(December 24, Bangalore, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Sri Lankan government has done well to make public the report by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
The report itself, while flawed, represents a step forward in establishing what happened in the final stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. For instance, while the Rajapaksa government has maintained so far that there were zero civilian casualties, the LLRC report says that there were ‘considerable civilian casualties’ and that hospitals were shelled in the closing phases of the war. A UN-backed report earlier this year had said that there were ‘credible allegations’ that ‘most of the civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling.’ However, the LLRC does not say who was responsible for the shelling. It blames lack of evidence for its failure to fix accountability.
It also maintains that deliberately targeting civilians was not government policy. While many, including Tamils who suffered on account of the LTTE’s use of civilians as human shield would agree with the LLRC’s observation that the Tigers had ‘no respect for human life’, they will vehemently disagree with its conclusion that the military accorded ‘highest priority’ to protecting civilians. It is unlikely that they will have forgotten the military’s relentless bombing of Tamil civilian areas, orphanages and hospitals.
That the LLRC report does not lay bare the truth is not surprising. Its mandate was limited; it was only aimed at deflecting international pressure at that time. Much of the evidence the LLRC drew on was that which the government chose to place before it. Besides, Tamil civilians who witnessed or experienced the war’s final phases did not appear before the LLRC. Their reluctance is understandable given the massive presence of Sri Lankan armed forces in the north.
Even if the LLRC recommendations fall far short of international demands for trial of several in the Rajapaksa government on war crime charges, it calls for carrying out investigations and holding to account those responsible for abductions, disappearances and attacks, including those committed by armed pro-government Tamil parties, for instance. These probes will lead to punishment of only the small fry in the Rajapaksa regime, allowing the big fish to get away, which is unacceptable. The Sri Lankan government should summon enough courage to hold an honest inquiry and punish the guilty.