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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Silva’s Report, Role of International Community and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

 One of the most fundamental challenges of peacemaking and peacebuilding is confronting the past while building a just foundation for the future. Fighting impunity and pursuing peace are not incompatible objectives – they can work in tandem, even in an ongoing conflict situation. – Ban Ki -moon, The Secretary General, UN [1]

Background of Silva’s report
Since the brutal war in Sri Lanka came to an end in May 2009 with the violation of International Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law, the International community called for an International Independent Investigation [III] into war crimes and crimes against humanity. Due in part to this pressure, the UN Secretary General appointed a Panel of Experts (PoE) to advise him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka. The PoE findings also recommended an International Independent Investigation.

However, the Government of Sri Lanka (GosL) rejected this call and refused to accept the PoE as a UN report and called the UN Panel of Expert report as the “Darusuman” report. Mr.Darusuman, who was the head of the UN Panel of experts.

In response to war crimes allegations and the calls for an III, Sri Lanka came out with its own home grown report, which is a domestic “investigation”. The “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation commission – LLRC” is an outcome of this process. I call this report “Silva’s report” as Chitta Ranjan De Silva is the Chairmen of the so called Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation commission and he was a former Attorney General and Solicitor General of Sri Lanka. Silva’s report is flawed and has completely failed to reveal the comprehensive facts and break the veil of silence that covers what occurred in the past. The key intention of the report is to hide the deliberate attacks on Tamil civilians and constant attacks on hospitals, committed by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces [SLAF]. In addition, it has gone to extremes to protect the Chain of Command [CoC], including the Defence Minister/President Mahinda Rajapakse, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, and Senior level commanding officers, especially those who are loyal to Rajapakse regime. This is one of the main reasons behind the appointments of alleged war criminals to Sri Lankan diplomatic missions. Furthermore, to ensure the impunity of the perpetrators, the regime has had a precise agenda to divert, obstruct, and, if possible, to curb international pressure to establish an III into war crimes and crimes against humanity which took place during the final stages of the Eelam War – IV. This becomes clear even through an interview[2] of Sri Lankan cabinet minister Wimal Weerawansa.

In addition, the Silva report is attempting to intentionally generate ‘new’ facts and to blackout important testimonies.
A remarkable outcome of the report, finally, is that it mentioned that the SLAF was responsible for at least some civilian causalities, which is a major transformation from the Government’s previous version of so call “zero-sum-causalities”.

International human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group rejected the LLRC report and are still insisting for an III. Sri Lanka’s past is a good lesson learnt that none of the Sri Lanka’s commissions delivered justice for victims. Considering the fact and the reality, genuine reconciliation is possible, after producing justice for the war victims. It is feasible only through III and committed and collective efforts by the international community.

Flaws of Silva’s report
The Silva report has failed in several ways. Firstly, there is no credible information about war crimes and human rights abuses committed by the SLAF. It also built based on denials and fabricated information.
Foremost, Silva’s report failed to counter impunity, and did not attend to individual and collective accountability. Also, the report failed to address the real needs of the victims. In addition, the way the report was written leads to the conclusion that some important heartbreaking testimonies or serious incidents were purposely avoided from appearing in the report itself. For example:

  • What is the fate of Rev. Fa. Francis Joseph, who initiated the surrender of most LTTE political officers during the final days of war?
  • What about Rev.Fa. Jim Brown, who was providing humanitarian assistance to the Tamil civilians in August 2006 mid of intense fighting. According to a witness, the Sri Lankan Navy threatened him prior to his disappearance.
  • The murder of Rev. Fr. M X Karunaratnam, who was a human rights defender and the Chairperson of the NorthEast Secretariat on Human Rights (NESoHR)[3] was also ignored.
  • Particularly, two shocking attacks on school children were ignored in the report, as well. The first one, a massacre of fifty-three students (all school girls) along with their three teachers on the 14th of August, 2006 while the other attack was on the 29th of January, 2008, where a bus carrying mainly school children and teachers came under a claymore attack near the Madhu church complex in the Mannar district (Northern part of Sri Lanka). Twenty people in the bus were killed and a further twenty-one were injured, seventeen of them seriously injured. Among those killed were thirteen school children and a school principal. All of the thirteen students who died were between the ages of 10 and 16.[4]
  • The report included the information that the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was unilaterally declared by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] on Christmas Eve, 2001; however, nothing mentioned about the murder of the Tamil National Alliance [TNA] parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham, who was assassinated inside a Church during on Christmas Eve 2005.
  • Besides, in his submission to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, the Bishop of the Mannar Catholic Diocese, Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph, pointed out that over 146,679 people in the Vanni are not accounted for in post-war Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the report mentions a considerable number of his remarks while completely wiping out the numbers relating to the unaccounted.
  • More importantly, an official from the Pooneryn Agriculture Development Authority went on to note in front of Silva’s commission in Kilinochchi and said,the Army used cluster bombs and phosphorus bombs against innocent civilians. There were many casualties on account of this. Around 400-600 died daily, and around 1,000 were injured[5], but this testimony was also not mentioned in the report.

