Ever since the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa as a commission of inquiry "to report on the lessons to be learnt from the events covering the period February 2002 to May 2009, their attendant concerns and to recommend measures to ensure that there will be no recurrence of such a situation", there has been intense, if totally unwarranted pressure on the commission from three quarters. It came from foreign governments, international non-government organisations (INGOs) and the Sri Lanka Government.
The pressure is both direct, and indirect. The INGOs dealing with human rights issues, no doubt, more aggressively in some countries and less in others, blatantly accuse the LLRC of bias and lack of credibility demanding, a "credible international mechanism". They are joined in this chorus, not surprisingly, by the United Nations Secretary General's Panel of so-called 'Experts'.
Foreign Governments are more circumspect. They say almost the same thing, but with diplomatic finesse. The Government of Sri Lanka, whether intentionally or otherwise, also keeps applying pressure on the LLRC by using it to cover up its clumsiness and confused diplomacy by referring to it whenever under fire.
It is not that the LLRC should work in a cocoon. It is part of the environment where an influential section of the world community is demanding an investigation into what happened during the last stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in early 2009. But the work of the LLRC is of a much wider scope and there is a need to have it somewhat immune to these pressures.
It is similar to the application of the working of the courts and this could be said to amount to infringing on the principles of sub judice which is making comments when a case is ongoing, i.e. jury pressure etc. Though one can easily take the strict interpretation that the LLRC is not a court and therefore, the principle is not automatically applicable, the overarching effect is very much the same.
The Government must, even at this late stage, take a tougher stand on this for not only does it add to the pressure applied on the LLRC, it sometimes even acquiesces to it. Take for example, the controversial Joint Statement with India three weeks ago. In it, the Indian side refers to the need for speeding up investigations into "allegations of human rights violations", but it is Sri Lanka's External Affairs Minister who refers not only to the work of the LLRC but does so in the context of addressing "issues related to resettlement and reconciliation in a focused and progressive manner" and goes on to state how an Inter-Agency Advisory Committee chaired by the Attorney General is implementing the interim recommendations of the LLRC. Now, having urged the world community to give the LLRC space and not pre-judge it, the Government is using the LLRC as a shield against accusations that it is too slow in implementing resettlement and reconciliation - apart from several other issues of good governance. Therefore, it is guilty of not giving the LLRC the space it asks others to give it.
The seeds of an international investigation have now been sown by the report submitted to the UN Secretary General. This is being freely used as a weapon to browbeat Sri Lanka in international fora to needle the political leadership and keep the 'war crimes' allegations alive.
The Rule of Law in the International Legal Order is nowadays much in vogue. Events in Libya or what is happening before the International Criminal Court in The Hague are classic examples. The Rule of Law requires compliance by states (usually those on the opposite end of the US and the EU) with its obligations in international law. The days of proud and equal sovereigns 'declining to bow the knee to one another but condescending to parley through the medium of their immune envoys' are over. Today, it is the new International Legal Order interpreted depending on the situation and the state concerned. That is the order of the day.
In his book 'The Search for Peace' (1997) former British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd referring to the shortcomings of individual nations to meet the aspirations of its citizens said this;
"Nation states are….incompetent. Not one of them, not even the United States as the single remaining super-power, can adequately provide for the needs that its citizens now articulate. The extent of that incompetence has become sharply clearer during this century. The inadequacy of national governments to provide security, prosperity, or a decent environment has brought into being a huge array of international rules, conferences and institutions; the only answer to the puzzle of the immortal but incompetent nation state is effective co-operation between those states for all the purposes that lie beyond the reach of any one of them".
But would the US, for example have tolerated an international mechanism to probe the torture at Guantanamo Bay?
There are lessons to be learnt for the Sri Lankan Government too; that it cannot live in an insular world of its own, especially if it wants foreign investment, tourism, exports and be thus wired to the outside world.
The LLRC has been thrust upon the country because of these compulsions, and yet, its mandate is so wanting. Whatever 'ethnic conflict' this country faced, an investigation goes a long way back, and India's role is a major component thereof, yet the LLRC is limited to the period between February 2002 and May 2009. No lessons can be learnt merely by slinging mud at the Opposition for its failed gamble of the CFA (Ceasefire Agreement). Without taking all factors into account, the very nature of the LLRC's task is a humongous and time-consuming exercise.
The three-pronged pressure referred to above, i.e. foreign Governments, INGOs and the Sri Lanka Government, has been utterly unfair by those 'not applying pressure' on the LLRC viz., the silent majority of Sri Lanka. This pressure has spurred the LLRC to make an interim report with six recommendations, of which only one referring to the detainees at Boosa Camp has been somewhat attended to.
The commission has before it an unenviable task to make what would be far-reaching recommendations and it is only fair to give it the space to complete its assignment without undue hindrance. That the LLRC members ought to be impervious to these pressures on them goes without saying.