| by Jehan Perera
( January 10, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The TNA has yet to issue its follow up response to its initial rejection of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. In a strongly worded statement the TNA noted that “The report of the LLRC is a serious assault on the dignity of the victims of the war in Sri Lanka, and as such, has not only gravely damaged the chances of genuine reconciliation but has further alienated the victims of the war.” It therefore called on the international community “to acknowledge the consistent failure of domestic accountability mechanisms in Sri Lanka and take steps to establish an international mechanism for accountability.”
However, the initial responses of international governments towards the report have been by and large favourable, especially with regard to the many recommendations on governance and on a political solution that would address Tamil grievances. There are many among the international community who are not aware of the past history of Tamil grievances and broken promises. They are likely to be puzzled by the apparent total rejection of the LLRC report by the TNA. They are likely to see an excessively demanding attitude asking for too much. In responding to the LLRC report, the TNA appears to have considered the expectations of its supporters in the Tamil Diaspora as well as its voters.
The TNA’s rejection of the LLRC report would seem to have arisen from the principal concerns of the Tamil populace it represents to come to terms with what happened during the last phase of the war. One key factor is the Tamil Diaspora. Sections of the Diaspora are not reconciled to the defeat of the LTTE and what it means in practice. The LTTE kept the hope of an independent state of Tamil Eelam alive. When the military strength of the LTTE was at its height, there was an increased willingness on the part of the Sri Lankan governments that had to deal with it to pay a price for peace. This included extensive devolution of power and the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces.
Even today the nationalist section of the Tamil Diaspora is able to sway Tamil opinion within Sri Lanka to take positions that were common during the war period. There was seen in a statement of several leading civil society figures who criticised the TNA for not being sufficiently committed to positions such as self determination, Tamil nationhood and the merger of the North and East. This group was critical of the US and Indian government positions with regard to accepting the post-war reality of accepting the provincial council framework. This statement titled Public Memo to Members of Parliament representing the Tamil National Alliance from members of Tamil Civil Society and issued on December 13, 2011 originated from the nationalist camp who wish to score one over the TNA.
There is also the pressure from below on the TNA that comes from its own voter base in the former war zones of the North and East. The LLRC report has come as a disappointment to those who experienced the full brunt of the war. This section of the TNA’s constituency had hopes about the LLRC that belied its mandate. It seems that many victims of the war believed that the LLRC would actually give them immediate solutions to their problems. The chief amongst these problems are finding out what happened to their loved ones who went missing and being compensated for what they had lost.
The LLRC received a positive response wherever they went. Most of its sittings were in Colombo where many eminent personalities and well known organisations made presentations before it. The demand was so high that the LLRC had to restrict the time they gave to many of them, although it made a positive attempt to accommodate all who applied to be heard. The National Peace Council, of which this columnist is a member, was one of those civic organisations. The LLRC gave us limited time and not all our members could speak. Some of our members made written representations. But we left the meeting feeling that we had been heard.
The LLRC also had sittings in all of the districts of the North and East, where the war was fought. It was clear that in these areas especially, the demand for the time of the LLRC far outstripped its availability. In some places like Kilinochchi, where the most decisive battles were fought, there were literally thousands who asked to make their statements. But only a fraction of them could be accommodated to give evidence before the Commissioners personally. The others were given the option of making written submissions.
The thousands who sought to give evidence before the LLRC in the North and East did not do so simply to provide it with information for analysis and posterity. They also wanted their problems solved. Faced with the absence of any alternative problem-solving governmental mechanism, they were hoping that their detailed evidence would help the LLRC to find out what had actually happened to their loved ones. They wanted to know if those who were missing were alive or dead, and if alive where they were. They also wanted to get adequate compensation for their lost property and livelihoods to make a fresh start.
On the other hand, the LLRC’s mandate was difficult. It was not to investigate and find solutions to the problems of individuals. The LLRC was not equipped with the investigative machinery for this endeavor. Investigating even a single case of disappearance is a task requiring much effort on the part of investigating officers who have to get the statements from all those possibly implicated in a disappearance. There is a need to sift evidence and take it before appropriate judicial authorities before a verdict can be given. This was not a practicable task for the LLRC given that there were thousands of such cases before it.
Sri Lanka has had adequate experience in responding to practical problems arising out of a large scale destruction of property and loss of life in a short space of time, such as the Tsunami of December 2004. Here the government responded effectively to enable those who were bereft of all their possessions and documentation to speedily reestablish their legal status. The issuing of documentation in relation to the many who simply disappeared was also done with speed of accommodation. A similar system could have been adopted in the immediate aftermath of the war to deal with practical problems of the populace, and can still be adapted to give succour to those who have suffered much. Constructive actions by the government could help the TNA to steer the middle ground as called for by another Tamil civil society group last week.
A statement issued by a prominent group of Tamil civil society leaders recently on Jan. 7, 2012 states that with the end of the war, it has become important for all ethnic communities of Sri Lanka to re-examine and re-evaluate their past. They have raised the question of the eviction of the Northern Muslims by the LTTE two decades ago. They stated that, “the eviction represents one of the worst instances of the narrow, exclusivist thrust of the Tamil nationalist political campaign of the past thirty years. The failure of our civil and political leadership to understand and acknowledge this has prevented us from dealing with our own past, and with our own moral and political responsibility towards minority communities that live amidst us. An examination of how we have contributed to the polarisation of relations between our two communities has not been forthcoming even after the end of the thirty-year war.”
The call they make to the Tamil community is to “realise at least now that there is no exclusive political solution for the Tamil community, and that the question of political power sharing and equal rights confronts all minority communities.” This same analysis applies to the larger issues that the Tamil community is confronted with today. In the context of this civil society appeal, there is a need for the political representatives of the Tamil people, most importantly, the TNA, to reconsider their initial outright rejection of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. The report of the LLRC would count as amongst the most important official and public documents that investigates and analyses the causes of the ethnic conflict and problems of governance in the country.