It was a political case, both by the critics of the Government within and sections of the international community, that the LLRC was not aimed at, or empowered to address ‘accountability issues’ in terms of ‘war crimes’. The absence of a military expert(s) on the panel should have made clear that a tactical understanding of the ground situation at any given hour in a fast-paced war at times was impossible for the commission to comprehend, for it to draw conclusions.
In the final analysis, the Commission has sought to distance the political leadership and the military command from what was alleged to be a deliberate, policy-based elimination of (Tamil) civilians. It has expressed inability to fix responsibility, but has conceded that there had been “considerable” civilian casualties and that the retaliation by the armed forces might have been “excessive” in some cases.
Such findings, however limited in their scope, should fly on the Government’s persistent claims to a ‘zero-casualty’ war. It might have been the latter’s intent but did not necessarily translate into reality. If nothing else, the LLRC’s observations about possible wrong-doing in individual cases should argue that the armed forces was not as professional as certified. Otherwise, there would be more to answer for.
The LLRC’s suggestion for the Government to further probe individual cases of the kind, including those relating to disappearances, implies an internal probe by the armed forces, possibly in the form of court-martials after due investigation. It would be pertinent to find out if the 7,000-8,000 court-martialled cases when jailed Sarath Fonseka was the commander of the armed forces, related to the incidents brought to the LLRC.
Yet, there is truth in the Commission’s findings that the armed forces deliberately went slow, if only to avoid civilian casualties. In the concluding weeks and months of ‘Eelam War IV’, the Government did create a no-war zone, announce/order discontinuance of heavy artillery and air-power, and declared a fortnight-long ceasefire. As nations that prodded Sri Lanka into these, the international community should be comparing their past notes, where the cause for their demands too would have been pencilled in.
The military view and civilian understanding of reconstruction theories of such nature elsewhere are different from the unanimity often occurring in contemporary Sri Lanka, or in any other nation that feels similarly ‘beleaguered’. This applies as much to assessment of war-situations as post-war developments, like the one evidenced when the US military attaché in their Colombo Embassy brought out at an international conference some time ago.
The three-man Darussman Report, commissioned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is similarly inadequate in fixing responsibility for the ‘civilian deaths’. The report has sought further probe in the matter. The decision of the TNA nearer home and a host of international human rights groups to present their case, if any, before the LLRC may have denied them an opportunity, whatever be their reservations otherwise.
While mandated to probe the run-up to the ethnic war(s) and violence, the LLRC has discussed the continuance of para-militaries in the post-war era, too. This may be considered a part of the commission’s study of reconciliation issues but has stopped mostly at that. By naming the EPDP, the commission has shown that Robert Blake, the US Assistant Secretary of State, was not alone in his assessment.
Symbolism, to read meaningful even if not wholly effective, should be unrestrained. Rather than holding that the Sri Lankan State owed an apology to the Tamil people for the deliberate wrong-doings of the political leadership, the LLRC has found it adequate to ask the political parties to tender a collective apology to the people at large. The suggestion for the Government to consider compensation payment, likewise, should have commenced with the victims of ‘Pogrom-83’, if not their early counterparts.
In tabling the LLRC Report before Parliament, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, promised that the armed forces would be withdrawn from community life and decision-making at those levels. He was unclear, if at all, about the need for withdrawing the armed forces to their barracks, though there may be justification for continuing with their existing camps in erstwhile war zones and elsewhere in the country.
For the lessons from the LLRC to be effective, the Government needs to do more, in terms of the Report and beyond. The silence thus on the Commission’s recommendation for delinking the police force from the charge of the Defence Ministry stands out. At the same time, the suggestion for creating branches of the Attorney-General’s office in Provincial capitals to speed up legal advice for the police could extend to cover other departments, if only aimed at capacity-building.
Implied otherwise in the LLRC’s recommendation in this regard could be decentralisation, not devolution of powers to the Provinces. Reconciliation was at the core of LLRC’s work, but by not talking about it in political and administrative terms, the Commission may have pushed the ball back to the Government even without playing it. It rests there, what with the Government continuing to hold talks with the TNA on the one hand, and pushing for a PSC at the same time.