmental Organisations) that so unfairly labelled this Commission as one comprising Government puppets, this censure of the Government must surely come as a surprise. They will still find holes in the report, for sure. Their demand for an international probe into what happened in the last stages of the ‘war’ with the LTTE will not be silenced especially in the face of the LLRC’s findings that the Sri Lanka Army, notwithstanding the possibility of a few ‘bad eggs’, went to extremes to save the lives of thousands of civilians who were trapped between the warring forces.
Exonerating the officers and soldiers who sacrificed life and limb to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this nation, the LLRC comes to the conclusion that they adhered to ‘Principles of Proportionality’ that govern International Humanitarian Law (IHL) i.e. that the military objective must be in proportion to the civilian casualties as long as the casualties were by collateral damage and not by direct targeting. This will not be accepted by those who campaign for an international mechanism to investigate the charges of allegations of violations of IHL.
One argument of these crusaders could well be that the Commission itself has found the local law enforcement agencies so politicized that an impartial investigation is not possible. They will want to open old wounds without allowing them to heal through the time-tested healer of all time, time itself. The reality is that this country has independent non-partisan individuals, and given the powers and the independence they can perform independently. On the other hand, what guarantee is there that foreign personnel can be any less biased – as was exposed so blatantly by the UN Secretary General’s Expert Committee that went into these matters.
Yet, the message is clear. It is not something that independent media in this country and other independent observers and analysts with a love for this country have not said, and continue to say. The LLRC has only endorsed this; that there is something rotting in the state of Sri Lanka, and those are the independent institutions, the pillars of democracy. The Commission has quite rightly referred to the need for “The Rule of Law and not the Rule of Men”. The LLRC succinctly placed on record the plight of the ordinary Sri Lankan when it says, in its own words, “the political culture of the country has made the general public powerless and helpless to a point that they have become dependant on politicians to obtain many services and amenities they are entitled to”.
We can only say Three Hearty Cheers. Men will come and men will go, but it is the country’s institutions that will sustain a vibrant modern and democratic nation, where all citizens, and not just some of them, are free, prosperous and content in a United Sri Lanka.
Our guess was right in that there is a glaring omission in the Commission’s report in omitting any reference to the role played by India in fuelling, and then fanning the flames that engulfed this country since 1979. That India gave political and military succour to the terrorists, and safe haven for them to operate apart from the training and funding must surely have found some place in the report. However, taken as a whole, the LLRC appears to have performed its task admirably, making a detailed study of the crossroads at which this country is right now suggesting ways and means for the journey ahead.
The Leader of the House seemed to ignore some of the salient points made in the report, especially regarding the politicization of society and the need for independent Police and Public Service Commissions — independent of the politicians of the ruling party — to restore public confidence in the way their Government conducts its business on behalf of the people. Soon, the Government will be called upon to say why it doesn’t agree with the Commission’s findings on these — and even other matters.
The Government bought some time for itself from the international outcry for an international inquiry by appointing this Commission. The Commissioners have lamented that recommendations in their interim report have not been implemented so far. The Government cannot now relegate this report also to a shelf like many other commission reports that are gathering dust without implementation. This LLRC report is not to be taken lightly due to both international and domestic pressure for good governance. This report is in a completely different league.