by Rajith Keethi Tennakoon
"Chairman of the LLRC spoke about there interim report in which they had recommended certain methods to address the issues of the people. Although, this notification made in English would have been of extreme importance to the people, his speech, was NOT translated into Tamil. Further, it is to be noted that the overwhelming majority of those present do not understand English."
(January 17, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Over 1000 people gave evidence before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in Mannar, from January 8-9, 2011. Centre for Human Rights (CHR) is convinced that this enthusiastic public participation shown by the affected, as a clear indication and desire for reconciliation, as well as their need for assistance. Around 600 submissions were presented during the session at Manthai West AGA’s Office, the highest number during any session to date.
However, During these sessions there were several incidences which clearly dampened people’s mood and undermined the efforts of the commission.
Subsequently, military personnel visited the Manthai West AGA’s Office and
Periyapandivirichchan AGA’s office on the day of the sessions, and questioned the LLRC’s staff; about their visit and the same officials photographed the Commissioners and those who had arrived to give evidence.
Session at the Mannar DS Office:
The session which was scheduled to begin at 9.30 am on January, 8 commenced only at 10.30 am.
CHR representatives noted that there weren’t adequate seating available and most of the people have been exhausted after travelling a long distance and were sitting on the ground. 430 submissions were presented in the session at Mannar DS.
Bishop of Mannar, Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph and many other religious and community leaders gave evidence before the LLRC. Both local and foreign media were eager to cover the session and gave prominence to these dignitaries’ submissions. As the prominent figures made extensive presentations, the ordinary citizens who were directly affected by the war and were desperate to talk to the commissioners were forfeited their allocated time, as CHR has pointed out earlier.
Chairman of the LLRC spoke about there interim report in which they had recommended certain methods to address the issues of the people. Although, this notification made in English would have been of extreme importance to the people, his speech, was NOT translated into Tamil. Further, it is to be noted that the overwhelming majority of those present do not understand English.
Session at the Manthai West AGA’s Office:
This was the second session of the day and commenced around 3 pm. By this time, the Commissioners too have been exhausted as much as those who have travelled from far, as appear in the picture below. When the LLRC staff arrived at the premises there were over 200 people waiting at the AGA’s office while another 400 people were waiting outside the AGA’s office premises, impatiently until their turn come. All in all 600 submissions were presented in the session.
At this juncture, a lieutenant of the Sri Lanka Army approached the LLRC staff and asked them whether they have Minister of Defense’ (MoD) clearance to visit the AGA’s Office. When the session began, over 600 people entered the AGA’s office and there were no adequate seating provided by the authorities.
Although, during previous sessions refreshments were provided for those who come to give evidence, nothing of that nature had been organized this time and most people didn’t even have water. Since the session was limited to two and a half hours the majority of the people did not get a chance to speak before the Commission, due to the fact of shortage of time, and they had to contend with handing over written submissions to the LLRC Secretariat.
Most of the complaints were focused on detention of family members by security forces. Numerous requests were made to prosecute them or release them, in order that they could unite with their families. Most of the people wanted to know whether those who have disappeared were dead or alive, the confirmation of such knowledge would give them closure. But this would enable them to obtain death certificate, which is vital aspect of sought out major civilian issues.
Unlike the ‘star studded’ Mannar DS session, there were only a handful of provincial reporters and representatives of two Civil Society organizations.
Session at Periyapandivirichchan AGA’s Office, Madu The session was scheduled to start at 9 am but it began only at 10.45. Around 10.15 am a group of army officers arrived at the DS Office and recorded the names of the LLRC staff and others from outside the area.
Another officer took photos of the LLRC Commissioners and those who had come to give evidence. 126 submissions were presented at Periyapandivirichchan AGA’s Office, (50 on disappearances, 65 on detention and 11 miscellaneous.) One of the outstanding issues in the area could be attributed to transport, in the area which has minimal public transport. Some had arrived to give submission from over 30 kilometers from the AGA’s Office spending the equivalent of a labourer’s four day salary. 126 made submissions and they drew the Commission’s attention to matters given below:
1. Developing infrastructure including roads and hospitals and providing the displaced with permanent houses.
2. Reveal / Demand what happened to the LTTE leader of Mannar Anthony Rayappu aka Jaan and 40 other LTTE members who surrendered to the army.
3. Extend the Rs 25 000 given to those who are resettled, and to those who are returning to Mannar from their relatives, majority of such persons are Sinhalese.
4. Redistribution of vehicles, left behind during the retreat to Mulativu to their owners in any condition.
5. Create a programme to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of those who were disabled by the war.
6. There are a large number of unfilled vacancies for Public Health Inspectors, Agriculture and Land Officers and Grama Niladaris, who are of great importance to these people. These vacancies must be filled immediately.
CHR’s Observations and Recommendations The LLRC did not have adequate time to cover all areas in Mannar and CHR feels that they should visit the area again and meet others who were not able to appear before the Commission.
1. Provide basic facilities for those who come to give submissions (water, seating etc…)
2. Better coordination between the LLRC and the local public administrative officers to prevent any misunderstandings and ensure a free and confidence building environment where people do not fear future persecution.
3. Reserve adequate time for those who come to give evidence
4. Immediately notify the relevant authorities about the complaints, suggestions and requests received during outstation sessions.