‘International Community kept mum on LTTE atrocities’, Shanika Sriyananda, Sunday Observer, 29 August 2010
‘Questions remain after war end: Holmes’ We have appointed LLRC to look into allegations:Keheliya’, Jamila Najmuddin, Daily Mirror, 28 August 2010
‘Ex-UN Under Secy General tells LLRC: Intl. laws shouldn’t apply to conflicts between States and terrorist groups’, Shamindra Ferdinando, The Island, 25 August 2010
‘A cursory commission and star witness’, Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, August 24, 2010
‘SLMC won’t go before Lessons Learnt Commission- MP Ali’, The Island, 24 August 2010
‘Lessons Learnt Commission: Rajiva supports post-war role for Military’, The Island, 24 August 2010
‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission: Sandagiri can challenge Austin’s evidence: Chairman’, The Island, 22 August 2010
‘Editorial: A stunning disclosure’, Sunday Observer, 22 August 2010
‘International community should take Sri Lanka as an example- Defence Secretary tells LLRC’, Sunday Observer, 22 August 2010
‘Austin misleads lessons learnt Comm: Sandagiri, Keerthi Waranakulasuriya’, The Island, 20August 2010
‘Economic constraints made UNP sign CFA – Austin’, Lakna Paranamanna, Daily Mirror, 19 August 2010
‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission: Now Ex-Defence Secretary slams CFA’, Global Tamil News, 19 August 2010
‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission: Now ex-Defence Secy slams CFA’, The Island, 18 August 2010
‘Top ground commanders to speak of ‘Final Battle’, The Island, 18 August 2010
‘Report and Testify’, Daily Mirror, 17 August 2010
‘Lanka cites Indian Docs’ example’, Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, 17 August 2010
‘Mandate of Lessons Learnt’, Daily News, 16 August 2010
‘Military presence “irks people”, P. Sivaramakrishnan, BBC Sinhala.com, 16 August 2010
‘2002 CFA and reconciliation steps under scrutiny’, Satarupa Bhattacharjya, The Sunday Times, 15 August 2010
‘Pass on the administration of the conflict affected area to civilians – Anandasangaree’, Asian Tribune, 14 August 2010
‘On Saravanamuttu’s ‘limiting-clause’ on the LLRC’, Malinda Seneviratne, Daily News, 14 August 2010
‘Commission in Vavuniya’, Daily Mirror, 14 August 2010
‘Commission to summon Ranil, GL, Milinda?’, The Island, 14 August 2010
‘SL points out to LLC how police discriminate’, The Island, 13 August 2010
‘Lessons Learnt Commission Sittings Dr. Wijemanne says I’ntl community missed chance to save child combatants’, The Island, 12 August 2010
‘Sri Lanka only country to defeat terrorism without foreign military assistance: Govt LLRC process to ensure SL never faces conflict situation again MoU with China to develop agriculture, horticulture and floriculture’, The Island, 12 August 2010
‘Bernard to testify’, Daily Mirror, 10 August 2010
‘Lessons Learnt Commission: Public Sittings on August 11’, Daily News, 7 August 2010
‘Lessons Learnt’ team to sit from Aug 11’, The Island, 6 August 2010
Human rights ‘attendant issue’ for LLRC
By Rathindra Kuruwita
Lakbima News, Sunday 22 August 2010
Those who appeared before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) last week repeatedly pointed out that the CFA was a total disaster, and that the power struggle between President Chandrika Bandaranaike and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had a negative impact on the CFA — and that there were not enough measures or provisions to guarantee that all parties will adhere to the agreement, in essence things we already knew only too well. During the earlier sessions Bernard Gunatilake, Mangala Moonesinghe and an assortment of individuals associated with the 2002 CFA testified before the commission endorsing the same viewpoints.
As an example, the presentation of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the man who knows best the incidents which occurred during the last two weeks of Ealam War IV, can be cited. Making his presentation Rajapaksa elaborated on the ‘zero civilian casualty policy’, the ‘humanitarian operation’, and how such policies led to the increased army casualties.
