LLRC Report – Is it still relevant to Sri Lanka?

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The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was a ‘truth and reconciliation’ commission of inquiry appointed by former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in May 2010, following the conclusion of the civil war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government.  After an 18-month inquiry and investigations, the report of the Commission was submitted to the President on 15 November 2011. To date, 10 years and 7 months approximately have elapsed since the publication of the report on 16 December 2011. This research article makes the core argument that the LLRC is ‘very relevant’ to Sri Lankan discourse on reconciliation and truth even to this day on the basis that the precise recommendations of the LLRC are technically accurate and viable to managing post-conflict reconciliation in Sri Lanka but have not been adequately implemented by successive governments.

Developing the central argument of ‘relevance’

To develop the argument set forth in the introduction to this article, one needs to examine the precise recommendations of the LLRC. It is not possible to examine all of them in the scope of a research article, but the key recommendations can be looked at. The Commission made a series of observations and recommendations which must be distinguished.  One such observation and one recommendation will be considered here.

The report provides a detailed analysis of the oral and written representations made to the Commission. The 1st chapter is an introduction to the report and the methodology the commission has adopted. The 2nd chapter is devoted to the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). There, the Commission analyses its background, political and security dimensions and the impact of the CFA on Sri Lanka. The Commission also attempts to evaluate the CFA’s effectiveness and the causes which led to its eventual collapse. The next chapter provides an insight into the security forces’ operations in the Eastern and Vanni theatres, with a note about the casualty figures of both security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Chapter 4 deals with the Humanitarian law issues pertaining to the conflict.

This includes hundreds of eyewitness reports and clarifications of the incidents brought to light. There is also an evaluation of the Sri Lanka experience in the context of allegations of violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the implications of violating IHL for Sri Lanka’s place and reputation in the world. Here, the commission concludes that security forces had not deliberately targeted civilians during the final stages of war, but civilian casualties had occurred under unavoidable circumstances. The commission also casts doubts about the authenticity of ‘Channel 4’ videos.

Chapter 5 deals with the human rights issues arising from the conflict. It analyses the alleged ‘white van’ abductions, unlawful arrests, arbitrary detentions, and involuntary disappearances. This chapter goes into details of the instances where such incidents have occurred and places the blame on certain paramilitary groups which allegedly hold the responsibility of developing this idea even further than the media reports on these topics. The next two chapters cover land issues regarding the returning Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and restitution/compensatory relief paid out to persons who are affected by the conflict. Chapter 8 focuses on post war reconciliation and alleviating the grievances of affected groups, especially the Sri Lankan Tamil people, in broad terms. The 9th and the final chapter summarises the principle observations and recommendations made by the commission.

The first observation was that given the complexity of the  military scenario and based on the Principle of Proportionality, the  commission noted  that the Security Forces of the Sri Lankan military were faced with a highly volatile  situation where no other options were available other than returning fire into the ‘No Fire Zones’. In response to the incoming fire from their opponents, all realistic and ‘feasible precautions’ under the circumstances had been taken. This observation, it is argued, is technically accurate. It is based on sound judgment and analysis and a legal principle of international law- one of ‘proportionality’. There is no ‘spin’ or ‘bias’ in this observation.

But the more salient point is that this observation is highly relevant to present-day discourse since it provides an objective metric upon which to defend and reinforce the performance of the military and to change public opinion and perception of the performance of the military during the latter stages of the conflict. This is crucial in creating an image of the military, which is clean and accountable contrary to the dirty, ruthless, negative image that the Sri Lankan military (the three Armed Forces; Army, Navy and Air Force) has portrayed in the minds of the public.

In terms of recommendations the ‘most salient’ is in page 387, which states, “the process of reconciliation requires a full acknowledgement of the tragedy of the conflict and a collective act of contrition by the political leaders and civil society, of both the Sinhala and Tamil communities. The conflict could have been avoided had the southern political leaders of the two main political parties acted in the national interest and arrived at a consensus to offer an acceptable solution to the Tamil people. The Tamil political leaders were equally responsible for this conflict which could have been avoided had the Tamil leaders refrained from promoting an armed campaign towards secession.” 

This recommendation is the strongest point in favour of the argument set forth in this article. It recognises that the armed conflict in Sri Lanka was politically and ethnically driven and therefore obviously requires a political and ethnical solution. It is also highly appropriate in the present context as it provides a pathway for strengthening peaceful coexistence between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority and to foster ethnic and religious harmony at present and in the future. The ‘relevance’ argument that this article deduces, is strengthened by this recommendation as it places the political process and concepts such as national integration at the ‘heart of this process’.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this research article restates the argument made in the introduction – that on the point of ‘relevance’, the LLRC is ‘very relevant’ to today’s discourse in Sri Lanka on reconciliation, conflict-resolution, prevention of ethnic violence and human rights enforcement. This core argument was developed using ‘one observation and one recommendation’ made in the LLRC. It is not possible to fully comprehend how citizens could make up their mind to achieve post-conflict reconciliation, but what is highlighted herein, specifically the LLRC and its recommendations could be a stepping stone in this journey.

This research article was prepared by the One Text Initiative research unit. The One Text Initiative is an independent, non-partisan research institute located at 28 Anderson Road in Colombo 5. The website of OTI can be located at onetext.org and the team leader for this project can be contacted at [email protected].

By The One Text Initiative (OTI) research unit