| by Kalana Senaratne
(December 21, Colombo, Sri Lnaka Guardian) The LLRC reminds us that Sri Lanka has an obligation to protect human rights (due to the constitutional guarantees as well as the international obligations arising from being a party to a number of international conventions). This – the need to ‘re-dedicate ourselves’ to protecting human rights – is an aspect that had been stressed by a number of persons who appeared before the LLRC (para 5.4). The LLRC also tells the Government that the concept is ‘embedded in the core values and ethics espoused by Buddhism and other religions practiced in Sri Lanka.’
The Report adopts a very critical attitude towards human rights violations, including abductions, disappearances, etc., allegedly committed by the Security Forces and other entities. We had examined above what the LLRC stated about the abductions of LTTE personnel after their surrender. There are also accounts of abductions by Security Forces (see for instance, para 5.15), and by unknown parties. Another critical issue highlighted by the LLRC is ‘white-van’ abductions (para 5.2) – a point which was referred to by the UNSG-Panel, when it stated that they were used ‘to instill fear in the population’ (see UNSG-Panel Report, p. 17, para 63).
The LLRC also refers to the ‘disappointing experience’ it had as regards the case of Mr. Razik Pattani (para 5.31). Critical representations had been made concerning political interference in the justice system, criminal investigations and police administration as well (para 5.33).
In pointing out the above, the LLRC has emphasised the duty of the Government to investigate all cases, as well as its responsibility. Also suggested is the enactment of legislation to criminalize enforced disappearances (para 5.46, which has been suggested by many before). Proper investigations need to be undertaken as regards the conduct of certain illegal armed groups, and measures need to be taken to disarm such groups (paras 5.77-78). Also, the LLRC, having highlighted the critical views expressed by the likes of Judge CG Weeramantry, go on to suggest that legislation should be enacted concerning the right to information (see paras 5.154-156). Interestingly, the LLRC goes on to recommend the creation of a Special Commissioner of Investigations to investigate alleged disappearances (para 5.48). It even recommends the implementation of the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (Udalagama Commission), the report of which was not made public (para 5.163). This, too, is a significant feature of the LLRC Report.
Importantly, towards the end of the Report, there is acknowledgment of the report tabled in Parliament by TNA’s MP, MA Sumanthiran (at para 8.307). It is well that the LLRC did this, given the serious concerns raised in MP Sumanthiran’s report. The acknowledgment of the Sumanthiran-report makes it imperative for the Government to address those concerns in a clear and structured manner.
The overall picture that emanates from the LLRC’s views about the human rights and the law and order situation in general is a bleak one. This is no surprise. It reaffirms the views held by many critics for a long period of time. Many have pointed out these problems, and in that sense, what we are learning here are not new lessons. Yet, that these issues have been highlighted by the LLRC helps send a stronger message that the Government cannot rest quiescent now.
While human rights organisations would continue with its criticisms, acknowledgment would need to be made of some of critical issues highlighted in the Report. This has happened. As Amnesty International’s Sam Zarifi has acknowledged, the Report does ‘offer some interesting recommendations’ which the Government ‘needs to take seriously’ (‘Rights groups criticize Sri Lanka war report’, AFP, 16 Dec, 2011). The question, of course, is whether the Government is truly committed to do this. The LLRC’s recommendations would come to naught even if the Government decides to create the office of a Special Commissioner of Investigation and then go on to appoint an apologist for that post. The challenge needs to be viewed from a broader perspective, taking into account numerous developments that took place ever since the end of the war, such as the passing of the 18th Amendment. There is, so far, no reason to be optimistic.
Political solution and devolution
One of the most contentious issues will be that concerning a political solution and the issue of devolution of powers. TNA’s Suresh Premachandran has already attacked the Report: “The Commission has failed to look into the reasons that caused the conflict and has also failed to come up with a framework to the solution. Nothing has been mentioned about devolution of power. No one has been held accountable for the issue.” (‘LLRC Report out what next?’, The Nation, 18 Dec, 2011).
Approaching as he does from the side of the TNA, Premachandran is not entirely wrong here. Questions can often be raised as to what the LLRC is attempting to say. The manner in which the section on devolution is worded appears to be vague. It states that devolution should necessarily be ‘people-centric’ (para 8.216) – which, according to those opposing devolution, would mean that the LLRC is advocating something akin to village-level or grassroots devolution only. The main unit of devolution, according to this view, seems to have shrunk from the Province to the village. The Report talks about promoting a ‘common identity’, that devolution should not privilege or disadvantage any particular ethnic group. Furthermore, the Report points out the importance of empowering Local Government institutions and soon after that, it proceeds to highlight that the shortcomings of the Provincial Council system need to be taken into account! This, to be sure, would give the TNA and many who expected some progressive proposals regarding devolution the screaming abdabs.
However, isn’t a different reading possible too? Firstly, in a country where the simple advocacy of devolution could make you an ‘Eelamist’, the LLRC has clearly discussed the need for devolution, an issue which is of ‘national importance’ (see para 8.213 in particular – and here, Premachandran is wrong if his statement that ‘nothing has been mentioned about devolution’ is to be taken literally). Secondly, in a country where talk about a political settlement and an ethnic problem could be met with the question ‘what political settlement, what ethnic problem?’, the LLRC states that ‘a political settlement based on devolution must address the ethnic problem as well as other serious problems that threaten the democratic institutions.’ (para 8.215, emphasis added). Clearly, there is an acknowledgment of a need for a political settlement and the existence of an ethnic problem. Thirdly, the focus should be, according to the LLRC, empowerment of the people at ‘every level especially in all tiers of Government.’ (para 8.218). If then, the Province is intact. Fourthly, the LLRC seems to be also emphasising the ‘critical importance of making visible progress on the devolution issue’ by ‘building on what exists…’ (para 8.225, emphasis added). This could well be interpreted as building on the 13th Amendment too, viz. ‘on what exists’. This interpretation, in turn, could be seriously disturbing for the ‘anti-devolution’ camp.
The LLRC could have been far more pointed in its recommendations concerning devolution. However, as argued sometime ago, it was not the LLRC’s role to come out with absolutely clear recommendations. And even if the LLRC did, it doesn’t mean that the Government would readily agree! Going by the statements made by the Government and its officials, it is quite clear that building upon the present framework, or even the full implementation of the existing framework is an immensely difficult task; unless there is a significant change in the mindset of the Government in the coming New Year.
We all know what Mao reportedly said when asked as to what he thought about the French Revolution: that it was too soon to tell. We may not have many lessons to learn from Mao but that answer, surely, is one we would do well to remember. Similarly, we cannot say much about the LLRC-Report: it is way too soon to tell.
There is nothing startlingly new in the lessons we have to learn from the LLRC. And the release of the Report does not confirm by any means that the Government will implement the recommendations. But on many critical issues, the LLRC has attempted to take on board the allegations, accusations, grievances, concerns and aspirations of many people. The final Report is therefore to be certainly welcomed.
The overall message of the Report seems to move, back and forth, from what the Government said (about the CFA and the ‘humanitarian operation’), to what the critics have pointed out (the confused picture, the mass suffering, the lack of accountability, human rights problems, etc.). This is, perhaps, the Report’s strength. Its contents now need to be widely debated; and one believes it will be taken up at the UN Human Rights Council. But more importantly, and seriously, the recommendations contained in the Report have to be implemented. Less talk and more action are far more desirable.