By Namini Wijedasa
The government made it clear last week that there will be no separate event on National Day to express solidarity and empathy will all victims of the war, as recommended by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
What would be observed instead was the present practice of continuing to “express solidarity as one nation and one people”, said the National Plan of Action to Implement the Recommendations of the LLRC.
The plan contains a range of commitments along with time frames for implementation. It was approved by cabinet last week and released to the public after a press conference in Colombo by External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris and Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga.
The government also pointedly avoided committing itself to the enactment of legislation to ensure the right to information. While the action plan said cabinet would decide a suitable time frame for drafting such a law, it stopped short of specifying a time frame for this step; it said this would be “TBC”, or “to be considered”.
This was the only recommendation in the action plan for which no time frame was set in the relevant column. Apart from the proposal for a separate commemorative event on National Day (which was rejected outright), the others had time frames ranging from two years to 12, six and three months. The implementation of some proposals was “ongoing” while several were listed as “completed”.
Interestingly, the section pertaining to alleged war crimes carefully avoids the use of the word “investigation”. The recommendation made by the LLRC was to “ascertain more fully the circumstances under which specific instances of death or injury to civilians could have occurred, and if such investigations disclose wrongful conduct, prosecute and punish the wrongdoers”.
The action plan seems to rule out any new investigations in the specific instances that the LLRC report contains. There will also be no inquiry external of the military. The commission itself referred to less than five such cases. The action plan undertakes the completion of “ongoing disciplinary process being conducted in terms of Armed Forces statutes”. Upon conclusion, there will be “follow up action to prosecute, where relevant”. The existing system as provided for in the Criminal Procedure Code will be used to originate a complaint and the mechanism will be given sufficient publicity.
Disciplinary inquiries are to be concluded within 12 months, while time frames of 24 months have been given for offenders to be prosecuted and the cases to be filed in court. Where the LLRC recommends full investigations into allegations of disappearances after surrender or arrest, the same steps—completion of ongoing disciplinary process—will be followed to the same time frames.
The LLRC separately recommended an independent investigation into the Channel 4 videos to “establish the truth or otherwise of the allegations arising from the video footage”. The action plan undertakes to “assess the current processes being pursued to examine the authenticity of the allegations in Channel 4, namely the inquiry currently conducted by the Army”.
The action plan reports that some of the LLRC’s recommendations have been completed. For instance, investigations into any instances of prima facie evidence of child conscription are finished. Child conscripts have been identified, rehabilitated and re-integrated.
As such, the perusal of any charges related to the conduct of the war has been left entirely to the military. The action plan, therefore, serves to reinforce the government’s unwavering position on the subject of war crimes.
The LLRC recommended the appointment of a Special Commissioner of Investigation to probe alleged disappearances and to provide material for the attorney general to initiate criminal proceedings as appropriate. The action plan does not accept the creation of such an office but undertakes to “invoke the present procedures as available in the Code of Criminal Procedures with priority given to such complaints”.
Attorney General Palitha Silva told LAKIBMAnEWS in a separate interview last week that “there are hardly any files on disappearances that have been sent to the department and hardly any complaints, according to police”.
Where the LLRC recommended a national, centralized system of data collection to integrate all information regarding missing persons, the action plan proposes the establishment of “an integrated database to collate information regarding missing persons”. This is to be completed within six months.
And where the LLRC suggests the framing of domestic legislation to specifically criminalize enforced or involuntary disappearances, the action plan commits to examining the need for such legislation. A law would be formulated and presented to parliament “if law reform is found to be necessary”.
The LLRC proposed that the publication of a list of names of those in detention. The action plan says the current practice of informing the next of kin regarding the location of the detainee (with the National Human Rights Commission also being informed) will continue.
The LLRC recommends the issuance of a certificate when a person is discharged so that the same person is not taken into custody again, unless new evidence is discovered against him. The action plan will examine and report “on the practical application of such a procedure and its feasibility”.
The commission suggests the proper investigations in respect to allegations against illegal armed groups but the action plan clarifies that “steps have been taken to completely eliminate this activity”. The LLRC proposes the introduction of “specific measures” to ensure the maintenance of law and order, particularly the disarming of illegal armed groups. But the action plan responds in general terms that crime statistics and trends will be examined to identify “critical issues” and that necessary measures will be taken to improve law enforcement. These, it says, are ongoing.
There is some confusion in the action plan related to the LLRC’s proposal that the government creates awareness about the internally displaced regarding areas available for people to resettle. The action plan commits to conducting awareness programmes on the implementation of circular No. 2011/4 of 22.07.2011 issued by the Commissioner General of Lands. This controversial circular, however, was withdrawn by the state on 19 January 2012 after it conceded that the document was flawed and would be reconsidered by officials. Firm assurances were given to the Court of Appeal that no further steps would be taken to implement it.
Much other work is to be done under the action plan regarding land issues. For instance, a fourth land commission is to be set up similar to the previous three (the land commissions of 1927, 1936 and 1985). For this—and the effective implementation of statutes such as the State Lands Ordinance, Land Development Ordinance, and the Land Grants (Special Provisions) Act—a period of 24 months has been allocated. However, a study on the alienation of state land with specific reference to the north and east will be completed within 12 months.
The land commission, meanwhile, will be responsible for such LLRC recommendations as confining “the participation of security forces officers to expedite the release of maximum extents of lands being utilized for security purposes”.
The LLRC calls for a clear statement by government that private lands will not be used for settlements by any government agency. The action plan says a policy will be formulated within 12 months to deal with the issue of settlements.
The LLRC asks the government to review the two existing high security zones in Palaly and Trincomalee-Sampur, as well as small extents of private land currently used for security purposes, with a view to releasing more land while keeping security needs in perspective. At the press conference, however, it was maintained that there was only one high security zone left in the country and that was in Palaly.
The LLRC recommends that the government takes a decision on compensatory relief for death and injury for those involved with the LTTE. The action plan makes no mention of compensation but assigns the ministry of resettlement and the Presidential Task Force for the North and East with continuing “the government programme for the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants and a reconciliation programme for the next of kin”.
The LLRC suggests that the involvement of security forces in civilian activities and the use of private land by the security forces be phased out “with reasonable timelines being given”. The action plan assigns the ministry of defence to formulate a plan for “further reducing involvement of security forces in civilian work”. It states that 95% have already been withdrawn from civilian duties.
The LLRC calls for immediate action to disarm persons in possession of unauthorized weapons and the prosecution of such offenders. The action plan places the police responsible for ensuring “strict enforcement of the provisions of the Offensive Weapons Act/the Firearms and Explosives Act and the successful prosecution of legal action against offenders”.
Considering that the police were always, and already, responsible for this task —and considering that little has been done in this regard—it is uncertain what new objectives the action plan will achieve. However, it does limit the timeframe for “a complete disarming of persons in possession of unauthorized weapons” to six months.
The action plan was drafted by an officials committee headed by Weeratunga that worked under the supervision of the presidential secretariat without claiming additional remuneration. Weeratunga said at the press conference that the 2013 budget will allocate funds for its implementation. courtesy: LakbimaNews