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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

LLRC report is verbose fig leaf to cover Rajapaksa wrongdoing in conduct of war

 Tisaranee Gunasekara
The LLRC has done its job. The LLRC Report has cleared its appointing authority, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, of any and all wrongdoing in the conduct of the Fourth Eelam War. The LLRC report duly concurs with the Rajapaksa narrative on the Fourth Eelam War on every essential count.

It vindicates the strategy adopted by the Rajapaksa regime vis-à-vis the Fourth Eelam War.

It clears Lankan Forces of targeting civilians, absolving by extension those who provided the political leadership to those forces: the President and his brother.

It condemns the Darusman Report.

It attacks the Channel 4 documentary.

By concurring with the Rajapaksas on all vital points, the report bolsters the Ruling Sibling’s definition of the Fourth Eelam War as a ‘humanitarian operation’.

In its official statement on the Report, the Presidential Secretariat understandably – and triumphantly – showcases the LLRC’s words of total exoneration: “In evaluating the Sri Lankan experience in the context of allegations of violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), the Commission is satisfied that the military strategy that was adopted to secure the LTTE held areas was one that was carefully conceived, in which the protection of the civilian population was given the highest priority”.

The raison d’être of the LLRC was to justify the Rajapaksa conduct of the Fourth Eelam War. The Commission has fulfilled its allotted task diligently. An excellent case in point is the Report’s complete acceptance of the humanitarian bona fides of the Lankan forces: “The Commission also notes in this regard that the movement of the Security Forces in conducting their operations was deliberately slow during the final stages of the conflict, thereby evidencing a carefully worked out strategy of avoiding civilian casualties or minimizing them.”

The Rajapaksas do not peddle the ‘zero-civilian casualty myth’ anymore, not in the English language. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa himself proclaimed the new line when he admitted, several months ago, that some civilians may have died, accidentally, as a result of Lankan operations.

Therefore the LLRC report does not break any new ground when it says, “On consideration of all facts and circumstances before it, the Commission concludes that the Security Forces had not deliberately targeted the civilians in the NFZs, although civilian casualties had in fact occurred in the cause of crossfire”. This seemingly frank admission is in perfect consonance with the current Rajapaksa myth of a ‘few civilian casualties’.

Having admitted that a few civilian would have died, perhaps as a result of crossfire, the LLRC report moves rapidly to bestow a total absolution on the Lankan Forces: “Having reached the above conclusions, it is also incumbent on the Commission to consider the question, while there was no deliberate targeting of civilians by the Security Forces, whether the action of the Security Forces of returning fire into the NFZs was excessive in the context of the Principal of Proportionality. Given the complexity of the situation that presented itself as described above, the Commission after most careful consideration of all aspects, is of the view that the Security Forces were confronted with an unprecedented situation when no other choice was possible and all ‘feasible precautions’ that were practicable in the circumstances had been taken.”

Thanks to the outstanding performance of the LLRC, the Rajapaksas can congratulate themselves on a deed very well done.

The LLRC Report is critical of the LTTE – justifiably. The LTTE broke every democratic and humanitarian law and became the greatest oppressor of its own people, an ogre who devoured Tamil children, to use the haunting imagery of Father Harry Miller. Many of the LTTE’s deeds, from the deification of Vellupillai Pirapaharan to suicide bombing, from murdering political opponents to child conscription, were both erroneous to the point of immorality and counterproductive to the point of insanity. The Tigers’ contribution to their own destruction, and to the vanquishing of the Tamil cause, is second to none, including the Rajapaksas’.

It is important that the future generations of Tamils grow up knowing this history, in all its bloody details. They must not be brought up on a history which is highly selective, a history which, for instance, excludes the seminal contribution made by the LTTE to de-legitimise the Tamil cause and render it friendless from Delhi to Washington, London to Brussels and Ottawa to Canberra. Knowing the real story of the LTTE is of critical importance to Tamils (far more than to other Lankan communities) because it is also a story of what should be avoided, at least in self-interest. There will be a Tamil political resurgence someday, despite the anti-democratic attempts by the Rajapaksas to prevent it, but that resurgence must not be even marginally LTTE-like, in its dominant thinking or outlook, in its strategy and tactics. If future generations of Tamils mythicise the Tigers, because they grew up hearing and reading a highly edited version of the LTTE, the future will be darkened and bloodied by errors of the past.

