by M.C.M. Iqbal
It was reported in the newspapers a few days ago that nearly a thousand individuals had come forward to make representations to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission during its sessions in Jaffna . The report said that a majority of them are persons seeking the help of the LLRC to find their sons and daughters who have disappeared during and after Eelam War IV. This has been the case even during the sittings of the LLRC in other parts of the Northern Districts. It appears that this is happening because many of these people have not understood the mandate of the Commission properly.
Relatives of abducted civilians in despair ~ file pic: IRIN
One cannot understand why the LLRC itself does not want to tell those persons who flock to them of their limitations. The Tamil media in particular, is giving wide publicity to the number of complaints of abductions and disappearances being received by the Commission. This has prompted more and more victims of the numerous abductions and disappearances that took place before, during and after the Eelam War IV, to flock to the LLRC with their complaints and ask the Commission to trace the persons who have gone missing. It would be appropriate here to take a closer look at the mandate of this Commission, which is as follows:
The LLRC is required to inquire into and report on the following:
1. The facts and circumstances which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement operationalized (sic) on 21 February 2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter up to 19 May 2009.
2. Whether any person, group, or institutions directly or indirectly bear responsibility in this regard.
3. The lessons learnt 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.
It should be noted that the LLRC has been authorized to look into facts or circumstances that had occurred during the period from 21st February, 2002 upto 19th May, 2009 which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement. From the reports in the media it appears that there are more people going before the Commission to complain of the abductions and disappearances that took place in the region than to speak about the facts and circumstances that led to the failure of the Ceasefire. Perhaps, the LLRC considers disappearances falls within item 3 of the Mandate which refers to those events and their attendant concerns. If that be so, the LLRC can inquire into complaints of abductions and disappearances that took place during the period stipulated in the Mandare but cannot tentertain to ones that occurred before 21st February, 2002 or after 19th May, 2009.
It appears that most of the complaints that are being submitted to the LLRC in respect of abductions and disappearances are those that occurred after the war ended and while the people displaced from the Wanni were in the welfare centres that had been established or after they had moved out of these welfare centres and had been ‘re-settled’ . There had also been a report in the Veerakesari of 15th November, 2010 that someone had appeared before the LLRC had asked it to find those who disappeared in 1996 after the Riviresa Operations which wrested control of the Jaffna District from the LTTE.
One cannot understand why the LLRC does not want to tell such complainants that their complaints do not fall within its mandate. By not doing so, the LLRC only gives false hopes to these complainants that it would find those who disappeared or that it would be able to tell them what happened to them. a similar thing happened when the all Island Commission on Disappearances headed by Mrs. Manouri Muttetuwegama was conducting its sittings in Jaffna . More than a two hundred persons led by the Organization of Parents and Guardians of those who Disappeared in Jaffna, flocked the Commissioners and wanted complaints of about 600 persons who disappeared following the army take over of Jaffna in 1996 to be inquired into by that Commission.
They were told that the Mandate of the Commission authorizes them to inquire only into complaints of disappearances received by the Commissions appointed in 1994 and is not permit to accept new complaints. They then dispersed on being told to give a list of those who disappeared during that period with the assurance that they would be forwarded to the President with a request to make arrangements for those complaints to be inquired into at a later date. This was done later by the National Human Rights Commission which appointed a special Committee to inquire and report on those complaints. Similarly, while this Commission had its sittings in Batticaloa, Father Miller who was then the head of the Citizens Committee in Batticaloa came up with a list of 7000 persons who had disappeared from the Batticaloa District and wanted the Commission to inquire into them.
He was also given the same reply and eventually the National Human Rights Commission dealt with those complaints as well.
It cannot be presumed that the LLRC members are unaware that there had been three commissions of inquiry set up in 1994 and another in 1998 to look specifically into disappearances of persons that occurred in Sri Lanka during specific periods. These Commissions were headed by eminent legal luminaries such as Justice K. Palakidnar, Mrs. Manouri Muttetuwegama, and Justice T. Suntheralingam. The unpublished parts of the reports of these Commissions contain the names of many of the perpetrators against whom the Commissions had found ‘credible material indicative’ of their responsibility for several of the disappearances that took place during the relevant period. These Commissions have also recommended the action that should be taken against these perpetrators and have also made well-considered recommendations on what needs to be done to prevent such incidents happening in the future. Appropriate relief measures had also been recommended to the victims.
In 2002, a Committee of three headed by a senior civil service officer of renown, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, was appointed under the section 11 (b) of the Human Rights Commission Act No. 21 of 1996 to inquire into the disappearances of persons that took place in the Jaffna District following Jaffna being taken over by the Government from the LTTE in 1996. An exhaustive investigation was done into 281 of the 327 complaints of disappearances were received by this Committee and its findings were endorsed by Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, who was then the Chairman of the NHRC and forwarded to the President for necessary action.
The recommendations made by the above mentioned Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances, were re-iterated by this Committee which concluded that in a large majority of the cases inquired into by the Committee there was clear evidence that the persons who had disappeared had been taken by the army and that there is no evidence whatsoever as to what happened to them thereafter.
This Committee whilst making additional recommendations also endorsed the recommendations made by the earlier Commissions on the measures that are needed to be taken to prevent the occurrence of such incidents in the future.
Even the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances has made valuable recommendations on this matter following their visits to Sri Lanka during the 1990s, many of which still remain unimplemented.
It would be naïve to think that Chairman of the LLRC who was then the Attorney General, must be unaware of these reports and the recommendations therein. These well considered recommendations made by equally eminent members of those Commissions and those made by the UN Working Group, are gathering dust in the archives of the Presidential Secretariat and the Attorney General’s Department. If only those recommendations had received due consideration and implemented, disappearances of persons in Sri Lanka would have been a thing of the past. Their non-implementation has promoted the spread of the cult of impunity among the perpetrators and has now perhaps become a standard practice to deal with those whom the authorities find to be irritants or threats to their positions. It is no wonder that the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons who were invited to Sri Lanka in 2007 to ensure that the proceedings of another Commission of Inquiry appointed during that period was following international norms and standards in conducting their inquiries, had aborted their mission and left with a statement in their report that the government does not have the will to end human rights violations.
In the circumstances, it is preposterous for the LLRC to continue to receive complaints of disappearances which do not fall within its mandate and give false hopes to the complainants. It is equally preposterous for the State to ask the LLRC to make recommendations on how to prevent the repetition of such instances in the future, while they already have well considered recommendations on this matter right before them.
Besides, in the absence of an effective witness protection mechanism it is hardly likely that the LLRC would receive any worthwhile evidence on what actually happened during the last days of the war. Therefore the LLRC may as well do something useful by listening to the submissions by learned persons on what needs to be done to bring about a reconciliation. Some eminent members of the community have already appeared before the LLRC and made representation on this and on the matters that lead to the break down of the ceasefire agreement.
The State continues to proclaim loudly that it is waiting for the recommendations of the LLRC to bring about a reconciliation. But other organs of the State are doing undesirable things that negate the declared objectives of the State and appear to be contributing further to put the communities asunder. Lets us hope the LLRC would not waste their times on issues that are irrelevant to its Mandate and make their candid observations without delay on the lessons learnt and make way for the mutual suspicion between the two important sections of the people of the country to be dispelled before it is too late to bring them together to live as equal citizens of Sri Lanka.