Ranga JayasuriyaThe government’s primary defence against the impending resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has been its 38-page report, titled ‘The Monitoring Report on National Action Plan (NAP) for the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.’
The NAP report maintained that much of the LLRC recommendations have been implemented, in part or full. However, even before its ink dried up, the report was challenged by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, who in her report on Sri Lanka, which was issued two weeks ago, catalogued a series of broken promises blamed on the government in terms of the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
The monitoring report on the NAP is impressive on paper. But on the ground, it is a different story. And for the victims of the prevailing culture of impunity, like Arumugam Weeraraj, the father of abducted Tamil political activist Lalith Kumar, the report is not worth the paper it was written on. Weeraraj had been petitioning the government agencies to learn about the whereabouts of his only son, who was abducted in Jaffna in December 2011. The report gives neither hope, nor relief to him or to thousands of other families, who have their relatives abducted or disappeared.
The government has tactfully dodged a key recommendation made by the LLRC, that a Special Commissioner be appointed to investigate abductions and disappearances.
Weeraraj has visited all the available government agencies, from the police to the National Human Rights Commission, to no avail.
LLRC recommendations have been implemented selectively and many key recommendations, such as a survey on the civilian casualties of the final phase of the war, are put on the backburner while others, such as the independent commissioner on disappearances have been dogged. Should they be implemented, those new institutions would have challenged the status quo. Those concerns, needless to say, should ring alarm bells in the corridors of power in Colombo: Hence the selective implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
The LLRC recommended the government ‘ascertain morefully 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.’
In response, the Commander of the Army appointed a Court of Inquiry, which released its report ahead of the UNHRC session. The report, rather predictably though, cleared the military of charges of shelling civilians. The report, while absolving the army, blamed the LTTE for the civilian deaths, which the UN agencies and other agencies have counted as ranging from 10,000 to 40,000.
However, given the magnitude of the issue and the scale of human casualties, the report of the Court of Inquiry was seen, understandably enough, as a mere whitewash. The report reasserted the repeated denial on the part of the military. It even denied the occurrence of collateral damage, which is bound to happen in any war. The approach of the Court of Inquiry, which it appeared was driven by a predisposed agenda, did not address original concerns it was meant to do.
Sri Lanka could, with justifiable reasons, deny the deliberate targeting of civilians. However, its insistence on a ‘zero civilian casualty policy’ and denial of the obvious fact that many thousands of civilians perished during the war has been counterproductive. This could also be proof of the dearth of credible domestic mechanisms to conduct internal inquiries.
The second part of the Court of Inquiry would deal with the footage that shows alleged summary execution of surrendered Tiger cadres. One cannot help but feel its judgment is a foregone conclusion.
The LLRC also recommended that a comprehensive household survey on the scale of death and injury be conducted, in order to ascertain the full-scale of the civilian death, injury and property damage. However, the only remarks in the NAP report in this regard is that a ‘mechanism launched to conduct a survey.’ Nearly four years since the end of the war, the country is still kept in the dark about the civilian losses of the war.
The LLRC also recommended that a Special Commissioner of Investigation be appointed to ‘investigate alleged disappearances and provide material to the Attorney General to initiate criminal proceedings as appropriate.’ It also recommended the government to provide the Office of the Commissioner with experienced investigators. However, the government tactfully ditched the recommendation. It, instead proposed to ‘invoke’ the existing mechanisms to deal with the matter, despite it had patently been clear that the said mechanisms have woefully been inadequate.
The overlooking of that particular recommendation has its toll. The NAP report itself confides that 2,729 complaints regarding disappearance of persons have been reported to Terrorist Investigation Division (TID). It adds that investigations into 1,616 complaints have been completed.
However, abductions are continuing and white vans resurface momentarily. Families of the disappeared and the missing are kept in the dark of the plight of their relatives. Tamil businessman, Ramasamy Prabhakaran, also known as Majestic Prabha, was abducted after he was released by the TID, on 11 February 2012. His abduction, allegedly by the same State apparatus, took place after he filed a FR petition against custodial torture he had been subjected to during his previous detention.
The LLRC recommended that a database of Tamil detainees held in a network of prisons islandwide be set up. It also recommended that information on detainees be available for the next of kin. The time-frame for the implementation of the proposal was six months.
However, now the government states the information is available, but the Attorney General’s advice is required to release the information. Since the Government of Sri Lanka is well versed in dilatory tactics, one would expect this is one such strategy. Meanwhile, the relatives of missing Tamils, some believed to be held in detention centres, claim they had regularly been denied information on their family members.
At the same time, the report confides that 2,680 have been arrested by the Terrorist Investigation Division since 19 May 2009.
The NAP report also outlines certain other recommendations, such as the issuance of a certificate to the detainees who are being released from the rehabilitation camps, in order to prevent them from being rearrested. However, Tamil youth who have been released from the military rehabilitation camps continue to be abducted by the military and para-military groups. Kugan Murugan, a rehabilitated LTTE cadre and a member of radical JVP dissident group, was abducted allegedly by the State apparatus in December 2011, along with Lalith Kumar.
In addition, the LLRC recommended the government investigate the killing of five students in Trincomalee and 17 relief workers of ACF (Action Against Hunger). The report states: “The Criminal Investigation Department has conducted investigations into the case of killing of five students in Trincomalee in 2006. The outcome of the inquiries have been forwarded to the Attorney General on 13.03.2006 under Reference Number CR1/59/2006. On the advice of the AG, the CID is conducting further investigations. Magistrate’s Court Trincomalee Case Number is B/11/2006 (b). The CID has conducted investigations into the killing of 17 Non-Governmental Organization workers on 04.08.2006 in Muttur. Outcome of the inquiry have been forwarded to the AG on 18.04.2007, under the Reference Number CR1/185/2007. Magistrate’s Court Trincomalee Case Number is B/843/2006. Advice of the AG is awaited.”
It is ludicrous to suggest that the Magistrate had been awaiting the AG’s advice on both cases for six long years – since 2007. That may be proof of callous disregard on the part of the State apparatus, which have now become subservient to a larger political agenda. That again may be proof of the absence of credible local mechanisms.
The LLRC also recommended that disciplinary and legal action be taken against those involved in alleged abductions and disappearances. However, preponderance of cases has not been investigated and not a single military officer has been convicted.
In another recommendation, LLRC proposed that an independent institution with a strong investigative arm be established ‘to address the grievances of all citizens, in particular the minorities, arising from the abuse of power by public officials and other individuals involved in the governance of the country.’
The government conveniently dodged that recommendation.
At its outset, the LLRC was seen as a farcical affair, but suddenly it turned up with a largely acceptable report. That in fact provided a degree of credibility to local institutions. Now, the ball is on the government’s court and it has to retain that credibility. However, sadly though, the government’s performances are not convincing enough. C