History lessons at LLRC and not war crimes: it will only report to President - Sri Lanka Guardian

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

History lessons at LLRC and not war crimes: it will only report to President

The first deliberation of the LLRC is to find out the circumstances which led to the abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement in 2002 and the war that ensued. The second one is whether anyone should bear responsibility for the first. The third one is to find ways and means of preventing the recurrence of the war.

by Pearl Thevanayagam

(October 26, London – Sri Lanka Guardian) The eight member LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) is not mandated to make its findings public. It has been given a six month period to complete its task and present the report to the President himself. What he does with the report is nobody’s business least of all the media, human rights groups and those who were directly affected by the war which ended on May 19, 2009.

The government allocated an initial sum of Rs10 million and so far, apart from a few witnesses who were in the battlefield in Wanni, all the others have been talking history and not at all whether the security forces killed the fleeing civilians in their thousands by having serendipitous hopes they could bag a few LTTE rebels. Human Rights Watch which was present in the area insists the LTTE shot at the fleeing civilians who refused to be its human shields and the security forces indiscriminately killed the fleeing civilians.

The latest witness who has come on board is Kumar Rupesinghe, former Director-General of International Alert, a conflict resolution and human rights group which closed shop in Sri Lanka following controversy that it supported Sierra Leone rebel group RUF and its leader Foday Sankoh and also that it received funds from questionable sources.

So far the commission has only heard history going back to 1983 and not what happened as recently as 17 months ago in Wanni. Not a single commander of the three forces involved in the military operation which led to thousands of deaths and the entire Wanni population made to flee several times over losing all their property as they fled gave evidence.

The war without witnesses and total blackout of media coverage did not go un-noticed by the international community. Mounting fresh evidence is surfacing daily of the horrific war conducted with scant disregard for human rights with soldiers gleefully shooting down civilians in cold blood, spraying of lethal gases from helicopters, looting, raping and pillaging possessions left behind by civilians escaping aerial bombardment.

Yet the commission is listening to septuagenarians who were nowhere near the theatre of war and who are reminiscing of their fine work done in the past towards conflict resolution, or academics who have written best-selling books on past wars and others who are making recommendations to stop another bloody war.

Five months into the commission and if this is all that has transpired then what hope is there the remaining seven months would bring in anything closer to evidence of war crimes. The government insists it committed no war crimes yet there is evidence. It is burying a whole pumpkin in a plate of rice.

Assuming the best of witnesses have come forwards what is LLRC left with now?

The three international human rights groups should have come forward to give evidence and not refused. At least we would have their version of events in the final throes of the war. Then again there is also the question of protection to those who give evidence and Sri Lanka is not averse to disappearances, abductions and extra-judicial killings. We have a few cabinet ministers who apart from their ministerial duties are given carte blanche to carry out the afore-mentioned activities.

I still recall a Grama Sevaka from Batticaloa who gave evidence at the Kokkadicholai Commission was murdered a few days after he returned from Colombo. I vividly remember him trembling before the commission during cross-examination. Several others who gave evidence were also murdered.

Hence it is not surprising that none of the learned witnesses even want to talk of the war.

The first deliberation of the LLRC is to find out the circumstances which led to the abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement in 2002 and the war that ensued. The second one is whether anyone should bear responsibility for the first. The third one is to find ways and means of preventing the recurrence of the war.

And the list goes on. How much would the Rs10 million initially which is sure to be increased go towards compensating the war victims. While the Minister of External Affairs, Prof.G.L. Peiris is scouring governments and monetary organisations seeking funds to rehabilitate the North and East (I really cannot fathom why GLP is taking on un-necessary burden on himself which is beyond his portfolio when there are different ministers for rehabilitation) the President has to pay the eight members of LLRC, one of whom is a banker, for a report which would be locked up in a safe vault or even better would remain notes on the record books and nothing else.

I am not even sure whether these would be made public as in UK after the expiry of a 30 year period. Going by the government’s past records of not releasing even draft reports this commission would also be another white elephant at the expense of taxpayers’ money. Tell a Friend

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