8. LLRC and reconciliation process
70. His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in May 2010 in order to strengthen the national reconciliation process and ensure the dividends of peace to all Lankans.
71. The LLRC began sittings on August 11, 2010 and any person or organization was free to give evidence before the Commission. All sittings were open to members of the public and the Commission also visited areas outside of Colombo to facilitate the general public living in those areas to give evidence. The public were afforded the option of giving evidence in camera.
72. The Commission also decided to consult and hear the views of persons who would have personal experience and knowledge on different aspects of matters related to its mandate and invitations were also extended to local NGOs as well as NGOs based outside , that have produced reports on the situation in of relevance to the Commission’s mandate. However, despite these invitations being extended in good faith, seeking a constructive dialogue on what the Commission considered as issues of common concern falling under the purview of its mandate, they were not accepted by three organizations i.e. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group. As the public sittings progressed and consequent to the wide media coverage, there was a keen response from members of the public to express their views before the Commission17.
73. The Commission handed over its Report to His Excellency President Rajapaksa in November 2011. The Report was submitted to Parliament and made public on 16th December 2011.
74. The Report contains detailed annexes, compiled following interviews with over 1,000 persons who gave evidence before the Commission, and over 5,000 submissions which had been received.
75. The Government on its own accord has been pursuing action on many areas prior to the release of the LLRC Report, resulting in the convergence of policies with regard to the implementation of the recommendations. Significant progress has been made with regard to resettlement of IDPs, infrastructure development projects in conflict affected areas, rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants and initiating a process to address reconciliation issues inter alia through a political process. The GoSL remains committed to pursuing the implementation of the recommendations of its own domestic mechanism the LLRC.
76. The Cabinet of Ministers in May 2012 decided that a Task Force headed by the Secretary to the President would monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC.18 In July a matrix containing the National Plan of Action to implement the LLRC recommendations developed by the Task Force and presented to Cabinet was approved setting out the main focus areas for implementation19. The main focus areas are IHL Issues, Human Rights, Land Return and Resettlement, Restitution/Compensatory Relief and Reconciliation. The Task Force has indentified a corresponding activity, an implementing agency, a key performance indicator and a time frame in respect of each recommendation.20
77. Special emphasis has been given to regulating the activities regarding the management of land in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Ministry of Land and Land Development has decided to resolve the land disputes in these areas by implementing a special programme of work. Specific Cabinet approval has been received for policy proposals relating to the matter. Amongst the steps being taken, directions have been given to temporarily suspend the distribution of lands. Priority is to be given to those persons who have been displaced or fled from their natural locales or lost their lands.21
78. An amendment to the Prescription Ordinance is presently being considered whereby displaced or disadvantaged owners of land will be exempted from the rules of prescription during a period of 30 years, during which the armed conflict took place, so as to enable them to defeat any adverse claims based on the running of time.
79. With regard to matters of accountability, the LLRC report clearly states, that protection of civilian life was a key factor in the formulation of policy for carrying out military operations and the deliberate targeting of civilians formed no part of this strategy22.
80. The Government on its own accord 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 arrived at on issues involving accountability, without any element of conjecture or speculation. The Government has asserted clearly on many occasions that, if reliable evidence is available in respect of any contravention of the law, the domestic legal process will be set in motion.
81. As no comprehensive census had been carried out in the Northern Province since 1981, the Department of Census and Statistics was charged with the task of making an Enumeration of Vital Events (EVE) in the Northern Province which was completed in 201123. The main objective of the EVE 2011 was to provide the Government with important information concerning the population and vital events in the Northern Province which were not recorded since 1981 due to acts of terrorism prevalent in the Province for 3 decades. It is to be noted that this enumeration was conducted by Tamil Government officers mostly school teachers serving in the Northern Province. While critical for socio-economic and development planning, the enumeration, followed by an Island-wide census in 2012, would provide an accurate picture of patterns of deaths, outward migration within and outside the country, caused by the conflict and other reasons. A comparison of the population data from the enumeration and from the island wide census will enable the GoSL to gain an understanding the causes of deaths as a result of the conflict. Causes could include LTTE cadres killed in action, LTTE cadres and civilians who escaped the conflict and migrated to other parts of the country/or overseas, civilians likely to have been killed in the crossfire, civilians killed by the LTTE whilst escaping from their control, false reporting and deaths reported but not occurring during the period of the humanitarian operation.
82. Additionally, the Army has commenced investigations, firstly, by appointing a Board of Inquiry to study the LLRC recommendations and formulate a viable action plan to implement the recommendations that are relevant to the Army and, secondly, a Court of Inquiry has been appointed to investigate allegations of civilian casualties and the Channel 4 story, irrespective of the fact whether the video footage was genuine or not. The Navy has also initiated similar measures. These boards have commenced work and several witnesses have testified.
83. With regard to the cases relating to 17 aid workers in Muthur (Action Contre La Faim) and the 5 students who met with their deaths in Trincomalee, the cases were referred to the Attorney-General with a view to ascertaining whether a prima facie case exists to launch prosecutions. The Attorney-General has advised the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) to conduct further investigations.24 Steps have also been taken by the Attorney General’s Department to peruse the material placed before the LLRC to ascertain whether it would be possible to impute liability so that offenders could be identified and prosecuted. It is expected to finalise both these matters where it would be possible to arrive at a conclusion whether the available material warrants a criminal prosecution and whether there is sufficient evidence to establish the identity of the offenders. If adequate evidence is disclosed by the investigations, filing of indictment is possible within one month thereafter.
