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Saturday, 18 February 2012

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Lessons Learnt of the LLRC

At the time it was appointed there were many who had major doubts about the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) having any impact on the situation facing Sri Lanka in the post-conflict period. There were those such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group that rejected it outright, with ill concealed contempt.

Others, including many governments, were not satisfied that it was an adequate response to the strident calls for an ‘independent’ international inquiry into allegations of war crimes and violations of humanitarian law during the final phases of the operation to defeat the LTTE. There was much criticism and scepticism about it in Sri Lanka too, ranging from issues such as an alleged lack of independence by being a presidential commission to a biased judgment of its competence based on political opposition to the government.


One of the LLRC sittings. File photo

But in recent weeks one sees a near sea change in these attitudes to Sri Lanka’s own attempt to learn the lessons from a prolonged conflict and also move more deeply into the aspects of reconciliation that were important to ensure a sustainable peace with tolerance and understanding among the communities in the land.

While the members of the LLRC have good reason to be pleased with this emerging trend on their efforts to produce a report that was relevant to the issues facing the country and with a mandate that sought much from them, the government too has cause for considerable satisfaction at this new turn of events.

New opportunities

The government’s decision to publish the full report within a short period of its submission to the President, the statement in Parliament by the Leader of the House of the government’s intent to make a serious study of it towards implementation in the interests of reconciliation, and the recent assurances given by President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself of the commitment to implement its recommendations that would serve the interests of reconciliation, have gone far towards changing building this new attitude towards the LLRC, and opening of new opportunities for diplomatic action with a greater measure of credibility behind such moves.

A significant example of the new approach towards the findings and recommendations of the LLRC came last week from Australia.

It was the defeat in the Australian Senate of a motion by a member of the Greens calling for the establishment of an independent international mechanism to investigate the issue of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sri Lanka.

The resolution moved by the Green Senator Lee Rhiannon, called on the Australian government to acknowledge that the LLRC fails to adequately address the issue of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Sri Lankan conflict, and to support calls for the UN Secretary-General and the UN Security Council to establish an independent international mechanism to investigate the issue of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sri Lanka, as recommended by the report of the UN Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka.


Kevin Rudd

In addition, it expressed disappointment that the Federal Government has not issued a public response to the LLRC final report.

Very importantly this resolution, which in its details included all the propaganda against Sri Lanka carried out by so-called Human Rights activists who walk in step with the pro-LTTE Tamils living in the West, and some well known politically motivated critics of the Sri Lankan approach towards reconciliation in the United Kingdom and Canada, and also called for implementing the Darusman report that was obtained by the UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, was defeated with bi-partisan support against it. There were only 11 members of the Aussie Senate voting for it, while 30 senators opposed it.

In another development, also in Australia, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, called on Sri Lanka to further investigate the allegations (into the final stages of the war) but stopped short of adding Australia's voice to demands for an international probe’, the widely read Australian newspaper The Age, reported.

In an indication of acceptance of the findings of the LLRC, Rudd had called on Sri Lanka to set a clear timetable for the implementation of the LLRC's recommendations.

Human rights violations

The latest reaction from the United States, which had from the outset indicated it was keeping an open mind on the LLRC, was also encouraging. There was no outright rejection of its findings, but a more balanced position as seen from the comments made by Under Secretary Maria Otero and also echoed by Assistant Secretary Robert Blake at the conclusion of their visit to Sri Lanka earlier this week.

At the media briefing in Colombo last Monday (13) Under Secretary Otero said, “We also appreciate the work of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). While it has shortcoming on accountability, the Commission addressed a number of crucial areas of concern to Sri Lankans, and makes substantive recommendations on reconciliation, devolution of authority, de-militarization, rule of law, media freedom, disappearances, and human rights violations and abuses that, if implemented, could contribute to genuine reconciliation and strengthening democratic institutions and practices.

Otero said she discussed the recommendations with the President who assured her that they were looking to implement the LLRC report in a comprehensive manner.

“I urged the Sri Lankan government to share the details of their plans and begin fulfilling the recommendations called for in the report, and to credibly address outstanding issues of accountability,” she said.

Child labour

It is noteworthy that Under Secretary Otero is the most senior US government official to visit Sri Lanka since Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2005. She is Under Secretary of State who oversees and coordinates US foreign relations on the spectrum of civilian security issues across the globe, including democracy, human rights, population, refugees, trafficking in persons, rule of law, counter-narcotics, crisis prevention and response, global criminal justice, and countering violent extremism.

It is therefore of significance is the fact that Otero’s statement laid considerable emphasis on Sri Lanka’s demonstrably improved performance, most notably in the successful prosecution and conviction of human traffickers under anti-trafficking legislation, and rejuvenated its interagency task force on this issue.

“We welcome the opportunity to continue to work with the government to strengthen investigation and prosecution efforts and eradicate the scourge of trafficking in persons,” she said.

She also noted that child labour is another area where the Sri Lankan government and NGOs are making a great deal of progress. “Today less than two percent of children are engaged in the worst forms of child labour in Sri Lanka.

“This is a significant achievement, particularly in this region, and we are even more encouraged by the government’s plan to entirely eliminate the worst forms of child labour from the country by 2016,”Otero said.

None of these responses whether about the LLRC in the Australian Senate and by the US Under Secretary, as well as the latter’s observations on Sri Lanka’s success in battling human smuggling and child labour could be pleasing to the voices abroad, who seek to paint Sri Lanka as a country that has no regard whatsoever for the rights of people and human dignity.

This is in the focus of the current campaign being waged with increased vigour in the run up to the next session of the UNHRC which takes place on February 27 in Geneva, where a resolution on Sri Lanka is expected to be discussed.

The pro-LTTE Tamils in the UK, Germany, France and other parts of Europe are busy organizing special marches and even train rides to Geneva, to hold anti-Sri Lanka demonstrations outside the UNHCR.

The signs are that the labours of the LLRC to present the truth and the path to reconciliation have already helped in blunting the efforts to this pro-LTTE chorus that is chanting a litany of hatred against Sri Lanka.

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