Finally, the full report of the long awaited Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is in public domain, after it was presented in parliament on Friday (16 December, 2011) by the Leader of the House, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. He in fact sounded very certain the recommendations would be carried out to the letter.
The report and its recommendations would not satisfy the Tamil Diaspora. There is no mention of war crimes, crimes against humanity and there is no mention of a need to investigate such crimes. The Sinhala Diaspora and the Sinhala racists here would not want it either, for the report and its recommendations accept Tamil grievances and seeks political answers for them. For the moderates, though the Rajapaksa regime dropped their claim for “zero civilian casualties” and later accepted their could be “rogue” elements and a few who could not bear the pressures of the war, who committed excesses, the report and its recommendations are unexpected, to say the least and is worth the wait. To be fair by the Commissioners, let it be said, they have managed to bring out a reasonably good report with some clear recommendations though couched in very carefully phrased, cautious lingo.
What is now important is to know whether this Rajapaksa regime that shelved the “Interim Report”, would honour even these moderate recommendations with an adequate political will and in full ? That, despite Minister Nimal Siripala’s promise in parliament, seems a far cry.
Commission’s recommendations have touched upon all areas and all aspects in a not so unfair manner and in careful language. They now have to be brought out for a good social discussion and strong lobbying to have them translated into action. That again is a difficult task, with a regime that has to date being moving in the opposite direction, depending more on militarising of society. Despite that choice of the regime, the following five issues at least, as taken by the LLRC in its findings and recommendations, have put the government in the dock.
1. Responding to the Channel 4 programmes
2. Armed groups in operation
3. Heavy militarisation in North – East
4. Land disputes and alienation
5. Devolution of powers
The LLRC wants an investigation on Channel 4. An investigation would mean, if allowed for independent investigation, this government can not go about with its own version of “Lies Agreed Upon”. There is good reason given for their recommendation for an investigation on Channel 4 that would compel the government to leave aside their jibes and vibes. The Report has it, [quote] No. 4.374 – The Commission, having taken account of the above has the following observations/recommendations to make: a. The images contained in the footage are truly gruesome and shocking, irrespective of whether the incidents are ‘real’ or ‘staged’ ones.[unquote]
The report then says, on both sides, the Government’s as well as the UN Special Rapporteur’s experts, point to several technical ambiguities in the video which remain un-clarified. Though with more doubts cast on the Channel 4 video, the Report says, it wishes to recommend that the Government initiate an independent investigation (emphasis added) into this matter (No. 4.375) for two reasons. The reasons are, first, IF [quote] “the footage reflects evidence of real incidents of summary execution of persons in captivity and of possible rape victims, it would be necessary to investigate and prosecute offenders as these are clearly illegal acts.[unquote] The second of course is to clear all accusations against the soldiers who fought the war “cleanly and professionally” if the footage is fake.
These were precisely the reasons why, the HR lobbyists both here and elsewhere requested for an “independent investigation” all this time. IF the footage is fake, get your name cleared, was the request, in plain language. NOW, will this regime do it the right way, because it is recommended by the LLRC, the President commissioned ?
So is it with the para military groups in operation. The Report calls them “illegal groups” in operation with State security forces, though the phrasing is not that per se. It says the EPDP activities need to be investigated, finding fault with the response given by Minister Devananda when questioned about accusations against the EPDP on abductions and extortions. The Commission is of the view, there should be a full investigation regarding these allegations as, absence of an investigation would create a sense of impunity
The report also clearly registers the Commission’s reservations in how law enforcement agencies deal with such “illegal” armed groups. Referring to “Major” Seelan’s group, accused of abductions, extortions and robberies, it records, [quote] The Commission brought this to the attention of the DIG of the area. Consequently, an accomplice of Major Seelan was apprehended. However the alleged principal offender still remains at large.[unquote] Thus implies links these “illegal” armed groups have with State forces.
Referring to such “illegal” armed groups, the Commission says, it “reiterates the importance of giving full effect to all of its Interim Recommendations concerning illegal armed groups.” It says it “regrets that full effect has not yet been given to its Interim Recommendations”. That interim report was handed over to the President over one year ago.
That apart, the Report has two extremely good recommendations. One is to de-link the Police from institutions dealing with the armed forces, as the [quote] Police Department is a civilian institution which is entrusted with the maintenance of law and order.[unquote]. The second and more important is that which recommends an “Independent Permanent Police Commission” as a “pre-requisite to guarantee the effective functioning of the police.” This should be taken together with the observation, “an alarming phenomenon that was brought to the notice of the Commission was the high level of interference by politicians of the ruling party with regard to appointments, transfers etc of public officials. This is the very antithesis of good governance.” (No 8.209)
Can this regime dump Douglas and Karun Amman as para military leaders ? This is a regime that runs around even with Inayabharathi who has special mention in the Report as one “Bharathi” for alleged abductions, extortions and killings. Is President’s own Commission asking too much from this regime, wanting para military groups disbanded and recommending independent Police Commissions ?
Militarisation in North – East is another serious issue the Commission Report has touched upon and rightly. Under many issues such as land, illegal armed groups, high security zones and human rights issues, the Report has recorded excesses committed by the security forces and the police, from selected submissions made by different organisations and persons. While it has recommended for the police to be brought under an independent commission, the report is clear the society has to be free of military interventions in its day to day life.
The report noted a submission made to the Commission by a former Sinhala politician Mangala Moonesinghe which says, “…there was a need to get Ministry of Defense clearance even for private civil functions like weddings which he stated denied the people of the North the freedom enjoyed by other citizens in the country. He also commented that the Army was running civilian businesses.”(page 277)
It is in that context, the Commission has taken a principle position that [quote] The Commission, as a policy, strongly advocates and recommends to the Government that the Security Forces should disengage itself from all civil administration related activities (emphasis added) as rapidly as possible. [6.104(2.4) – p/237] Basing itself on that principled position, the Commission in its report notes, [quote] 8.211 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 [unquote]
The report in fact also wants HSZ’s rationally reduced to enable people to have a normal life. It recommends re evaluation of HSZ’s along with civil administrative representations in the area in allocating land for the security forces. Therefore it says, [quote] 6.98 In this regard the Commission notes that it is desirable to formalize all HSZs according to existing legal provisions so that maximum benefits and compensation could be paid to affected persons promptly. It is also desirable to continue to review the HSZs with a view to reducing the areas of the HSZs further, (emphasis added) while being alert to national security needs.[unquote]
The fact is, this regime works the other way. It has brought security forces into all aspect of civil life in the North and East and is extending such military intervention now in the Sinhala South as well. It has militarised even the foreign service, appointing former combat and commanding officers as diplomats. This regime has unnecessarily (looking from the side of people) brought civil agencies under the MoD and thus controls Non Governmental activities keeping the NGO Secretariat under the MoD. It has Land Reclamation and Development, Coast Conservation, Registration of Persons and Urban Development under it and military officers sitting on decisions.
North – East is obviously far worse. Even the LLRC Report notes submissions made regarding security interventions in most trivial of events in daily life. The second situation report tabled in parliament on 21 October, 2011 by TNA parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran, probably while this LLRC Report was being written, details how deeply and brutally militarised the North – East is. Again the Trillion Yuan question with this Rajapaksa regime is, will it accept and implement the recommendations of the Commission in totally disengaging the security forces from civil life ?
Land for this Sinhala Buddhist regime is important to the extent it could control the economy in Tamil areas, along with its demography. This remains a very serious political issue from D.S. Senanayake era since independence with colonisation programmes effected as development. The Commission accepts in its Report, the same has been brought to its notice where demographic change is being effected in some areas.