The Tigers rewrote history, had to rewrite history, in order to control Tamil society and Tamil mind. The fate of Gopalswami Mahendraraja alias Mahattaya, once the deputy leader of the LTTE, was an excellent case in point. Once he fell out with Mahattaya, Vellupillai Pirapaharan branded him a traitor and demanded that all ‘patriotic’ Tamils concur with this judgement. Thus not only did Mr. Pirapaharan choose to forget Mahattaya’s long years of unblemished loyalty to himself and the LTTE; he expected the Tamil people also to do so as well. And he expected the Tamil people to make this 180 degree turn in their perception with no credible evidence about Mahattaya’s ‘treachery’. Mr. Pirapaharan thus demanded that Tamils abandon their memory, cease thinking, suspend judgement and subject themselves, heart and mind, to his irrational verdict. Many, perhaps most, did just that. Over the years the Tamils were expected to accept many other impossibilities and condone many other crimes, including such abominations as child conscription.

This path of unquestioning acceptance and obedience ended on the bloody shores of the Nandikadal lagoon and in the desolation of open prison camps.

The Tamils are now free of the Tigers. They are thus free to see unpalatable facts in the eye and make their own conclusions about the past. It is up to them to decide whether they continue to cling to the Tiger lies, still parroted by a section of the Tamil Diaspora, or whether they see the Tiger past for what it really was, including the damage the LTTE did to the Tamil cause, with its unforgivable crimes and outrageous excesses. The Tamils can either sow the seeds of future tragedies by refusing to be clear sighted about Tiger errors and excesses; or they can reclaim their future from the necromantic grasp of the dead Tiger.

If mistakes and wrongs are not seen as mistakes and wrongs, if they are excused or explained away, there is no guarantee that they will not be repeated in the future. And the Rajapaksas would be waiting for the Tamils to do just that. A peaceful and democratic political resurgence of Lankan Tamils will bedevil them and leave them with no way of countering it other than the use of naked force. But if Tamils fail to escape the deadly shadow of the Tiger and the resurgence becomes an imitation of the LTTE, the Rajapaksas would be able to brand it as terrorist and counter it as such. Such a development will also enable the Ruling Family to use the ‘Tiger resurgence’ in the North to frighten and repress the South into renewed obedience.

The LLRC report reportedly mentions several incidents which, it believes, require further investigation. Unfortunately even if this recommendation is carried out and investigations are made, their findings cannot but exonerate the Ruling Siblings of all wrongdoing. It is unrealistic to the highest degree to expect the Rajapaksas to investigate themselves honestly, find themesleves guilty and punish themselves. And in Sri Lanka there are no institutions which have not been occupied, strangled or corroded by the Rajapaksas. If a fair investigation is to happen nationally, it must happen in a post-Rajapaksa Sri Lanka.

A key plus point in the Report is its acceptance of some of the problems faced by Tamil people post-war. By doing so, it disagrees with the Rajapaksa line that the only lacunae in the North and the East are infrastructural plus a pinch or two of economics.

Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva had told the parliament that the armed forces will disengage themselves from civil administration, but whether this and other similar promises are implemented in reality remains to be seen. The Rajapaksas have a nearly unblemished record of making promises they have no intention of fulfilling. Therefore it is better to disbelieve a Rajapaksa promise, until it is actually implemented in practice.

The Rajapaksas believe that they can uproot Tamil nationalism by changing the demographic soil which nurtured it, and by using terror.

They do not believe in the existence of an ethnic problem and is allergic to devolution because of its democratising potential. The Rajapaksas want to concentrate all power in their hands. They are thus viscerally opposed to sharing power with anyone, including fellow SLFPers. One of the main purposes of the LLRC is to deflect international pressure and buy time for the Rajapaksas who are trying to create a new ground reality in the North and in parts of the East. A new ground reality consisting of military camps and cantonments amidst Tamil villages, which, the Rajapaksas hope, will render devolution unviable and a Tamil resurgence impossible.

Like the LTTE, the Rajapaksas too are engaged in rewriting history. The most potent example of this exercise is the ongoing persecution and incarceration of Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the war-winning Army Commander. After he fell out with the Rajapaksa siblings not only did Gen. Fonseka, the Sinhala Super-hero, become characterised in the dominant narrative as the Arch-villain; his name is to be expunged from the very annals of Lankan military, turning him into a non-person as far as the official history is concerned. According to Army spokesman, Brigadier Nihal Hapuarachchi “Fonseka is not referred to as the ‘former Army Commander’ anymore… The former army chief will not be a part of history when Sri Lanka’s victorious battle against the LTTE is documented. His details have already been removed from the list of former Sri Lankan Army Commanders on the army website” (The Sunday Leader – 11.12.2011).

The Rajapaksa brothers did the impossible and defeated the seemingly invincible Tigers, in record time. Therefore most Sinhalese seem to think that the Siblings can/must be trusted to do the right thing – even when their deeds look questionable/objectionable. This is exactly how the Tamils responded to the LTTE’s crimes, excesses and demands. Blinded and stupefied by the Tiger’s unprecedented achievements and outstanding victories, most Tamils preferred either to trust the LTTE completely or to give it the benefit of doubt. The Sinhalese should do well to remember where that path of political, moral and intellectual abnegation ended.



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