| by Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
( January 29, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is quite amusing to see the government and all its men using the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) as a barely inadequate fig leaf to cover its total lack of adherence to the substance of the Commission’s recommendations.
Unacceptable excuses for delay in implementation
Here and overseas, we are being told that the LLRC report was not quite the ‘whitewash’ that it was expected to be. But why should the relative triumph of the LLRC in (at least) focusing on the grave Rule of Law crisis in Sri Lanka accrue to the credit of the government when, not only has one month passed since the public release of the LLRC report with no concrete action regarding the implementation of its recommendations but also even the LLRC’s interim recommendations pending for over a year have not been implemented?
In late 2010, the country was informed by the state media that President Mahinda Rajapaksa will implement the interim recommendations of the Commission but this promise remained in the air since then. It must be recalled that the LLRC itself drew attention to the non-implementation of its interim recommendation in its final Report and expressed severe dissatisfaction.
This is the core of the matter. Mere statements by the government that it will implement the LLRC recommendations will not do. It is nonsense to maintain that time is needed for this and that the government must, in the words of its favourite spin masters, confer with its constituent partners to determine the trajectory of the implementation process.
Immediately implementable recommendations
As discussed previously in these column spaces, there are some recommendations that can, (most demonstrably), be implemented immediately. The disarming of those holding weapons illegally in the hunting grounds of government politicians in the South as well as the paramilitaries in the North and East is one obvious example. Among many other similar examples are systematically improved access of family members to detainees, stringent safeguards being observed in arrests and detentions, punishment of those who abuse their powers, the ceasing of enforced disappearances as well as showing political will to investigate acts of extra judicial executions and disappearances. But on all fronts, the situation has either remained static or has worsened.
Meanwhile, the LLRC’s ‘strong’ reminder that the recommendations of the 2005 Udalagama Commission in relation to the killings of Tamil and Muslim civilians in Mutur and Trincomalee in 2006 be implemented is of particular note. This would mean that President Rajapaksa needs to make the report of the Udalagama Commission public, by necessary inference. In any event, there is no precise reason as to why this Report is being kept (literally) shrouded in secrecy. This only invites speculation that its contents are damaging to the government.
And has the Attorney General indicated any renewed prosecutorial zeal in respect of the Mutur and Trincomalee killings? These questions may be purely hypothetical and may, in fact, invoke justifiable hilarity on the part of some but they nevertheless, need to be asked.
Necessity for right to information laws
Moreover, what about the LLRC’s recommendation that Sri Lanka enact right to information legislation? It is manifestly difficult to see how the government can justify delay on this recommendation by what can only be categorized as typically lame excuses.
There is indeed already a right to information Bill drafted some years back with the consensus of policy makers, the Legal Draftsman’s department, the media and civil society, which was revised during this administration by its then Justice Minister. This can be enacted into law by the Rajapaksa government at a moment’s notice given the strength that it commands in Parliament. Its outright refusal to do so can only be traced to its contempt for restoring good governance and its insistence on carrying forward the present culture of unprecedented abuse of the law, corruption and majoritarian dominance.
Some months back, when the debate as to the enactment of the Right to Information law was being reignited, some commentators in the private media quite shamelessly argued that this would lead to national security concerns, blithely ignoring the fact that the draft law itself contained adequate safety measures to prevent this occurring.
Other countries in this region itself have not allowed such absurd objections to hinder the passing of right to information legislation but have balanced these concerns with the fundamental right to information. Sri Lanka should be the leader in this regional process, given its democratic history. Instead, it lags far behind. The absence of such information laws may be to the benefit of corrupt politicians in this country but do we not feel even the slightest concern when our rights are so clearly trampled upon and treated of no account? In any event, the LLRC’s calling for a legislatively secured right to information as being essential to the reconciliation process should at least, give pause to objectors who would like to trot out the improbable line that this is somehow highly dangerous to national security.
Childlike belief that games can continue
The point remains that in the absence of concrete action on this and many other fronts close to thirty days into a new year, how can the government hide behind the LLRC Report, however much the state media or state controlled journalists in the private media may delight in referring that Report as evidence of the bona fides of those in power? Obvious prevarication in respect of the implementation of its recommendations by the government, which was compelled in the first instance to constitute the LLRC in the face of mounting criticism here and overseas, only reflects its almost childlike belief that these games can continue without inevitable repercussions.
This attitude is encouraged by the cynical attitudes of many who should know better. It is due to this cynicism that this administration was able to chip away at Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions to the extent that they are now rendered useless. For example, many were blasé if not openly cynical about the now defunct 17th Amendment to the Constitution and its intention of depoliticizing the governance process.
The thrust of the propaganda war that preceded the demolition of the 17th Amendment and the passing of the 18th Amendment was that the country had survived despite a crippling conflict even before the 17th Amendment. Further, it was said that the creation of a Constitutional Council with nominees of political parties and politicians was not the best way to remedy existing deficiencies. The truth of course, was that the working of the 17th Amendment depended more on the democratic spirit and the public demand for better governance, all of which now we know to be sad illusions in this country. Naturally when the 18th Amendment and the abolition of Presidential term limits took place, what emerged was not a great roar of protest but a whimper of dissent. This is our civic identity or lack thereof, rendered bare in all its ugliness.
Proving the skeptics right
As guarded as it was in many respects, the LLRC Report yet remains the first step that this country has taken in recent times towards accountability for victims, reconciliation between ethnicities and the restoration of the integrity of Sri Lanka’s constitutional institutions. But government spokesmen who try to use this Report to cover the government’s own perfidy, albeit with admirable aplomb, must be clearly reminded that the LLRC can become a ‘whitewash’ in more ways than one. Indeed, the most dangerous way of becoming a whitewash is not through a wholly unsatisfactory report coming out but if the government chooses to ignore recommendations made to the benefit of the country.
Certainly if we proceed in this manner of denial and prevarication, the skeptics will be proved right in every sense of the word. And as predicted, all the energy and resources put into the ‘whitewash’ of an LLRC would have been for nothing.