Taking allegations on “Sinhalisation” as worthy of note, the Report has it, [quote] It was also stated before the Commission that the Northern and Eastern Provincial Administration is being ethnically transformed. A Muslim party official referring to key administrative positions in the North and East Administrations stated that a former Trincomalee GA, was the Chief Secretary and ex-servicemen were in key administrative positions. He went on to state that the appointment of ex-servicemen to key administrative posts had been criticized by the members of the administrative service. He added, however, that the fact remained that the combination of retired administration and security officials were well equipped to implement the ‘Sinhalisation process in the East’ [unquote – No.8.106]
The Commission thus recommends, [quote] 6.104 (1) Any citizen of Sri Lanka has the inalienable right to acquire land in any part of the country, in accordance with its laws and regulations, and reside in any area of his/her choice without any restrictions or limitations imposed in any manner whatsoever. The land policy of the Government should not be an instrument to effect unnatural changes in the demographic pattern of a given Province (emphasis added). In the case of inter provincial irrigation or land settlement schemes, distribution of State land should continue to be as provided for in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
It is therefore stressed as recommendations again and strongly too, that “an apolitical approach be adopted in the implementation of the programme (on land), combined with a strong political will”. It says, elsewhere in a very general statement about our present politicians, but very appropriately for land in North-East too, [quote] The politicians and the political elite exercise the power of the State to the detriment of others. This has led to a high degree of corruption undermining the rights of the citizens.[unquote]
For such apolitical implementation of all recommendations the Commission also wants a civil administration that could function independently. This again is a social requirement the opinionated citizens demanded and still keep demanding. This requirement of an independently effective administration was met through the 17 Amendment to the Constitution, along with depoliticising of other State agencies like the Police, the Judiciary and the Elections Department, though with some drawbacks that should have been rectified. Instead this regime, totally negated the want of a de-politicised State apparatus and hurriedly brought the 18 Amendment to the Constitution, allowing the President to politicise the whole State. The LLRC Report now wants that turned round and recommends [quote] 8.210 The Commission strongly recommends the establishment of an Independent Public Service Commission without delay (emphasis added) to ensure that there is no political interference in the public service [unquote]
So is the recommendation for devolution, made through carefully selected phrases and in a very meek tone. It does accept that devolved power provides for local participation at a closer proximity in decision making on development. It does say, the present decision making process with the Presidential Task Force handling all affairs in North-East, is a “top to bottom” approach and does not take local needs, culture and confidence of the people, into its decisions.
Recommending devolution, the Commission says, [quote] In addressing the question of devolution two matters require the attention of the government. Firstly, empowering the Local Government institutions to ensure greater peoples’ participation at the grass roots level. Secondly, it is also imperative that the lessons learnt from the shortcomings in the functioning of the Provincial Councils system be taken into account, in devising an appropriate system of devolution (emphasis added) that addresses the needs of the people. It should at the same time provide for safeguarding the territorial integrity and unity of Sri Lanka whilst fostering its rich diversity.[unquote – pages 307 and 308]
In an overall glance, the Commission wants the government to,
1. Independently investigate Channel 4 footage for authenticity and also if authentic, to take legal action to punish the “wrongdoers”.
2. Disarm all para military groups including the EPDP, PLOTE, ENDLF etc., and investigate allegations against the EPDP
3. Withdraw the military from public life and leave civil life to civil administration
4. Devolve power to the peripheries, removing shortcomings there is, in the present PC system in a more meaningful manner.
5. Establish independent Commissions for Police and Public Service.
These have been asked for by concerned Citizens and they were then labelled as “traitors or Tamil Tiger sympathisers” and often ridiculed and humiliated into silence. Now the LLRC wants the government to implement what these “traitors” have been asking for.
In a way, what the LLRC seems to say is, leave the MoD out of politics and civil life and provide an opportunity for the Tamil people to pick their lives from where the war concluded, by giving them enough elected power in their provinces through improved PCs. Can or will this regime ever have the political intellect to carry through the recommendations ? The wait for the LLRC Report was a politically inquisitive wait. A wait for this regime to implement these LLRC recommendations could be a politically constipated wait.