“Most people have forgotten that the government has defeated the most ruthless terrorist organization ever. That’s history. In 2005 when I took over as Secretary Defence, the whole of Wanni area and part of the Eastern province were under their complete control. They had established bases and had nearly 30,000 regular cadre including child soldiers,” he said. “From the time we started the humanitarian operation, the three services suffered nearly 6,000 killed in action. Nearly 30,000 were injured. You can see if the services suffered, you can imagine the intensity of fighting which was going on.”
The mandate of the commission
When President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to report on the lessons to be learnt from the events during the period, Feb 2002 to May 2009, their attendant concerns, and to recommend measures to ensure that there will be no recurrence of such a situation — it was an attempt by the government to address local and international concerns about the human rights situation and fend off a possible international inquiry.
When I was at university I was forced to study a short story called the Teacher of Literature by Anton Chekhov in which a man called Ippolit Ippolititch either remained silent throughout the entire story or talked of things which everybody knew already. The story once again popped into my mind after sitting through the LLRC sessions at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre. Repition was the order of the day.
A government press release allowed that ‘through the commission it seeks to take the ‘Sri Lankan nation towards the common goals of a multi-ethnic polity, in a spirit of cooperation, partnership and friendship, learning the lessons from recent history to ensure that there will be no recurrence of such tragic conflict in future.’
Human Rights issues sidelined
Reconciliation is a vital process to achieve these goals and the government has a lot to do to rebuild the trust among the Tamil diaspora, the international community and the INGOs — as well as political dissidents inside the country. The focus of most of these groups seems to be Human Rights and their alleged violations by both parties towards the end of the Ealam war IV. Therefore focusing the entire sessions or at least a large portion of them on CFA bashing and relegating the HR issues to the backburner, as pointed out by the former defence secretary Austin Fernando, would not serve the said objective.
Responding to Former Foreign Secretary H.M.G.S. Palihakkara who said that they have the mandate to look into HR issues under ‘attendant concerns,’ Fernando said, “there is no straightforward mandate to look at Human Rights violations in the gazette, and you say it’s in the ‘attendants.’ You are very straightforward about the way you look at the failure of CFA, so do the same for HR. Don’t put Human Rights under ‘attendant’ — it looks soggy that way. Human Rights are not only important to the United Nations and other NGOs but also to the entire international community. It will also help this commission to build faith in the minds of the diaspora. It’s vital to create a mechanism that looks into Human Rights.”
Fernando was also critical of the government’s secretive attempts to woo the Tamil diaspora through KP and a few other operatives and claimed that it should widen its ‘clientele’ if it wants to win the trust of the majority of the Tamils living abroad. The commission should look into establishing a Diaspora Advisory Board along the Liberian model. He added that this was one of the most important outcomes of the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
“We can learn from the Liberian government and how they won the trust of the diaspora; they can help us rebuild the country with their financial resources. But is the way the government reaches out to the diaspora the best way to deal with them? We spoke to our Tamil friends abroad and they are not too impressed. ‘Why don’t we broaden our appeal? Why are we allowing KP and a few others to speak for the entire Tamil diaspora?” he asked. “But the Liberian commission had a clear mandate to look into Human Rights issues,” he also added.
No opposition Tamil parties
The four month timeframe of the commission and the fact that it has not actively sought to incorporate opposition Tamil parties and government officials in the LTTE controlled areas during the war, has been criticized. Sessions that have these people as witnesses will help the commission get a more realistic picture of events that took place. The commission should also focus more attention on compensation for those whose lands have been taken over by the military.
“Compensation for those whose lands have been taken over by the security forces should be granted. I don’t think that land annexed to secure the Palali Air Port should be given back, for obvious reasons, and those who owned such land should be compensated. There are a lot of allegations about attempts to change the demography, and if 20% of what’s said is true, it’s alarming. The commission should also look into this and dispel these rumours,” our sources said.
The impartiality of the panelists
Chitta Ranjan de Silva, Chairman, Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera Esquire, Prof. Mohamed Thahir Mohamed Jiffry, Prof. Karunaratna Hangawatta, Chandirapal Chanmugam, Hewa Mathara Gamage Siripala Palihakkara, Manohari Ramanathan and Maxwell Parakrama Paranagama make up the commission and their impartiality has already been questioned by opposition parties.
