“… From the very beginning there was a very clear military plan and in parallel…a plan for humanitarian assistance” Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (Testimony before the LLRC)
“….the Commission is satisfied that the military strategy that was adopted…was one that was carefully conceived, in which the protection of the civilian population was given the highest priority.” (The LLRC Report)
A perceptive analysis of past errors and some judicious recommendations for the future constitute the strongest aspects of the LLRC’s much-awaited report.
The Report, for instance, warns against disallowing the singing of the national anthem in Tamil, because such a ban will “create a major irritant which would not be conducive to fostering post-conflict reconciliation”. Its final recommendations argue that “the practice of the National Anthem being sung simultaneously in two languages in the same time must be maintained and supported”
‘The practice of singing the National Anthem in two languages’ ended early this year; under orders from Colombo, provincial authorities compelled students of Jaffna Hindu College and Vambadi Girls School to sing the National Anthem in Sinhala. That order was a result of a cabinet decision (of 8.12.2010) which banned the singing of the national anthem in Tamil. President Mahinda Rajapaksa justified his ‘Sinhala Only National Anthem’ proposal with the factually incorrect argument that “in no other country was the national anthem used in more than one language”; he defined the practice of singing the national anthem in Tamil as a “shortcoming that must be rectified” (The Sunday Times – 12.12.2010).
Was the LLRC unaware that the ‘practice of singing the National Anthem in two languages’ is dead, has been dead for almost a year? Did the Commissioners not know that this practice was killed on Presidential orders? The Commissioners could not have been ignorant of this reality unless they suffered from collective and targeted amnesia. But acknowledging the truth about the national anthem would have been tantamount to an indirect critique of the President, the Commission’s appointing authority.
The fate of Gen. Fonseka teaches that that hell hath no fury like a Rajapaksa opposed/criticised, especially when the dissident is a former official/acolyte. Caught between the rock of reality and the hard place of Rajapaksa ire, the LLRC turned contortionist; it warned of the danger of abandoning the bilingual national anthem as if this is a future pitfall and not a Rajapaksa-wrought fait accompli.
This episode is symbolic of the LLRC and its report. The Commission’s real mandate was to provide the Rajapaksas with a plausible fig-leaf. Last week, President Rajapaksa “…filed motion in the war crimes suit against him in the District Court of Washington DC” (Lanka Standard – 18.12.2011).
This is one more indication of the Sibling’s desperate need to make peace with the West, without undermining their project of Familial Rule and Dynastic Succession. The LLRC too was born out of this desire; its job was to deflect international criticism and forestall a UN inquiry. Conscious of this raison d’être, the LLRC seemed to have worked while looking over its collective-shoulders at the Ruling Siblings. The Report faithfully reflects this anxious concern to please the powers-that-be. Minister Professor GL Peiris was dead right; the Report is a ‘true mirror of the humanitarian operation’ because that was what the Rajapaksas wanted it to be.
Most depositions by civilian Tamils mentioned in the Report present a picture which is almost totally at variance with the ‘humanitarian offensive’ myth. They detail the atrocities of the Tigers; they also tell of how No Fire Zones became Free Fire Zones. Tamil after civilian Tamil maintains that they were shelled by both sides. One civilian states that “there were aerial attacks by the air force” on the third NFZ. But true to its real mandate, the LLRC ignores this civilian evidence and embraces the myth of a ‘humanitarian operation’ peddled by its star (and most quoted) witness, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
Unsurprisingly; if the LLRC is chary of telling the truth about and apportioning responsibility for something as relatively innocuous as the scrapping of the Tamil language national anthem, will it have the courage to tell the truth about far more dangerous issues, especially if that truth discredits the Commander-in-Chief and his Brother?
By toeing the Rajapaksa line shamelessly, the LLRC deals a body-blow to the claim that the Rajapaksas can carry out an unbiased investigation of their own deeds. The LLRC’s pussyfooting approach thus inadvertently justifies the demand for an international investigation. Perhaps aware of this lacuna, the Commissioners juggle desperately to intersperse a largely incredible report with some credible insights and comments. So the Report advocates devolution while carefully refraining from mentioning the term ethnic problem, a Rajapaksa anathema.
It is outspoken in its criticism of the EPDP and the TMVP for engaging in rights-violations, but religiously omits to mention that this impunity is granted and guaranteed by the Lankan Forces and the Rajapaksa Siblings. Post-war, these outfits have become key cogs in the Rajapaksa politico-electoral machinery, as symbolised by the transformation of Mr. Iniyabarathy, convicted criminal and alleged abductor, into a Rajapaksa-electoral organiser in the East. His ‘Deshamanya’ title, bestowed by President Rajapaksa this November, is symbolic and symbiotic of this amoral nexus.
Unfortunately the LLRC’s efforts may prove futile. A key witness in the Washington case against President Rajapaksa is reportedly a former Lankan major general who had ‘high security clearance and close contact with some of the army’s most powerful figures’. He had already given a deposition stating that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa passed on “some instructions to a field commander to get rid of those LTTE cadres who are surrendering without adhering to normal procedure…” and that “Mr. Rajapaksa sanctioned the creation of a ‘hit squad’…..” (Daily Telegraph – 18.12.2011).
By vindicating the Lankan Forces (and by extension the Rajapaksas) on all essential counts, the LLRC discredited itself and defeated its own purpose. A less blatantly partisan report could have been more successful at countering international criticism. But such a report would have infuriated the Rajapaksas and, that is a risk none can expect the LLRC to run, given the fate of Gen. Fonseka.
19 months after defeating the LTTE and despite a mammoth defence budget, existence remains unsafe, unjust and brutish for many Lankans. This month human rights activists Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Murugandan disappeared in Jaffna. In the South the regime is planning the next logical step in its land grabbing exercise. According to Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, “Lands given to farmers under state grants, Mahaweli and Swarna Bhoomi deeds would be acquired if they have not been developed and used productively” (Sri Lanka Mirror – 21.12.2011)
The Rajapaksas and their local minions will decide which lands are underutilised – an ideal way of acquiring fertile land for foreign agribusinesses and of threatening/punishing anti-government farmers
December’s toll of this climate of impunity included a seven year old child who was abducted and raped; “The girl, who is a resident of the Kodikamam area was at her home with her family when she was abducted around 11 p.m. by a group” (Sri Lanka Mirror – 20.12.2011). If we are not outraged by this horror, and undisturbed by the deadly future it portends, will we not deserve that future?