Lessons unlearnt and reconciliation deconstructed

| by Dr Kumar David

(December 21, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) appointed by President Mahinda Rajapakse has submitted its report and it is now in the public domain. I do not intend to summarise the 460-pages but only to give my evaluation in a few paragraphs. I will follow this up with a short closing section in which I will make an assessment of what the report’s impact is likely to be on foreign actors. The initial evaluation will be grouped under four headings.

The Report


The LLRC denounced the LTTE as killers, terrorists, abductors of children, separatists and heartless maniacs whose actions were solely responsible for the loss of tens of thousands of lives. The full and unmitigated responsibility for the carnage of Tamil civilians is placed on the shoulders of the LTTE, its artillery placements, taking cover close to hospitals, gunning down escapees, and such like acts. I am critical of the politics, militarism and subjugation of the Tamil people by the LTTE, and though I would do it on my own terms, I will not defend the LTTE in the face of these denunciations. I agree with the conclusion that the LTTE violated human rights and committed war crimes. Hence one duty of the Commission has been achieved; unfortunately the remainder of the report vitiates this.

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The Commission’s attitude shows that it is incapable of understanding the LTTE politically, the reasons for its rise, the role of Sinhala chauvinism and the dynamics of ethnic conflict that fertilised the LTTE’s growth, and more broadly the learned commissioners have only a skin deep grasp of what is called the national question or the Tamil problem. Therefore the Commission’s report will have no effect on ethnic reconciliation or providing a basis for settling problems.
The military

The Commission’s findings in respect of the military are an unmitigated whitewash and an exoneration that will make even a soldier blush. The military’s version of events is swallowed hook line and sinker; field commanders are not confronted with the tens of thousands of dead, they are not challenged that such an outcome is unacceptable. Instead the learned commissioners eulogize the military for giving “protection of the civilian population the highest priority” and note “that protection of civilian life was key factor”. And this after tens of thousands were killed by shellfire! Two brief quotations will suffice to illustrate the commissioner’s psychological bent.

“The Commission is satisfied that the military strategy that was adopted to secure the LTTE held areas was one that was carefully conceived, in which the protection of the civilian population was given the highest priority. In reaching this conclusion the Commission has taken due account of all the material placed before it”. (Emphasis added).

“These factors are consistent with the position that protection of civilian life was a key factor in the formulation of a policy for carrying out military operations. They militate against any proposition that deliberate targeting of civilians was part and parcel of a policy”. (Emphasis added).

Tamils in Lanka and abroad will decry this as a lie of Goebbelsian proportions and there will be anger and dismay. If this is what, in Tamil eyes a Sinhalese a Presidential Commission, concluded about the largest massacre of Lankan Tamils in known history, then in my sober judgement, ethnic relations will be poisoned beyond redemption. Consider the plight of a moderate Tamil who wishes to promote cooperation with the government. He has no option but to condemn this as falsehood akin to holocaust denial. Then how to promote economic cooperation and reconciliation with a regime that kills and claims to protect? It is my prediction that the outrage against this affront delivered to the Tamils by the LLRC will infuriate Tamils and play into the hands of those who say: “See! This is who they are; we are better off going our own way”.

The government

There is nothing in the report to show that the Commissioners probed the military or the Executive about orders given to field commanders. This is a most serious defect if the Report is to contribute to judgements about war crimes of the political leadership. This is an enormous lacuna that undermines the worth of the report on a vital issue.

US Ambassador Butenis, according to a Wikileaks cable, warned that no government would conduct an investigation that would allocate a portion of the blame to the excesses of its armed forces or concede the crimes of its side. This may be so, but we the general public must not let the LLRC off the hook for its dereliction of duty.

Addressing Tamil grievances

I have said that I am prepared to go along with condemnation of the LTTE, though on my not the LLRC’s terms, and the other part of the report that could have been beneficial are land policy and resettlement; unfortunately the LLRC is both weak-kneed and knock-kneed. Chapter 6 on Land Policy is acquiescence or congratulatory of state policy and contains no bold recommendations, especially in respect of closing down of the High Security Zones and returning of commandeered land to rightful owners.

And what rot to talk of reconciliation without boldly addressing devolution of power to the Tamil people in their areas of traditional domicile, demilitarisation of the North-East, and the release of Tamil youth in illegal state custody for many years. Forget about reconciliation with the Tamils if they must continue to live under military occupation by a Sinhala state. As expected the LLRC is a waste of time on core issues. Anyway, everybody knows that the purpose of appointing the LLRC had little to do with an ethnic settlement; its all about getting international pressure on war crimes and human rights violations off the back of the government.

How will the international community respond?

The LLRC match is being played out for the sake of international actors. If GoSL wants to settle the national question it knows what it needs to do and could have done so a long time ago; no need for commissions. End the military occupation of Tamil areas and close down the High Security Zones, implement full devolution of power, and release Tamil youth held in illegal detention. For starters, these few steps will do more than a hundred commissions of inquiry. This game is not being played for reconciliation with the Tamils; it is being played to get the human rights and international agencies baying for blood off the back of the government.

Will the human rights lobbies, New Delhi, and the Western powers take the bait and concur with the LLRC that the regime and its armed forces stand acquitted of war crimes and human rights violations? My guess is as follows; non-governmental and human rights lobbies will not take the bait, New Delhi will be delighted to go along with the report, as for Western governments, let’s watch for a bit. The nigger in the woodpile is the Sonia-Singh administration in India, which I will not trust with a five anna coin when it comes to human rights in Lanka. What are India’s interests in this game? Having backed, diplomatically supported and provided military intelligence to an operation hell bent on a course that led to tens of thousands of casualties, the only interest that the Sonia-Singh administration now has is to avoid having its face further blackened before the world.

The LLRC Report absolves the Sri Lankan military of war crimes and human rights abuses. Bravo for India, so it is not the accomplice of a marauder. One can only hope that Indian and South Indian public opinion will not let Delhi get away with such misdemeanour. It is necessary to build a campaign in India around this objective.