And maybe I am no expert in the procedure of such commissions but I think it was a bit strange that Manohari Ramanathan, one of the two Tamil panelists, left the Gotabaya Rajapaksa session to attend a wedding. The other Tamil panelist Chandirapal Chanmugam has spoken only twice during all the sessions which were held at the Kadirgamar Centre; maybe he has taken Oscar Wilde’s advice and said everything he has to say by 30.(?)
“They have been picked for a reason. One of the people of this commission won the confidence of the Rajapaksa administration through his behaviour and actions during the Udulagama Commission. And his cross examinations during the commission have been full tosses — this was especially seen in his questioning during the Defense Secretary’s testimony,” said Democratic National Alliance MP, Vijitha Herath. “Everyone knows that the security forces did their best to protect civilians and that there were no systematic attacks on civilians. We didn’t loose GSP + during the war, we didn’t lose the American GSP during the war. We are losing all these after the war.”
Herath added that the recent actions of the government clearly show that it has no plans of ‘reconciling’ with anyone who does not share their vision. The attacks on peaceful protests, arresting student unionists, detention of 10,000 Tamil youth and the dishonourable discharge of General Sarath Fonseka who led the ‘humanitarian operation, and implemented the ‘zero civilian casualty policy,’ demonstrates that.
“KP lives freely but the general is in jail. LTTE leaders are talking to top government officials but thousands of Tamil youth are in detention. IDPs are treated like cattle. Appointing a reconciliation committee is a good thing but the government must show its commitment to ‘learning’ and ‘reconciliation’ through its actions and not by merely appointing committees and commissions.”
C R waxes eloquent on Truth Commission
By Namini Wijedasa
Lakbima News, 1 August 2010
A commission inquiring into the failure of the ceasefire agreement and events leading to the war’s end will use locations near affected areas to record evidence from witnesses, said its chairman last week.
C.R. de Silva, former Attorney General, also maintained that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will not involve the military — which still has an overwhelming presence in those areas — in anything but the provision of security. His assurance comes amid fears that military presence around the commissioners during site visits will impede civilians from divulging “the truth” in a frank and open manner.
“We have nothing to do with the military,” de Silva reiterated. “Certain logistics will have to be attended to by the divisional secretaries of those areas. From there onwards, we would be on our own although, obviously, some sort of security will have to be provided.”
Not a judicial process
The commission’s first public hearing will be held on August 11. Meanwhile, the eight commissioners are scheduled visit the districts of Kilinochchi, Mulliativu, Jaffna, Mannar and other areas where operations were conducted. They will speak to resettled and displaced Tamils but also interview Muslims and Sinhalese to “get first-hand knowledge of what people on the ground feel”. The recording of evidence will happen at a later date.
“This might not take place on site but some arrangements may be made for a place close to where people have been resettled,” de Silva said. It would be for the divisional secretaries to find suitable locations.
How accessible the commissioners are could be one of the factors that determine whether or not the LLRC is successful. The previous presidential commission of inquiry — headed by Nissanka Udalagama, retired Supreme Court judge — summoned large numbers of witnesses to Colombo, recorded evidence and put them through a gruelling process of cross-examination only to wind up before completing any of the 16 cases assigned to them.
With the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, witnesses that don’t want a public hearing could record in-camera. In contrast to the Udalagama commission, counsel from the attorney general’s department will not lead evidence on behalf of the commissioners. Private counsel may, however, be engaged for this purpose.
“Anyone can give evidence and a lawyer may look after his interest but there is no question of cross-examining witnesses,” de Silva said. “We have a different warrant and a different role. We are conscious of our responsibilities and we are also alive to the criticism of the commission.”
Another commission source who did not wish to be named confirmed that the LLRC had agreed not to involve legal counsel. “The commissioner’s decided not to hear people through counsel but to listen directly since this is not a judicial process,” he said. “It is a fact-finding exercise for recommendation purpose.”
However, if a prima facie case with regard to criminality or violation of law arises, it will be referred to the appropriate judicial authority, commissioners have decided. “Maybe someone will complain that there was criminal activity,” the source said. “Or somebody will say they have lost so much and then a question of compensation arises. We will not go into cases of compensation but make recommendations.”
