After Geneva: Act effectively, but carefully

It is now a month since the much-publicised resolution against Sri Lanka was passed at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. The Cabinet is only now going through the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and one might grudgingly admit that even this little progress comes because Sri Lanka's Minister of External Affairs is scheduled to visit the United States next month and will be handing over a progress report with a Top Secret 'Action Plan'.

There is a belief in some influential quarters that the UNHRC resolution is 'non-binding'; that it is not even worth the paper it is printed on. That is almost like the advice that was given to the President and the Cabinet of Ministers that the US would never sponsor such a resolution and that nothing would happen. It did happen, as we all know.

The inaction on the part of the Government is two-fold, if one were to analyse the mindset of the powers-that-be. One is that the Government does not want to be seen as having caved into the international community, especially the western powers, to do things at home. No self-respecting nation likes that, but then, by the Government's own foreign policy ineptness, the country does have a UNHRC resolution against its name. Secondly, the Government is ever so reluctant anyway to do anything about the things it has been asked to do.

The LLRC was appointed to offset a cry for an international war crimes tribunal in Sri Lanka. There were initial doubts worldwide about the credentials and credibility of the LLRC, but eventually its report was by-and-large accepted by the world community, its recommendations, in fact, found to be somewhat embarrassing to the Government. The report can be separated into three parts; 1) what is broadly referred to as the 'ethnic problem', 2) good governance issues, and 3) the last stages of the 'war' against terrorism and secessionism.

Going by what the Ambassador-at-Large Stephen Rapp of the Global Criminal Justice Office at the US State Department has reported to the US Congress, it is clear that the US thinking is heavily concentrated on point number 3 above, i.e. accountability of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the political leadership during the last stages of the military campaign that liquidated the LTTE terrorist organisation without heeding US advice to go slow. US motives have long been suspect; it was the 'war crimes' aspect that interested it all along, partly for rebuffing the US, partly due to lobbying in the US by the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora.

Ambassador Rapp says the Government of Sri Lanka should establish an independent mechanism to investigate "credible allegations (on the allegations of violations of International Human Rights Law) which the LLRC failed to address".
For one, the call is for an 'independent mechanism', and not an 'international mechanism'. At least that's something positive. But to pin the blame on the LLRC for failing to address 'credible allegations' is patently unfair. In the first instance, the international community not only questioned the credentials of the LLRC members but kept pressing them to hurry up the report. The LLRC then gave a lucid explanation on the evidence that was led before it insofar as whether there was deliberate targeting of civilians by the Armed Forces and whether there were orchestrated food shortages.

The LLRC said that there were no food shortages and exonerated the Forces and concluded that they acted on the principle of proportionality. Yet the LLRC held that it "find it difficult to determine the precise circumstances involving certain incidents of loss of civilian life…" and went on to say; "it was the duty of the State to ascertain more fully the circumstances under which such incidents occurred and if such investigations disclose wrongful conduct, to prosecute and punish the wrongdoers".

Had the LLRC gone into individual cases, it would be sitting in perpetuity with impatient Western powers tearing their hair and accusing the Government of delaying tactics. Here, the LLRC itself says that it couldn't go into individual cases and hence called upon the State to take steps to inquire into individual incidents.

The acclaimed Truth and Reconciliation Commission that went into the atrocities of the apartheid period in South Africa took three years to make its report, and when it finally wrapped up after six years, hundreds of unfinished cases were sent to the National Prosecuting Authority. The Commission had wide powers to summon witnesses and grant amnesties but even then, during its deliberations, powerful figures failed to show up.

But they are very quick to find fault with Sri Lanka, and the LLRC report. The Rapp report betrays not-so-hidden US motives. Come hell or high water, they will go after the Sri Lanka Government on the issue of allegations of violations of International Human Rights Laws (IHL) and the US Secretary of State is most certainly going to raise this issue when her Sri Lankan counterpart visits Washington next month.

That said, the Sri Lankan Government cannot merely sit tight, grumble and do nothing. At best it will have to comply and complain. Whatever it is, it has allowed a UNHRC resolution to hang over the country. What is the Government to do about it then? If it continues dragging its feet, before no time Sri Lanka will find itself once again arraigned before the UNHRC in October for the country-specific Universal Periodic Review and the 22nd sessions of the UNHRC itself by March next year.

The Government says that the Attorney General is sifting through evidence and the Army is having its own internal inquiries. This requires far more transparency. There is, no doubt, a reluctance to do anything that will be seen as demoralising the Armed Forces that fought a good fight and defeated the evil forces of terrorism.

Yet, the Government had no problems in purging officers and men from the Armed Forces, and the Police whom it felt were disloyal to it immediately after the 2010 Presidential election. As many as 5 Major Generals and 5 Brigadiers among others were dismissed even without Courts of Inquiry under Section 39 of the Army Officers Regulations for misconduct. There was no fear of demoralising the Forces at that stage.

The Defence Secretary had a cogent argument at the time. He said that the Forces must not be politicised. Similarly, the Government moved at the speed of summer lightning when it wanted the name of the Armed Forces cleared and went ahead with what was commonly referred to as the 'White Flag' case. Any professional soldier would not want to be in a uniformed disciplined force where men have looted or raped. Unsubstantiated allegations about the conduct of the Forces are best cleared by a special independent and transparent mechanism, much like the LLRC itself so that the country can have a full closure to one of the most difficult times in its contemporary history.

In the meantime, the country must mark the third anniversary of the defeat of terrorism and secession with all its pomp and establish a museum quickly to depict the atrocities committed by the LTTE on humanity before it becomes a forgotten chapter due to the West's continuing targeting of the Armed Forces for their alleged atrocities.

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Editorial Archive 2012 
01st January 2012 - The hopes and fears of 2012
08th January 2012 - Education fails
15th January 2012 - Ties with India vital but not at any price
22nd January 2012 - Handling India the President's way
29th January 2012 - Political stability - not autocracy
05th February 2012 - Freedom struggle continues overseas
12th February 2012 - Lesson from the Maldives: Listen to the people
19th February 2012 - Belt-tightening must start at the top
26th February 2012 - Good governance the answer
04th March 2012 - Treasury acting like the Kremlin
11th March 2012 - Women as Agents of Change
18th March 2012 - India: To be or not to be with Lanka
25th March 2012 - Reassess foreign and domestic policies
01st April 2012 - Stop quibbling; implement LLRC report
08th April 2012 - Bouquets for BRICS
15th April 2012 - Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
22nd April 2012 - The intricacies of the Indian factor
29th April 2012 - After Geneva: Act effectively, but carefully
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