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Would Lessons Be Learnt From the Lessons Learnt Commission?

The much-awaited LLRC report is finally out. Anik Pituwa would have welcomed a more forthright report with less “wahen oro” (indirect) language, especially about the last stages of the war and allegations of human rights. The report appears to be a compromise- between those who understand the international and internal ramifications of the issues involved and those who do not or do not want to.

One observer stated: “The way out the Commission has chosen is a clever one; record and reproduce the evidence, say you don’t think the charges of human rights violations have been proved, and then leave it to the public and the international community to draw obvious inferences.”

The findings in respect of the last stages of the war and related human rights issues have been severely criticized as well as welcomed- depending on who the observer is. Even moderate Tamils have pointed out that while the report correctly places blame on the LTTE for its human rights violations, it has treated the Government and the armed forces with a velvet glove. Others have called it a white-washing exercise.

The Commission has, nevertheless, been “alarmed” by a large number of representations made alleging the violations of fundamental rights and freedoms of people affected by the conflict, accepted that “considerable civilian casualties had in fact occurred during the final phase of the conflict” and called upon the Government to investigate specific instances referred to in the report and any reported cases of deliberate attacks on civilians. If investigations disclose the commission of any offences, appropriate legal action should be taken to prosecute and punish the offenders. Regarding the famous Channel 4 video, the Commission recommends that the Government institute an independent investigation.

The Commission’s observations and recommendations regarding the ethnic conflict, rule of law and related issues have been welcomed by a broader cross-section of opinion, including moderate Tamils and the international community. Among them are:

  •  Political interference has resulted in an erosion of confidence in the criminal justice system. A Special Commissioner must be appointed to investigate alleged disappearances.
  •  Action should be taken to disarm and put an end to illegal activities of armed groups in the North and East.
  • The land policy of the Governments should not be an instrument to effect unnatural changes in the demographic pattern of a given Province.
  • ·It is important that the Northern Province reverts to civilian administration in matters relating to the day-to-day life of the people, and in particular with regard to matters pertaining to economic activities such as agriculture, fisheries land etc. The military presence must progressively recede to the background to enable the people to return to normal civilian life and enjoy the benefits of peace.
  •  Attacks on journalists and media institutions and killing of journalists have not been conclusively investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.
  •  There should be effective judicial review of legislation.
  • An Independent Public Service Commission and Police Commission should be set up (Readers will note that the independence of these Commissions were done away with by the Eighteenth Amendment).
  •   Legislation should be enacted to ensure the right to information.
It is in regard to a solution to the ethnic issue that the report comes out strongly. It has noted that a political solution is imperative to address the causes of the conflict. “Everybody speaks about it, though there is no agreement about the diagnosis and the prescription.” It has recommended that lessons learnt from the shortcomings in the functioning of the Provincial Councils system be taken into account in devising an appropriate system of devolution and that Local Government institutions be strengthened to ensure greater peoples’ participation at the grass roots level.

The responsibility of arriving at a solution has been placed squarely on the Government. The Commission states that “to this end, the Government must take the initiative to have a serious and structured dialogue with all political parties, and those representing the minorities in particular, based on a proposal containing the Government’s own thinking on the form and content of the dialogue process envisaged.”

The question is whether the Government or rather the leadership of the SLFP has the political will to do what the Commission has recommended. There has been no progress at talks between the Government and the TNA. Government leaders openly say that land and Police powers (already given by the 13th Amendment but not implemented) cannot be devolved. A Minister was heard to say, falsely, that in India even the President needs the permission of a Chief Minister to visit a State as Police powers have been devolved! It is futile to expect the TNA to accept something less than the 13th Amendment.

The Government’s record of implementing previous recommendations is pretty bad. The President got the APRC to make an interim recommendation that the 13th Amendment be implemented but did nothing. On the contrary, many powers of Provincial Councils have been taken back. The final APRC recommendations were handed over to the President more than two years back but are not even talked about. Even the LLRC has reminded the Government that it has not implemented the recommendations of the Udalagama Commission report relating to further investigation and prosecution of offenders involved in the incidents of the death of 5 students in Trincomalee in January 2006 and 17 aid workers of the ACF in Mutur in August 2006.

Would the SLFP leadership move away from its seemingly-JHU conceptualization of the ethnic issue? The Government has all the recommendations it needs to solve the problem and in one go ensure a bright and prosperous future not only to the country and all of its citizens but also to end the international outcry, but continues to remain complacent. Is the LLRC report merely being showcased to get over the difficulties the Government is likely to face at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March?

The Left Platform

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