9. Parliamentary Select Committee
84. A central feature of the Government’s approach to evolving a consensus formula was the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), aimed at achieving multi party consensus in respect of constitutional changes required for a sustainable political engagement. The nominations for the PSC from the opposition political parties are awaited25. Parallel with this multi-party mechanism, the Government is engaged in bilateral discussions with Tamil political parties as well as Muslim representation. Mindful of the fact that all previous attempts at evolving a constitutional formula failed due to the lack of consensus, the GoSL remains optimistic that the PSC would help achieve the required consensus, given its inclusivity, transparency, and commitment to democratic ideals.
10. Other measures to strengthen reconciliation
85. In order to address the language issue, the Government has announced its Trilingual Language Policy in January 2012. As a component of the reconciliation process, and taking into account the important focus of the LLRC recommendations in this regard Tamil speaking police officers have been deployed in the country including the North and East. Civil Service in the North and East is largely represented by the Tamil and Muslim communities.
86. Domestically very specific measures have been adopted by the Government to safeguard human rights. Subsequent to a commitment made by the Government at the first cycle of the UPR process in 2008, a National Human Rights Action Plan for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (NHRAP) was developed through a consultative process involving civil society, the UN and the Government.
87. The Action Plan presents a structured framework to monitor the implementation of existing laws, policies and practices and enhance a better understanding and respect of human rights. The three broad objectives of the NHRAP are the achievement of genuine and substantive improvements in the observance of human rights, the promotion of greater awareness of human rights, both in the general public and in specific sectors, and the promotion of coordination of human rights activities among diverse government agencies and non-governmental organizations. The NHRAP received Cabinet approval in December 2011.
88. The implementation stage of the Action Plan, including monitoring and evaluation, is currently underway with the initial evaluation scheduled for December 2012/January 2013. The NHRAP addresses 08 areas, viz, Civil and Political Rights (), Economic, Social, and Cultural rights, children’s rights, labour rights, migrant worker rights, and the prevention of torture, women’s rights and the rights of IDPs. An inter-ministerial committee on human rights has been established that will oversee its implementation and action is being taken to act upon other identified initiatives in keeping with the stipulated time frames. At the operational level, a body of senior officials of key institutions has been charged with overseeing implementation in line with their respective mandates and a dedicated unit has been established to support the various oversight mechanisms.
89. Examples of implementation of significant activities include the preparation of draft legislation on occupational safety, health and welfare at work by the Ministry of Labour and Labour Relations (Labour Rights), directives issued by the Police Department to ensure physical safety of persons taken into custody and the provision of access to legal counsel as of right (Prevention of Torture), the adoption and implementation of a national Trilingual policy as well as the enhancement of scope and reach of National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (Economic Social and Cultural Rights), accelerated demining and awareness raising among IDPs of risks due to mines and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) (Rights of IDPs), implementation of the national action plan supporting the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 2005 (Rights of Women), strengthening capacity to support Child Helpline (Rights of Children), establishment by the Police Department of a special unit to combat human smuggling and trafficking (Rights of Migrant Workers), completion of review and improvement of training syllabus and period of training for police officers.
Legislative Measures to Strengthen Civil and Political Rights
90. In 2007, Parliament enacted an Act to give Effect to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) relating to Human Rights which has not been given recognition through legislative measures and to provide for matters connected thereto or incidental thereto, Act No. 56 of 2007. (ICCPR Act)
The GoSL acted with restraint to protect civilians throughout the HumanitarianOperation. A “zero civilian casualty” policy was adopted, and Security Forces made every effort to minimize collateral damage during the armed conflict.As the Humanitarian Operation progressed in the North an increasingly isolated and desperate LTTE leadership surrounded itself with a human shield comprising many thousands of civilians for self-preservation.After the clearance of the terrorists from Kilinochchi in January 2009, theGoSL made every effort to encourage the movement of civilians to government controlledareas including conveying messages through the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). However, the LTTE forcibly prevented and killed many civilians who attempted to escape.
The GoSL did not, at any stage, corral the civilian population in the Wanni as alleged by some quarte rs. The forced movement and corralling of civilians was an act of the LTTE, which blatantly used the civilians as a human shield.
In order to protect civilians held by the LTTE, the GoSL identified areas of large civilian concentrations and instructed
Security Forces to avoid firing into such areas. This was how the “No Fire Zone” (NFZ) came into being. The assertion that Security Forces declared areas NFZs and forced people into them is a gross distortion. A NFZ was identified to provide a reference point for Security Forces to take precautions in planning operations. These zones were readjusted having regard to the movement of civilians under LTTE compulsion. Announcements on radio and through loudspeakers, airdropped
leaflets,and requests conveyed through international agencies were used to inform civilians of safe locations and encourage them to escape from the conflict area. Through an abundance of caution, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) were deployed over these areas to make an accurate assessme nt of the ground in which civilians were held. The Sri Lanka Navy
established secure sea corridors for civilians escaping from the areas unlawfully occupied by the LTTE which were continuously kept under close surveillance.
The ICRC,which was present in the conflict zone till the end of the conflict assisting both the Government and the LTTE,commended the Navy for its work in rescuing civilians.
As detailed above, it is evident that the Humanitarian Operation was carried out with utmost care to safeguard civilian lives. All Security forces [Army (1997), Navy (2002) Air Force (2002)] have Directorates of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) established internally. Security Forces received in – depth training on HR and IHL through these directorates. Assistance for training programmes within the directorates was obtained from Government and non-governmental and international organizations such as ICRC, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the then Ministry of DisasterManagement and Human Rights (MDMHR), British Council, Human Rights Commissionof Sri Lanka (HRCSL), National Institute of Education, and Centre for the Study of HumanRights at the University of Colombo and Sri Lanka Foundation Institute.