LLRC Silent On UN Panel’s Claim That It Is Flawed
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) remains non committal about references made to it being “deeply flawed” in the report by the panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sri Lanka.
The LLRC has maintained its silence while commencing work on the first draft of its final report expected to be handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa by May 15.
The UN Secretary General’s panel has stated that the LLRC is “deeply flawed, does not meet international standards for an effective accountability mechanism and, therefore, does not and cannot satisfy the joint commitment of the President of Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General to an accountability process.”
The government appointed the LLRC last May likening the Commission to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The LLRC was assigned the task of inquiring into the final years of the war between 2002 when the ceasefire agreement was signed and 2009 when the war concluded.
The Commission commenced its sessions in August last year amidst doubts raised by the international community on the Commission’s credibility.
Till the LLRC concluded its public sessions last month, it held sessions in Colombo and in many districts. Sessions were held in the districts of Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Mannar, Trincomalee, Ampara, Batticaloa, Vavuniya, Anuradhapura, Moneragala, Galle and Matara.
According to Ban Ki-moon’s panel, although the government had appointed the LLRC to address the issues faced during the years of the conflict and reconciliation, it fails to satisfy key international standards of independence and impartiality.
The report states, “The Government has established the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission as the cornerstone of its policy to address the past, from the ceasefire agreement in 2002 to the end of the conflict in May 2009. The LLRC represents a potentially useful opportunity to begin a national dialogue on Sri Lanka’s conflict; the need for such a dialogue is illustrated by the large numbers of people, particularly victims, who have come forward on their own initiative and brought to speak with the Commission.
“Nonetheless, the LLRC fails to satisfy key international standards of independence and impartiality, as it is compromised by its composition and deep-seated conflicts of interest of some of its members.”
The panel has explained that the mandate of the LLRC, as well as its work and methodology, are not tailored to investigating allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, or to examining the root causes of the decades-long ethnic conflict.
“Instead these focus strongly on the wide notion of political responsibility mentioned above, which forms part of the flawed and partial concept of accountability put forth by the Government,” it states.
The panel charges that the work of the LLRC to date demonstrates that it has not conducted genuine truth-seeking about what happened in the final stages of the armed conflict, not sought to investigate systematically and impartially the allegations of serious violations on both sides of the war, not employed an approach that treats victims with full respect for their dignity and their suffering, and not provided the necessary protection for witnesses, even in circumstances of actual personal risk.
Nevertheless media spokesperson for the LLRC, Lakshman Wickremasinghe states the Commission is satisfied with the manner in which it has conducted its task in a transparent manner through its methodology.
“The Commission sessions were carried out in a transparent manner with the media invited to cover almost every public session in Colombo and the outstations,” he said.
However, the media in one instance was not given access to the sessions when the LLRC visited a detention camp for former LTTE cadres in Boosa in the Galle District.
When inquired as to the assurance of transparency when the media was left out of this particular session, Wickremasinghe observed that access to the Boosa high security camp was only to members of the Commission and a few key officials.
“The LLRC did not invite the media to cover the particular session since access to the camp was not open to outside members other than the Commissioners and the detainees had requested for confidentiality. Their wishes had to be respected,” he said, adding that all other sessions were open to the media as well as the public.
He said that all Sri Lankan citizens were invited to make their submissions to the LLRC either in writing or orally during its public sessions in Colombo or in any other part of the country.
“People were also given the option of submitting their testimonies via video,” he said.
Wickremasinghe observed that a cross section of people had come forward to testify before the Commission. “The LLRC focused a lot on holding sessions in areas in the North and East.”
According to the Spokesperson, the Commission has received over 5,000 written submissions from the North and East. “The Commission received about 470 written submissions during sessions in Ampara and Moneragala.”
Another issue raised by the UN Secretary-General’s panel is the protection provided to witnesses who have testified before the LLRC.
Wickremasinghe pointed out that the LLRC was mindful of its witness’ security. “That is why they were given the option of making written submissions personally or even by post to safeguard their identity. The witnesses also had the option of denying their submissions being videoed.”
He said the Commission has received a large number of written submissions. The LLRC is currently preparing its final report in line with its mandate.
Members Of The LLRC
Former Attorney General Chitta Ranjan de Silva (Chairman)
President’s Counsel Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera
Prof. Mohamed Thahir
Prof. Karunaratne Hangawatte of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)
Attorneys-at-Law Mohamed Jiffry
H.M.G. Siripala Palihakkara
Mrs. Manohari Ramanathan
Maxwell Parakrama Paranagama
The Mandate Of The LLRC
The commissioners are to inquire and report on the following:
1. The facts and circumstances which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement operationalised on February 21, 2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter up to May 19, 2009
2. Whether any person, group, or institution directly or indirectly bears responsibility in this regard
3. The lessons we would learn from those events and their attendant concerns, in order to ensure that there will be no recurrence
4. The methodology whereby restitution to any person affected by those events or their dependents or to heirs, can be effected
5. The institutional administrative and legislative measures which need to be taken in order to prevent any recurrence of such concerns in the future, and to promote further national unity and reconciliation among all communities, and to make any such other recommendations with reference to any of the matters that have been inquired into under the terms of this Warrant.