Above are some of the crucial events since the CFA was signed that cannot be avoided or ignored under any circumstances.

If the aim of the commission is to genuinely deal with lessons learnt and promote reconciliation, it has to be independent, transparent and accountable. However, what the Rajapakse regime wants is to place blame, in every instance, on the LTTE, which they have done through Silva’s report as well. But, “if Sri Lanka wants true reconciliation, simply blaming the Tigers is not enough. The government, and the country, must take responsibility for the dead, mend the lives of the survivors — whatever their ethnicity — and stop the vicious cycle of ethnic strife by arriving at a political solution that meets, if not all aspirations, most of them. Until then, the end of the war will not bring true peace.”[6]

Basically, in Sri Lanka’s cabinet minister’s word, a main intention of the report is: “really we do not want the LLRC report. The LLRC report was a requirement of local and international forces who are disenchanted over the military victory achieved by the Government against terrorism and to successfully defeat international pressure exerted on Sri Lanka over alleged war crimes.”[7] Considering the “war lord’s” intention, how can any dignified human being believe that the Silva report or any other so-called “home-grown” mechanism can deliver justice to the war victims?

Role of International Community and the Future of the “Tear Drop”

Indian Faction
India and the island nation of Sri Lanka have a longstanding and unique relationship, particularly with Tamils. There is no need to repeat the ties between India and the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Still, a considerable section of Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Tamil Diaspora believe in and want India’s positive intervention for Tamils in Sri Lanka. However, disappointment continues among most Tamils, as India welcomed the so-called Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission [LLRC] report, which was published only in the middle of December. At the same time, India has yet to openly acknowledge the report of the United Nations Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka. “New Delhi hesitates to push the Rajapaksa administration on governance issues and has resisted endorsing an international investigation into the atrocities committed during the last months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, in which as many as 40,000 civilians were killed. India’s longstanding interest in a peaceful and politically stable Sri Lanka is best served by strong messages to Colombo to end impunity and reverse the democratic decay that undermines the rights of all Sri Lankans”[8]. India’s constructive action vis-à-vis Sri Lanka will not only help to seek justice and sustainable political solution to the Tamils in Sri Lanka, but is safe for its national interest, particularly from the national security point of view. Also, it can be a precedent for India taking an adequate role as a global player. In contrast, there are more possibilities in the long-term that suggest that a lack of India’s appropriate action affect its own national interest and India may lose its remaining influence over Sri Lanka and gain more frustrations from the Tamils not only in Sri Lanka, but remarkably from Tamil Nadu, within India itself.

Chinese Faction
China as a leading player in geopolitics should support those international actors concerned with protecting and promoting human rights and justice in Sri Lanka. China should not be an obstacle to seeking justice for war victims. While extending its economic interventions in Sri Lanka, China should not oppose a human rights-based intervention in Sri Lanka, which China itself calls as an intervention on one countries internal matters. Ethno-political conflict in Sri Lanka is not any more an internal matter. It became an international issue long ago. China should support or, at the very least, not oppose bringing any resolution to the UN Human Rights Council or UN Security Council, which is connected to accountability in Sri Lanka.

Role of the West
It was both tragic and unfortunate that Western countries could not stop the slaughter of Tamil civilians at-least during the final stage of the bloody war. Western countries were waiting for the publication of Silva’s report. Now, the report is published, but it is clear that the report has not met international standards. Also, the outcomes of the report raises serious questions about its credibility. According to Human Rights Watch, the report “disregards the worst abuses by government forces, rehashes longstanding recommendations, and fails to advance accountability for victims of Sri Lanka’s civil armed conflict.”[9] Western countries have to take all needed and helpful measures to establish an independent, international investigation into the violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law. Also, they have to send independent fact-finding missions to get the full picture regarding the past abuses and ongoing land grabbing, systematic demographic change and militarization in the Tamil homeland, which is the worst part of “post-war” Sri Lanka. Therefore, as responsible global players who promote liberty and democracy, the West has to act constructively and swiftly in order to create a lasting peace in the island nation rather than waiting further. Especially, as the US concerns itself to strengthening its presence in the Asia-Pacific region, they have to take bold and genuine efforts to ensure that justice will be delivered to the war’s victims without any delay.

[1] Kai Ambos, Judith Large and Marieke Wierda, eds, Building a Future on Peace and Justice: Studies on Transitional Justice, Peace and Development (Berlin: Springer, 2009), 3.


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