The government needed no commissions of inquiry to tell it any of this; the LLRC’s appointment had nothing to do with reconciliation; it was a ploy to get international pressure for war crimes and violation of human rights off the back of the regime. I said this last week in this column and the International Crisis Group echoed it as follows on December 22.
“Appointed by President Rajapaksa in May 2010, the LLRC has been the government’s primary means of deflecting pressure for an international investigation into credible allegations of grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by both government forces and fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the final stages of the long civil war. The government has pledged that the Commission’s report would fully address the international community’s demands for accountability, as President Rajapaksa promised UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after the government’s declaration of victory over the LTTE in May 2009.”
So is the international community satisfied that the government has conducted an adequate investigation, that the findings are acceptable and the world can stop breathing down the necks of the regime? Of course no one believes the LLRC’s whitewash of the military and the regime, but the point is whether the international community has been bamboozled into keeping quiet. If this much has been achieved the game plan has succeeded and the LLRC has served its purpose in the eyes of the government.
Western government responses
As anticipated all Tamil diaspora organizations roundly condemned the report as shameless lies and a cover up that hides the atrocities of government forces. Surely, the regime and commissioners anticipated the depth of the Tamil fury, both overseas and local; so one must presume this was factored in when the report was released. Since diaspora reaction was foreseen what is now important is the response of foreign governments, especially India, the US and Europe, and whether international human rights agencies stop pulling on the hangman’s noose.
The way Western governments have responded is lower key than I had anticipated. The US for example has said that it, “has concerns that the report prepared by the Lessons Learns and Reconciliation Commission does not fully address all the allegations of serious human rights violations that occurred in the final phase of the conflict . . . So this leaves questions about accountability and for those allegations, and so we urge the Sri Lankan government not only to fulfil all of the recommendations of the report as it stands, but also to address those issues that the report did not cover.”
In a tone that implies some satisfaction with the report the State Department spokesperson also adds: “In particular, the report recognizes and makes substantive recommendations in the areas of reconciliation, devolution of authority, demilitarization, rule of law, media freedom, disappearances, human rights violations.”
The Canadian response was quite welcoming of the report and conveyed the impression that it accepts the LLRC’s finding that the security forces behaved reasonably except perhaps for minor lapses. Moreover the emphasis was on the report’s usefulness for rebuilding ethnic reconciliation. Canada’s High Commissioner Bruce Levy told the Daily Mirror: “The final report of the LLRC released on December 16 is a potentially important contribution to Sri Lanka’s much-needed political reconciliation. The Commission can be commended for making substantive recommendations in many sensitive and far-reaching areas. At the same time, however, our initial reading of the report supports the view that the serious allegations of intentional wrong-doing on the part of some elements of Sri Lanka’s military have yet to be adequately addressed.”
It is the overall tone and attitude that counts and quite clearly the High Commissioner is bending over to be conciliatory. While grumbling mildly, Western governments are going to quietly drop the war crimes and human rights violations issues. Since these atrocities were in the past, not ongoing as in Syria, the West has become Tamil-weary and prefers to get on with what are to its present diplomatic and economic advantage. I have not yet seen responses from Britain or Australia but the Americans and Canadians have set the tone.
India, the most important international player has continued to play deaf and dumb. The Sonia-Singh administration cannot be trusted one iota on human rights in Lanka. What are India’s interests in this game? Having backed, diplomatically supported and provided military intelligence to an operation that led to tens of thousands of casualties, the only interest that the Sonia-Singh administration now has is to avoid having its face further blackened before the world. Good for Delhi if anyone says there were no war crimes; then India cannot be deemed the accomplice of a marauder.
The response of non-government organizations, the international and Indian press and human rights groups however, has been much harsher. The International Crisis Group wrote as follows in the statement from which I quoted previously.
“The report acknowledges important events and grievances that have contributed to decades of political violence and civil war in Sri Lanka and makes sensible recommendations on governance, land issues and the need for a political solution. But it fails in a crucial task – providing the thorough and independent investigation of alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law that the UN and other partners of Sri Lanka have been asking for. It is now incumbent on the international community, through the UN Human Rights Council, to establish an independent international investigation in 2012. Without such an investigation, accountability for the crimes committed at the end of the civil war is highly unlikely; without accountability, and a full understanding of the nature of the violations which took place on all sides, the seeds of future conflict will grow.”
And Amnesty International had this to say:
“There is a clear sign of the bias we had feared and already detected in the LLRC’s composition and conduct. It does however offer some interesting recommendations about how to improve the overall human rights situation in Sri Lanka that the government needs to take seriously . . . The LLRC received numerous testimonies about enforced disappearances, illegal or abusive detention and extrajudicial executions. It has called on the Sri Lankan government to investigate these reports and prosecute violators. . . Importantly the report notes that many people stressed that definitive action against alleged cases of disappearances as well as preventive measure would have a significant impact on the reconciliation process.”
“The Sri Lankan government must now address the findings . . . It should report to the UN Human Rights Council at its next session in March 2012 on its measures to implement the report’s recommendations, including the need for further investigation of alleged violations of the laws of war, taking account of the findings and recommendations of the report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka.”
Of course none of this will happen, the Sri Lankan government will do nothing to “reconcile.”
Therefore the outcome in the Human Rights Councils is still a little open. It depends on whether non-governmental bodies and the Tamil diaspora can persuade Western governments to toughen their stance again. It may be a tall order.