On May 15, 2010, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed the Commission of Inquiry on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and hardly 15 months after the end of the conflict, on August 11, 2010 this independent body commenced hearings. The hearings were open to the public.
Many of the sessions of the LLRC were observed by Colombo-based diplomats and the media. The LLRC collected evidence from hundreds of witnesses, had sittings in many parts of the country and even invited AI (Amnesty International), HRW (Human Rights Watch) and ICG (International Crisis Group) to present evidence, which they, regretfully declined to do.
The Commission submitted its Report on November 20, 2011 and it was subsequently tabled in Parliament. It is now a public document. The Government has categorically stated that it will implement its recommendations, Dr. Kohona said.
He said the LLRC concluded that the protection of civilian life was a key element in the formulation of policies by the Government for carrying out military operations.
Contrary to other assertions made, the deliberate targeting of civilians formed no part of its military strategy. Targeting of civilians would have been militarily and politically counter-productive.
The LLRC observed that the military operations were conducted professionally. It also urged that if transgressions by individuals had taken place, these be further examined and appropriate legal action taken.
The Ambassador said the LLRC surveyed the law relating to the protection of civilians in armed conflict situations. This is important as so many different interpretations of the law have been bandied around. The Four Geneva Conventions and the two Protocols of 1977 were discussed. Sri Lanka is a party to the Four Geneva Conventions. The 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Five Protocols are also relevant.
The LLRC discussed material relating to the responsibility of State security forces to protect civilians. Quoting extensively from authoritative sources, it stated that there is an obligation to ensure that civilians were not harmed.
This obligation is, however, qualified. Feasible precautions must be taken to distinguish between civilians and combatants. However, a margin of discretion is left to field commanders given the “heat and confusion” of battle.
He said any attack must be proportionate to the necessity of achieving the military objective. The LLRC has observed that in many instances, especially towards the end of the conflict, LTTE combatants did not wear uniforms, combatants could have been civilians forcibly taken into the ranks to perform military or support duties, combatants could even include children.
In a situation where the combatants were not identifiable, and the LTTE had merged protected premises with combat strategy, it would be difficult to distinguish “civilians” and combatants. Naturally, the number of civilians dead would be difficult to determine.
The envoy said rules distinctly require that civilian areas not be used for military operations, including the location of offensive weaponry.
The LTTE located its weaponry among civilians, including in the No-Fire Zone (NFZ), attracting retaliatory fire. There is extensive UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) footage of LTTE weapons in the NFZ.Aerial attacks almost always followed both UAV observations and ground confirmation. The LLRC noted that the Sri Lanka Army conducts its own international humanitarian law training programs developed with the assistance of the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and the Red Cross, suggesting that humanitarian law was considered very important to the military.
He said the UN humanitarian agencies have not been in a position to verify civilian casualty figures. There was, in fact, no proper verification process.
The so-called hospitals were largely makeshift medical facilities being established in the wake of the retreating LTTE.
There were some suggestions that food and medical supplies were deliberately held back from civilians. But the LLRC noted that food and medical supplies were monitored by the CCHA (Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance) which included the Ambassadors of the USA, Japan, EU and Germany, United Nations agencies and the ICRC.
There was no deliberate effort to deny food and medicine, despite the lack of security and ongoing fighting. The Government Agents maintained a three month buffer stock.
When access to Mullaitivu by land became impossible, the Government sent food and medicine to Mullaitivu, by sea, under ICRC protection.
From February to May 9, 2009, the ICRC evacuated 5,490 patients including pregnant women. The patients were moved to Government hospitals.
No accurate figures
The number of civilians living in the LTTE controlled areas had not been clearly established. Not even the UN had an accurate figure. Many also were escaping into Government-controlled areas continuously. The LLRC observed that there were deaths and injuries to civilians. The number is disputed.
The Secretary General’s Panel Report was cited by the LLRC. When the No Fire Zones were declared unilaterally by the Government with designated exit corridors, the LTTE deliberately clustered the civilian population and positioned military hardware, including long range guns among the civilians.
The Security Forces had to return fire to neutralise these gun positions. The LLRC heard no representations from civilians or LTTE cadre that the Security Forces deliberately targeted civilians, he said.
On the other hand, civilian witnesses described many instances where the LTTE deliberately fired at people attempting to flee into Government-controlled areas.
The LLRC also concluded that many LTTE cadre would have been among the casualties.
The UN humanitarian agencies which had in-situ information about casualty figures from January to April 2009, and thereafter secondary source information, have said that it was not possible to establish a verifiable figure.
The LLRC recommended that specific instances of breaches of rules of combat be investigated fully and if necessary, prosecution undertaken.
A professionally designed household survey to ascertain the scale and the circumstances of death and injuries to civilians as well as damages to properties was also recommended. Channel 4 had not made the original footage available to the LLRC for examination. The LLRC recommended that the Government initiate an independent inquiry on the video and if the summary executions see on it were proved to be accurate, the offenders be prosecuted.
On the other hand, if the footage is artificially constructed, as suggested by some of the witnesses, the Commission recommends that the Government of Sri Lanka institute an independent investigation into this.
The LLRC examined questions raised with regard to disappearances and abductions (white vans also), treatment of detainees, illegal armed groups, children, women, the elderly, disabled persons, displaced persons, the Muslim community displaced in the North, freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
Sri Lanka is a party to the seven core HR treaties. In this context, it is noted that the emergency regulations were lifted last year after four decades.
Former LTTE combatants numbering 11,954 underwent rehabilitation. Less than 1,000 still remain in custody. This was achieved in a space of two and a half years.
The LLRC recommended that next of kin have the right to access all detainees.
