FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sri Lanka’s Truth Commission

Readers will find no big surprises after reading the final report of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

It is very much what most people were expecting. A document that looks to the future, exonerates the military, does not touch on the question of accountability and includes some touchy-feely language about the country’s need to move forward, celebrate its diversity and be grateful for the defeat of terrorism.

Essentially, all civilian casualties were the result of people caught in the crossfire or were the LTTE’s fault. “The protection of the civilian population was given the highest priority” by the Sri Lankan armed forces, the Commission has determined.

The report also claims that military operations moved at a “deliberately slow” pace because Sri Lanka’s military personnel were so careful and cognizant of the dangers to civilian life during the final phases of the conflict.

While the LTTE deliberately targeted civilians, it appears that Sri Lanka’s military did not, according to the LLRC report.

That assertion goes against what most people seem to think, including the report produced by the United Nation’s Panel of Experts.

In order to determine “questions of State responsibility,” the LLRC report goes on to note that an “international tribunal” would be unhelpful because there just is not enough evidence about what actually happened during the final phase of the conflict.

Essentially, it would be nearly impossible to “re-create” what actually occurred in a court of law.

The Commission found that it was just too challenging to give even an estimate of civilian casualties during the end of the war.

The Commission also found it difficult to determine what happened regarding the shelling of hospitals. Although, it is clear to the Commission that Sri Lankan military personnel never intentionally went after civilians in the No Fire Zones (NFZs) either.

The report talks about remuneration for victims/survivors, especially civilians.

Although, the responsible entity for doing so, the Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries Authority (REPPIA) is currently suffering from a lack of funds so it is uncertain how that will play out in the years to come.

The Commission’s analysis of the current challenges facing Sri Lanka appears to be slightly more realistic than the rest of the report.

Land issues, minority rights and the possibility that militarization in the North might be a bit too much are all mentioned. And yet “The Commission however recognizes the fact that considering the protracted nature of the conflict spanning a period of thirty years, resolving all such issues would naturally take time and require significant resources and financing.”

So, Sri Lankans and the international community must be patient, of course. Wait, wait, wait—there is always something to wait for in the pursuit of accountability in Sri Lanka.

And of course the Commission has found that the most responsible way to approach accountability and the pursuit of national reconciliation would be to establish some additional “independent” bodies to help achieve this.

The Commission has even suggested that the Sri Lankan government conduct an investigation to ascertain the veracity of the Channel 4 documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.” Evidently, authentication by United Nations specialists is insufficient.

While the video does contain certain inaccuracies, it still provides credible evidence that widespread violations of human rights and international law were committed by Sri Lankan military personnel.

There is some fluffy prose about promoting a trilingual Sri Lanka and finding a political solution to address the long-term grievances of the Tamil people.

So, the question is not whether or not the LLRC is insufficient. (It is obviously a weak report, and, in some ways, undoubtedly weaker than what even the most pessimistic people were expecting). The question is whether people sitting in Western capitals (like the US, UK and Canada) who were demanding “accountability” are going say that this report is good enough.

Was the statement made by US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, a genuine articulation of US policy? Does Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper really care about accountability in Sri Lanka?

Many people were waiting for the publication of this report. Sri Lanka and the LLRC should be topics of enormous interest at the Human Rights Council’s 19th session in Geneva this March.

It is unclear how events will unfold early next year in Washington, New York, Geneva, London, Ottawa and elsewhere in the coming months.

What is clear is that if President Rajapaksa is able to get through the next two cycles of the Human Rights Council unscathed, accountability and the idea of an international mechanism will become afterthoughts.

Sri Lanka is currently struggling with numerous problems related to human rights, governance and national reconciliation, which the current regime shows no interest in resolving. Yet a balanced, accurate recounting of what actually transpired at the end of the war is vital. Human Rights Watch has already come out with a strong statement condemning the report and others will come soon.

It is hard to imagine that a reasonable person (who has been following events in Sri Lanka closely) could buy “the story” that is the LLRC. But if other countries are placated by this biased, inaccurate and disappointing report loaded with lacunae, it will be incumbent upon Sri Lankan citizens and civil society leaders to demand more transparency and better governance from their politicians.

The publication of the LLRC report is one more sign that Rajapaksa’s regime thinks it can do whatever it wants and face no consequences for its actions.

Unfortunately, the regime is probably right.

Gibson Bateman is an international consultant based in New York City. He is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). 

*A version of this article was originally published in The Journal of Foreign Relations.

More articles by:
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
Joyce Nelson
The NED’s Useful Idiots
Lindsay Koshgarian
Trump’s Giving Diplomacy a Chance. His Critics Should, Too
Louis Proyect
American Nativism: From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Trump
Stan Malinowitz
On the Elections in Colombia
Camilo Mejia
Open Letter to Amnesty International on Nicaragua From a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience
David Krieger
An Assessment of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit
Jonah Raskin
Cannabis in California: a Report From Sacramento
Josh Hoxie
Just How Rich Are the Ultra Rich?
CJ Hopkins
Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse
Mona Younis
We’re the Wealthiest Country on Earth, But Over 40 Percent of Us Live in or Near Poverty
Dean Baker
Not Everything Trump Says on Trade is Wrong
James Munson
Trading Places: the Other 1% and the .001% Who Won’t Save Them
Rivera Sun
Stop Crony Capitalism: Protect the Net!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail