The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has, in its final report, said that no state should be asked to suspend military operations aimed at rescuing civilians forcibly held by a heavily armed terrorist group. The failure on the part of a state to proceed with such operations will only allow terrorists to go on the rampage, the presidential commission has said.
The LLRC is of the view that the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) prohibits the deliberate targeting of civilians but it does not frown on combat operations undertaken by a government to rescue hostages. The withdrawal or suspension of combat operations will only aggravate such a crisis.
The eight-member Presidential Commission has made these observations in response to various accusations by a section of the international community, mainly the one that civilians were targeted during the final phase of the ground offensive in the Vanni in 2009.
Former Attorney General C. R. de Silva who chaired the Commission on Sunday night (Nov. 20) handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa its 388-page report and another comprising a range of data, including technical reports and maps.
The LLRC also comprised former Foreign Secretary, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, former legal advisor to the External Affairs Ministry, Dr. Rohan Perera, senior attorney at law - M. T. M. Bafiq, Former Deputy Secretary to the Treasury - Chandirapal Chanmugam, Professor at the Department of Criminal Justice, University of Nevada, Las Vegas - Karunaratne Hangawatte, former High Court Judge - Maxwell Parakrama Paranagama and former Deputy Legal Draftsman Manohari Ramanathan.
After receiving the report, President Rajapaksa said he would release it to the public through Parliament.
Former UN under Secretary Jayantha Dhanapala in his submissions before the LLRC launched a scathing attack on successive governments for their failure to implement recommendations by various presidential commissions.
"The recent history of Presidential Commissions has been a dismal and uninspiring one. We have the Udalagama Commission which was aborted and we have a number of Commission Reports which have not been implemented. Nevertheless, the personal stature of all of you as Commissioners and the integrity that is widely respected of yourselves encourages me to appear before you and speak in order that our country can enjoy a future of peace and reconciliation," Dhanapala said in his opening statement.
External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris recently assured Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, Bruce Levy of Sri Lanka’s commitment to make the LLRC findings public. He said this in answer to a question at the External Affairs Ministry briefing.
The Commission has devoted one whole chapter to its observations and recommendations.
Commenting on the issue of accountability, the LLRC has stressed the need for thoroughly investigating allegations of disappearances. This recommendation has been made in response to accusations by some of those who appeared before the LLRC, particularly in the northern and eastern provinces. The LLRC asserts that the government should not ignore eyewitness accounts that their loved ones taken into custody by security forces have gone missing. The Commission has ruled out the involvement of the state in the civilian disappearances.
Members of the LLRC visited detainees including those held at the maximum security facility at Boosa, where they had access to hardcore terror suspects. The LLRC has said its members were able to meet detainees without the presence of security forces personnel or police. Noting the majority of those held in custody have now been reintegrated into society, the LLRC has recommended the release of the remaining ones after rehabilitation or legal action being instituted against them fast.
Citing evidence placed before the LLRC, the commissioners have said that political expediency is the bane of the country; some politicians further their personal interests at the expense of the national interest.
The LLRC emphasizes the importance of all communities having the same rights and privileges.
It has recommended that people should be able to buy land in any part of the country, including the North and dismissed the law that northern land couldn’t be bought by outsiders.
In an obvious reference to the recent gun battle between gangs led by UPFA MP, R. Duminda Silva and former PA strongman, Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, which resulted in the death of the latter, the LRRC has said that had there been genuine effort to disarm armed groups the tragedy could have been avoided.
The LLRC has referred to the attack on Uthayan News Editor during its sittings in Jaffna. The commission emphasises the need for recovering all unauthorized weapons in line with its interim recommendations to the government several months ago.
On the language issue, the Commission has urged the government to take measures required to make Sri Lanka a trilingual nation, with English as the link language. The commissioners are of the view that nothing could be as important as tackling the language issue to help post-war national reconciliation efforts and a Sri Lankan identity should be promoted.
The LLRC has, in its report which deals with a large number of issues pertaining to the post and pre-conflict situation, including the Norwegian-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), concluded that the CFA couldn’t be considered a model for managing conflicts between States and non-state players. It has criticized the then Sri Lankan government for hastily agreeing to the CFA without adequate safeguards.
EPDP leader and Minister Douglas Devananda has drawn flak from the LLRC for being evasive in his response regarding queries relating to allegations made against his organization in both post and pre-conflict periods.
The LLRC has declared ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ produced by UK-based Channel 4 News at the behest of the LTTE a total fabrication. The commission has gone to the extent of obtaining the services of a NASA expert to verify the authenticity of the 50-minute documentary, which was telecast in many parts of the world and also shown to select groups of opinion makers by human rights watchdogs, the Amnesty International, the International Crisis Group and the Human Rights Watch.
The LLRC has criticized so-called urgent Bills, while urging the government to do away with the practice. The LLRC is of the opinion that it is not right for the government to expect the Supreme Court to decide on vital national issues within 24 hours, thereby denying the right of the people to move the court against such bills. Although no reference is made, the LLRC criticism is aimed at the Revival of Underperforming Enterprises and Underutilised Assets Bill passed by Parliament recently.
According to authoritative sources, the LLRC has made far reaching recommendations, which address accountability issues pertaining not merely to the conflict but other critical issues as well.
The LLRC has held that if the government fully implements its recommendations, there will be no need for any international mechanism to inquire into Sri Lanka’s domestic issues.
~ http://www.island.lk ~ By Shamindra Ferdinando