The Commission recommends the appointment of an Independent Advisory Committee to monitor and examine the detainees and arrest persons under the Public Security Ordinance.
It recommends that the issuance of death certificates and monetary recompense, where necessary, should be expedited. It noted the recent amendments to the Registration of Deaths Act.
The LLRC recommends that investigations be conducted in respect of allegations against illegal armed groups with a view to ascertaining the truth and the institution on criminal proceedings against offenders.
The LLRC examined the cases of many widowed women and made a series of recommendations to deal with their specific complaints. The Government has already carried out a series of measures including a comprehensive census in the Northern Province, which will enable firm and verifiable conclusions to be derived at on issues involving disappearances and deaths.
The Government will establish a mechanism for gathering and assessing evidence relating to the much publicised episodes. A strong investigative mechanism will be put in place. The material yielded by such an investigation will be placed before the Attorney General for a decision to determine the institution of criminal proceedings.
In the cases of alleged deaths, once finality is reached, the issuance of death certificates and the provision of a range of relief, including monetary compensation, and access to education and employment sectors, are among the steps that will be taken as a matter of urgency.
Many people lost their lands during the 30 years of conflict. All Sinhalese and Muslims were evicted by the LTTE from Jaffna. Many Sinhalese and Muslims were ethnically cleansed from the East by the LTTE. Those lands were distributed among LTTE supporters. In the final phase of the conflict, over 294,000 became displaced.
It is not an easy task to return all these people to their original lands. Loss of documentation relating to ownership is a major issue. Some lands were demarcated as HSZs (High Security Zones) and landmines were located extensively. Approximately 3,900 sq km have been cleared.
The Commission’s suggestions regarding institutional mechanisms to deal with and documentation and user-right issues would assist in addressing this issue.
The launch of a well-designed, settler-centred communication campaign to provide fuller information will be immediately undertaken. The Commission’s recommendations about the formulation of a land use plan for each district in the Northern and Eastern Provinces will be used.
With regard to the extent of the two High Security Zones in the North and the East, as the Commission has recognised, the extent of the zones has diminished significantly in terms of area and restrictions.
The Government will closely monitor and expedite continuing progress in this regard. There has been considerable progress in respect of access to places of religious worship, very few of which are currently situated within the remaining High Security Zones. Any residual issues will be resolved in a time-bound manner. Resettlement will involve extensive resources. Schools, clinics, roads, electricity, water and community services will have to be restored.
The Government, moreover, regards as fundamental the principle that any citizen of Sri Lanka has the inalienable right to acquire land in any part of the island in accordance with applicable laws.
The Government is committed to withdrawing the security forces from all aspects of community life. Their role will be confined exclusively to security-related matters.
The police, with Tamil language capability, will be further strengthened to deal with law and order functions. More than 600 Tamil-speaking police officers have been recruited already. As a means of enhancing effectiveness in this regard, units of the Attorney–General’s Department will be set up in the Provinces to provide guidance to the police with regard to procedure.
The Government places particular emphasis on bringing about a total end to the possession of unauthorised weapons. This issue, which was closely linked to the turbulent conditions prevailing at the height of the conflict, has been addressed with considerable success. Where there is evidence relating to the possession of illegal weapons, raids will be conducted on the basis of a policy of zero tolerance.
As a central feature of the Government’s approach to reconciliation, a Parliamentary Select Committee has been set up to achieve a national consensus in respect of Constitutional changes which are necessary to fulfil minority aspirations. Parallel with this, an all-party mechanism necessary for the sustainability of far-reaching Constitutional Reforms is under study and the Government is in the process of conducting bilateral discussions with Tamil political parties on a structured basis.
The Government has no doubt that the Trilingual Policy, already announced as a cornerstone of its plans for the 2012, will make a valuable contribution to building bridges among the communities, consolidating a sense of national unity.
Out of over 294,000 displaced persons at the end of May 2009, Sri Lanka’s achievement in bringing down the numbers to a mere 6,647 by the end of 2011 has been commended internationally. The Government has spent US $ 360 million on the resettlement program.
Demining of conflict-affected areas was carried out at a pace that is comparable with the best efforts anywhere in the world. At present 3,900 sq. km. have been demined. More than 354,000 Anti-personnel Mines and 227 Anti-tank Mines have been recovered from these areas. The Army is responsible for around 80 percent of the successful demining operations.
Over 11,600 ex-combatants have gone through varying programs of rehabilitation, depending on the need and level of involvement in terrorism. Less than 1,000 remain in the Government’s rehabilitation centres, undergoing rehabilitation programs. Careful attention was given to the 595 LTTE child soldiers in Government custody, who were rehabilitated under a program assisted by UNICEF, and reintegrated into their families within one year.
The Government is undertaking massive infrastructure and economic development programs in the North and the East, the former theatres of conflict. The total allocation for the Jaffna District in the North is around US $ 300 million while US $ 250 million and US $ 150 million have been invested in projects in the Kilinochchi and Batticaloa districts respectively. Since the end of the conflict, a 22 percent economic growth has been recorded in the North, while Sri Lanka’s GDP recorded an eight percent growth in 2011.
One of the major external challenges that Sri Lanka faces as it strives to consolidate the peace is that is the campaign launched by the remnants of the internationally proscribed terrorist organisation in some countries. This terrorist rump is not only undermining the reconciliation and development efforts carried out by the Government of Sri Lanka, but is also attempting to pursue punitive action on human rights violations, issuing the governments of their host countries.
It is the firm position of the Government of Sri Lanka that it will not favour any external intervention into domestic issues. Such interventions would not be in keeping with established international practice, where the domestic process needs to be exhausted prior to resorting to externalisation.