Meanwhile, “quite a number” of public submissions are coming into the LLRC office at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute. The number of public sittings will depend on the number of submissions that have been received, a commissioner said, opting to remain unidentified.
“The commissioners have no preconceived notions and are open to any view,” he stressed. “We will invite people from Colombo, the outstations and affected areas to present their views. Our mandate has been criticised as being constrained but the commission’s interpretation is that it’s broad enough to address all the major concerns relating to reconciliation and finding out what really happened.”
It is learnt that the LLRC has decided to regularly issue press releases on its activities. This is not surprising given that the commission was first and foremost an elaborate public relations exercise designed for international consumption. Some commissioners also feel that the LLRC could go beyond official communiques and inform people of what transpires, for instance, after public hearings.
The LLRC would be hard-pressed to convince war-battered civilians that its work would go at least part of the way in addressing the pain of their past and the uncertainty of their future. With everything still open-ended, it is anybody’s guess whether this commission would be a useful exercise that contributes towards ethnic harmony or whether it, too, would end up in the “dustbin of history”.
“Ban Ki-moon type panel on specific countries would be counter-productive”
The Wikileaks scandal now taking the Western world by storm is no doubt causing delighted chuckles in the corridors of Temple Trees and Sri Lanka’s defence establishment.
The Afghan War Diary, as the leaked files are called, comprises war logs by US soldiers and officers in Afghanistan revealing serious transgressions by foreign troops in their conduct of the war in that country. These files, smirked one Sri Lankan politician, prove beyond the smidgen of a doubt that do-gooder Western nations — and their self-righteous human rights organisations — are better served cleaning up their own back yards than groping around for muck inside poorer nations struggling to eradicate the scourge of terrorism.
And look at the Western media! Having spent the better part of 2008-2009 harping on about a “war without witnesses” and “biased media coverage” in Sri Lanka, all major news organisations in the West have hopped onto the White House bandwagon to condemn — not the actions as revealed by the Afghan War Diary that have led to the loss of thousands of innocent lives — but the leaks themselves.
And what of those “embedded” journalists? What did they know about the war that they deliberately and consciously chose not to reveal? The similarities are too glaring to go into here. Sri Lanka is yet to start a frontal (and predictable) assault on the West for its galling multiple standards on how wars should be conducted and by different nations. But do we want to go there? Or would national interest be better preserved if we put down the cudgels and handle this situation in a mature way — as we were once wont to do, some years ago — that earns Sri Lanka more friends than enemies?
“Sri Lanka should explore the new opportunity that has arisen because of this leak,” said a senior retired diplomat who did not wish to be named. “Without using this development to abuse the perpetrators, the US Government, we must make a general point that a Ban Ki-moon type panel on specific countries would be counter-productive because the breaking of international humanitarian law takes place in all countries, particularly those fighting suicide terrorism.”
The best way to get the Ban Ki-moon advisory group to do something useful, he said, would be to look afresh at the rules of engagement for security forces worldwide. Violations have occurred in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Iraq and may have occurred in Puthumatalan.
Rather than appoint panels on weak countries, the UN secretary-general (UNSG) could take up the thematic issue of whether existing international law covers new situations such as human shields, mass hostage taking, drone attacks, use of heavy weapons, and so on. Do you, for instance, shoot an approaching suicide bomber?
“Rather than asking the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) to go thrash the UN secretary-general, and failing miserably, we could take up a strategic position and seek cooperation on that count,” he said. At the end of the Sri Lankan conflict, the military faced a situation where 300,000 civilians were being used as human shield by the LTTE. The military risked harming them if it used heavy artillery against the legitimate enemy. Sri Lanka could encourage the panel to look at how rules of engagement could have been changed in that situation.
This would be a more constructive way to pursue matters in the international community rather than the current negative and abrasive attitude Sri Lanka is taking. As for Sri Lanka’s attempt to get the NAM to issue a statement condemning the appointment of Ban Ki-moon’s panel on Sri Lanka, a UN source says it was DoA — Dead on Arrival.