The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report that was made public last week has attracted mixed reactions, both domestically and internationally.
Predictably, global human rights groups found the report wanting because not only did it not meet their expectations with regard to the investigations on allegations of violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) by the Security Forces during the last stages of their military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) back in early 2009, but they had pre-judged the findings of the LLRC.
Their premise was that the commissioners were those well disposed towards the Government; now they seem intent on justifying their forewarning. These groups are sticking to their call for an international probe. On the other hand, foreign governments, especially those who had been making similar demands have been a little more guarded in their response, asking for more time to study the voluminous and detailed report.
Sri Lanka's External Affairs Minister needlessly 'jumped the gun', during the recently concluded Budget debate to attack some initial remarks made by the spokesperson of the US State Department, something thoroughly inappropriate, protocol-wise, to say the least. It is one thing if his intention was to score some brownie points with his Lord and Master, but to accuse the US of double-standards and raise questions about the West's own internal mechanism to probe their conduct of conflicts in other parts of the world was an over-reaction.
After all, this was a mere spokesperson from the US State Department making a legitimate point of asking the Sri Lanka Government to detail its time-table and roadmap to implement the recommendations made by the LLRC. That is exactly what the whole of Sri Lanka is also asking for. Instead, the Minister goes off at a tangent and then praises the LLRC report in comparison to the UN Secretary General's panel report on the same subject of allegations of IHL violations. This is the 'kiss of death' for the LLRC because it only gives credence to those who claim that the LLRC itself was a hatchet job for the Government to ward off calls for an international mechanism to probe these allegations.
Domestically, the UNP seems to have taken an objective view of the report saying the Government must adopt the commendable recommendations and spell out exactly how it intends setting about implementing them, while giving an explanation to why other recommendations cannot be taken up on policy grounds.
The JVP appears to have thrown out the 'baby with the bathwater', so to say, rejecting the report wholesale on the grounds that it was something done to whitewash the Government. This looks to be a strictly political position to take; to criticise the Government for the sake of criticism.
What is even more distasteful is the stance of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as proclaimed by its Parliamentary group. They, who must offer garlands to the Security Forces for liquidating the LTTE and restoring them as the representatives of the minority Tamils are harking and harping on what the UN SG's report (a.k.a. as the Darusman report) had to say about alleged military excesses during those last weeks of the onslaught on the terrorists. At best, the Darusman report was based on hearsay and unsubstantiated evidence. The LLRC report says almost the same thing about the weight of this evidence, but adds that given the number of persons who came forward to give evidence, there is a need for the Government to investigate disappearances, abductions etc.
The commission, however, does exonerate the Security Forces of culpability of deliberately targeting civilians. So then, is the TNA intent on flogging this horse and not allowing the country to move on?
A party that the LLRC report indirectly blames and quite rightly so, for fanning the flames of ethnic divisions in this country for decades, that nearly got decimated by the LTTE; whose leadership was eliminated, and whose present leadership had to run for protection to the Government's Security Forces from the claws of the 'Tigers', doesn't seem to have learnt its lessons.
This is the sorry plight of the minority Tamils especially in the North. On the one side is a former guerrilla group masquerading as a political party, and on the other a party, that is refusing to join in a united Sri Lanka. To say that the people are between the devil and the deep blue sea is not an exaggeration.
Today is Christmas Day. In multi-ethnic, multi-religious Sri Lanka, the day is being celebrated by almost everybody. Similarly, Vesak, Thai Pongal and Ramazan are enjoyed, by and large, by all communities. In areas of the East, where the majority and minority live cheek by jowl, families have mixed names and speak each other's language.
Though Sri Lanka is being portrayed by some elements to be a country where minorities are persecuted, anyone who knows the real Sri Lanka knows that is anything but the truth. Ethnic and religious tolerance in Sri Lanka far surpasses what one finds in many other countries, including some in the West. The LLRC has identified some deficiencies and recommended remedial measures.
The Chairman of the LLRC was reported in this newspaper last week saying that the commission had inadvertently omitted to recommend the deletion of the 'Race' category in official documents. There seems to be another omission on its part; the need to ban ethnic and religion-based political parties. Though the commission seems to have considered it in passing, it has not ventured to make a remark on the subject.
These are the parties that undermine the development of the national Sri Lankan identity the LLRC has so strongly recommended. Such a suggestion may be a breach of a fundamental political right, but allowing them to go on beating the communal drum is going to be at the expense of a secular state and a united Sri Lanka.