By Kumar Rupesinghe
The announcement of the LLRC implementation plan by the Lalith Weeratunge Committee, appointed by the President, must be commended for the hard work that they did to ensure that the entirety of the recommendations have been taken note of, a time plan for the implementation agreed on.
Australian Ambassador Kathy Klugman meets a family of children whose family home is unfortunately surrounded by fields of land mines, Sep 2011-pic courtesy of: Australian Agency for International Development-AusAid
The implementation plan was ratified by the cabinet unanimously.
The Lalith Weeratunge committee went beyond its mandate when it also included Key Performance Indicators (KPI) from which the implementation could be scrutinized by the local and international community. Whilst most of the Commission’s recommendations had not been implemented the Weeratunge Committee has done its work well to ensure that there is speedy implementation.
The more intractable issues have been submitted to the Parliamentary Select Committee, which is still in midair due to the refusal of the Tamil National Alliance, TNA, to participate in it. The LLRC report which many thought would be another commission, whose report would be shelved has surprised everybody by the extent of the deliberations and the forward looking nature of its recommendation.
The establishment of the LLRC was to take significant steps towards reconciliation after the war. This commission was entrusted with the task of winning the peace, and it is a home grown solution through wide consultation of all stakeholders. There are critics who claim that the LLRC did not go far enough and those who have complained that it has gone beyond its mandate. The International Community was satisfied with the contents of the LLRC but was worried that its implementation was being delayed.
As we all know the LLRC was to be just another Commission, condemned to the dustbin of history, which was the fate of so many other commissions, in the past. A distinguished panel was appointed by the President, and its members were seen as those favorable to the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and did not think much of it would be given serious attention.
In short it was seen by the detractors of the government, as an eye wash, an attempt to cover a multitude of sins and omissions. The Commission however went through and heard an enormous amount of representations and testimony from those who were responsible in the conduct of the war, i.e. the military establishment, to detractors of the conduct of the war, such as the Tamil National Alliance, intellectuals, religious leaders, and above all the victims of the violence.
To understand their plight the Commission did make many field visits, and I think that it was the testimonies of the victims that propelled the Commission to see that justice was done and seen to be done. With regards the question of the accountability of the armed forces, the Commission, whilst acknowledging that violations of human rights law and humanitarian law was committed by the LTTE and the Governed armed forces, recommendations were made with regards the 5 Tamil boys who were Killed in Trincomalee and the killing of 17 NGO workers in Muttur. With regards the question of the numbers of civilian casualties, a highly contested terrain, where figures range from 7000 civilian casualties to 40,000 the Commission rightly asked that these matters will require another domestic mechanism and urged the government to appoint one.
It is undoubtedly the efforts of the USA and later India through the resolution introduced in the Human Rights Council that the LLRC took center stage. Those who backed the USA led resolution, required that the LLRC to be implemented in full and that issues of accountability to be addressed, whilst the government also in its defense proposed a time plan for the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. However, Sri Lanka was defeated at the UN Human Rights Council and it was a clear indication as to the will of the international community.
Fortunately, after the defeat of Sri Lanka at the UNHRC good sense prevailed and a strategic shift was taken by the President, to renew relations with the USA, and the western powers and India. Its first indication was the decision to accept the invitation of Hillary Clinton, and the choice of the delegation signaled the shift in policy.
The meeting was not only cordial, but the USA demonstrated goodwill and willingness to cooperate. The efforts of the Weeratunge committee, and the tireless work of its members, produced a implementation plan well within the time frame. It will now be easier for the Sri Lankan government to face the next UN session, and hopefully it will be the beginning of the end of the attrition and encirclement of Sri Lanka. The Tamil Diaspora would continue with its agitation calling for an international inquiry into war crimes but its efforts to draw the international community into this strategy would lose momentum, if the government implements the plan.
It is important for Sri Lanka to improve its relationships with the U.S.A and other western powers, and breakaway from the encirclement that Sri Lanka was subject. After all it is still a leading trading partner of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is in many ways tied to the western markets but it is more than that. It is tied to the west in many ways, through our historical relationships, and values, and we must therefore return to our Non Aligned policy.
Good relations with the west should not be at the expense of India which has been our ally and friend throughout our history. India was a staunch ally during the war during the war. India continues to also be a strong trading partner of Sri Lanka. India expects Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment and as a first step it requires that elections are held in the north as soon as possible. Having elections in the North makes good sense, as it will be a major instrument in the reconciliation process. The Tamil National Alliance and other Tamil parties must be given the opportunity to govern the regions where they command a majority, and checks and balances have to be developed with regards police and land powers.
Such a step will relax pent up frustrations and a sense of humiliation that the peoples of the north experience. The argument that we must wait till 2013 for the elections are based on a wrong premise i.e. that the North must be developed, with infrastructure and development so that a grateful Tamil population will vote against the TNA. This is a erroneous theory based on fallacious arguments that the economy can shift peoples identity through economic and infrastructure developments. Further, the delay must not be interpreted as a way of changing the demographic balance. It is important that we heal the wound and remove the sense of humiliation of a beleaguered people.
The much abused word “civil society” must be deeply engaged in the reconciliation process. Civil Society, is not the handful of NGO”s financed by external funds, but the large and varied numbers of organizations such as trade unions, women’s organizations, the business community, the professionals, to name a few. As a first step the LLRC must be translated into all three languages and widely distributed.. Civil society must engage with the Lalith Weeratunge Commission, to improve and add quality to the implementation plan, and show ways and means of creatively expanding the reconciliation process. After all, much of the work will be done on the ground, amongst and within communities, and they must be brought into the process through a process of widespread consultations.
There are many examples internationally, such as the process developed by South Africa, to name just one country which transformed a deeply divided society to one where all stakeholders were involved in the process of reconciliation. There are many such examples which we must study.
It is my view that with the relaxation of relations with the west and India, the government will then have the opportunity to give its attention to domestic affairs, to focus on good governance, corruption, the economy and build a truly multi ethnic Sri Lankan nation. This is the need of the hour.