Human Security, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Reconciliation


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.  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.

  • Ravy

    I suspect MCM Iqbal is being deliberately provocative with this article, but his disposition to the plight of the Tamils is utterly objectionable. Setting aside the remit of the LLRC, the main thrust of the commission needs to be on reconciliation. If the esteemed panel on the commission do not have the constitution to take submissions from our fellow countrymen, who probably have exhausted all other legal avenues to seek recompense, then they should get individuals who have the stomach for it.

    Judging from the demand in the North for submissions to LLRC, it may be that it’s remit should be extended to include, for example all disappearances in the N&E. Government should be mindful that in the highly unlikely event that any of these people will see justice, it is at least important for the people to air their heart wrenching losses and injustices in public and with impunity. It is at least important for the people to “let off steam”!

    The Tamils, even those who might have objected to some of the violent methods of the LTTE, supported the LTTE absolutely. The premise of opting for the armed struggle route meant that the Tamils had exhausted all other possible avenues – a premise, even with a historical perspective is thoroughly questionable. The Tamils in gambling their lot with the LTTE, lost and lost badly. Sadly as Losers, Tamils are in no position to expect that justice will be delivered. Let’s face it, the vast majority of the Sinhalese and Muslims are indifferent to the plight of the Tamils. Under any circumstances will these other ethnic groups will come to the aid of the Tamils and it is naive to expect otherwise.

    Tamils at present are a broken people, both in spirit and body, but we are resilient. This resilience, with a sense of pragmatism from within Sri Lanka and the diaspora will slowly pull us away from the quagmire we presently are in. What is the humane legacy of the victors to the losers? How will the history view the spirit of the victors in their approach to the losers? I have no doubt that we are at the outset of the best years for Sri Lanka, but it needs to be built on values, we hold dear. I do not recognise us (all Sri Lankans) as unfeeling people – for god’s sake, we are not westerners. So let us at least acknowledge the pain of our fellow countrymen, it will lead to some form of reconciliation we can live with. Let us allow the Tamils at the LLRC hearings to cry, shout, scream and throw a few chairs if they want to and not think of that as preposterous – that I recognise in us as Sri Lankans.

  • I am slowly going numb.

  • I am constrained to respond to Ravy’s comment of 17th November, 2010. He has completely misunderstood the intention with which this article had been written. He seems to think it is ‘deliberately provocative’ and that the writer’s ‘disposition to the plight of the Tamils is utterly objectionable’ .

    On the contrary the intention of the article was to save those who have already complained or are yet to complain to the LLRC on disappearances of persons, from entertaining false hopes that it would be able to find their dear ones who had been abducted or had gone missing. They need to be informed that inquiring into complaints of disappearances and finding those who disappeared and providing relief to them, are not matters that come within the Mandate of the LLRC , especially if such incidents had occurred after 19th May, 2010.

    These unfortunate complainants who are still to resume their normal lives, would be further estranged when they eventually find out that their complaints had not brought the expected results.

    Highlighting the need to avert such a situation is the intention of the article. In the circumstances it is absurd for anyone who reads this article to think it is deliberately provocative and utterly objectionable.

    Commissions are appointed with a Mandate to ensure that they confine their inquiries and investigations to the terms in the Mandate. It is no secret that the recommendations made by earlier Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances of Persons or on other matters have hardly had any positive results. In the circumstances, for anyone to think that any recommendations on matters not within the mandate of the LLRC, would bring positive results, is far fetched.

  • Nithyananthan

    The article is well written – an excellent exposition. It narrates the reality and the truth – nothing but the truth about a truth finding mission of LLRC. To authenticate the truth the writer has come with the track-record, life-history and the fate of the recommendations submitted by those ill-fated previously instituted commissions / panels / committees. The author is neither a paid journalist nor a fictionist to write fairytales – but none other than an illustrious distinguished son of ‘Mother Lanka’ who is true to himself and has earned incredible credibility, of having served as secretary to two of the previous commissions, to give friendly earnest advice to all – as an admonisher. Appreciating GV for her judgment and arbitration / moderation, I endorse Mr. Iqbal’s observation and his objective in this article and his response to the ill-conceived criticism Thanks, Nithy!

  • Ravy

    It appears that I have misunderstood the author’s motives and may have misconstrued the spirit of the article. I sincerely apologise to Mr MCM Iqbal for any unfair aspersions made of his intentions.

    Unfortunately, I do concur with the author’s premise that the recommendations of LLRC are unlikely to bring about any positive results. As a Tamil who wishes for a united Sri Lanka, I find the shortsighted, hoodwinking of the GOSL in setting up this commission under false pretences, deeply troubling. The war affected Tamils and for that matter, the Sinhalese and the Muslims, deserve to be at least heard. If commissions such as LLRC, have as in the past, proved to be ineffective, then a true reconciliation body, comprising of respected religious leaders and other public-minded eminent persons needs to be welcomed. A body such as this should be beyond the constraints of a legal mandate and should be primarily focused as a body,to hear and document the grievances of people.

    The Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Londonderry, is a case in point of the determination people have to seek justice. It may just be that only a future GOSL, free from the pressures of recent traumas, is one that is capable of facing up to these issues. It is however, worth holding and documenting the submissions in public fora for a future process of true reconciliation.

    I sincerely hope that Mr MCM Iqbal accepts my apology and I hope also that he understands that my comments were made, in disappointment at the lack of legal avenues that are available for the Tamils to seek justice for their grievances. Sadly, I feel that the anguished voices of the dispossessed and the disadvantaged have no resonance within our society.

  • I am glad Ravy has now understood the intention of my article. I agree with him on the need for someone to document all these grievances of those affected by the conflict. I am sure journals like groundviews play a very significant role in providing an arena for different views to be freely expressed. The articles appearing in this and similar journals and the views expressed on them will be there for posterity. But that is not enough. I am sure there are many other institutions in and out of Sri Lanka which are making every effort to document the problems faced by those affected by the war. They continue to suffer even in the postwar environment. Eventually there will be an end to the suffering. Those responsible for their suffering are not going to be there for ever. Lets hope for the better days to come.