THE LLRC AND COMPLAINTS OF DISAPPEARANCES OF PERSONS
It was reported in the newspapers a few days ago thatÂ nearly a thousand individuals had come forward to make representationsÂ to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation CommissionÂ during its sessions inÂ Jaffna.Â The report said that a majority of themÂ areÂ persons seeking the help of the LLRC toÂ find their sons and daughters who have disappeared duringÂ and afterÂ Eelam WarÂ IV.Â This has been the case even during the sittings of the LLRCÂ in other parts of the Northern Districts.Â It appears that this is happening because many of Â theseÂ peopleÂ have not understood theÂ mandate of the Commission properly.Â One cannot understand whyÂ the LLRC itself does not want to tell those persons who flock to themÂ of theirÂ limitations.Â Â The TamilÂ media in particular, isÂ giving wide publicity toÂ theÂ number of complaints of abductionsÂ and disappearances being received by the Commission.Â This hasÂ promptedÂ more and moreÂ victims of the numerous abductions and disappearances that took place before, during and after the Eelam War IV,Â toÂ flock to the LLRC with their complaints and ask theÂ Commission to trace the persons who have gone missing. Â It would be appropriate here to take aÂ closer look at the mandate of this Commission, which is as follows:
TheÂ LLRC is requiredÂ to inquire into and reportÂ on the following:
- The facts and circumstances which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreementÂ operationalized (sic)Â on 21 February 2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter up to 19 May 2009.
- Whether any person,Â group, or institutions directly or indirectly bear responsibility in this regard.
- The lessons learnt from those events and their attendant concerns, in order to ensure that there will be no recurrence.
- The methodology whereby restitution to any person affected by those events or their dependents or to heirs, can be effected.
- 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 Â that have been inquired into under the terms of this Warrant.
It should be noted thatÂ 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.Â From the reports in the media it appears that there are more people going before the Commission to complain of the abductions and disappearancesÂ that took place in the region than to speak about the facts and circumstances that Â led to the failure of the Ceasefire.Â Perhaps,Â the LLRC considers disappearances fallsÂ within item 3 of the Mandate which refers toÂ those events andÂ their attendant concerns. Â If that be so,Â the LLRC can inquire intoÂ complaints of abductions and disappearances that took place during the period stipulated in the Mandare but cannotÂ tentertain to ones that occurredÂ beforeÂ 21st February, 2002Â or afterÂ 19th May, 2009. Â Â Â Â Â It appears that most of the complaints that are beingÂ submitted to the LLRC in respect of abductions and disappearancesÂ are those that occurredÂ after the war ended andÂ whileÂ the people displaced from the Wanni were in the welfare centres that had been established or after they had Â moved out of these welfare centres and had beenÂ ‘re-settled’ .Â Â There had also been a reportÂ in the Veerakesari of 15th November, 2010Â that someone had appeared beforeÂ the LLRC had asked it to find those who disappearedÂ in 1996 after theÂ Riviresa OperationsÂ which wrested control of the Jaffna District from the LTTE. Â One cannot understand why the LLRC does not want to tellÂ such complainants that their complaintsÂ do not fall within its mandate. Â By not doing so, the LLRCÂ only gives false hopes to these complainants that itÂ would find those who disappeared or that it would be able to tell them what happened to them. Â a similar thing happenedÂ when the all Island Commission on Disappearances headed by Mrs. Manouri MuttetuwegamaÂ was conducting its sittingsÂ inÂ Jaffna. Â More than aÂ two hundredÂ persons led by the Organization of Parents andÂ GuardiansÂ of those who Disappeared in Jaffna, Â flocked the Commissioners Â and wantedÂ complaints ofÂ about 600 persons who disappeared following the army take over of Jaffna in 1996 to beÂ inquired into by that Commission. Â They were told that the Mandate of the CommissionÂ authorizes them to inquire only into complaints of disappearances received by the Commissions appointed in 1994Â and is not permitÂ to accept new complaints.Â They then dispersed on beingÂ told to give a list of those who disappeared during that period with the assurance that they would be forwarded to the PresidentÂ with a request to make arrangements for those complaints to be inquired into at a later date. Â This was done laterÂ by theÂ National Human Rights Commission which appointed a special Committee to inquire and report on those complaints. Â Similarly, while this Commission had its sittings in Batticaloa,Â Father Miller who was then the head of theÂ Citizens Committee in BatticaloaÂ came upÂ with a list ofÂ 7000 persons who had disappearedÂ from the Batticaloa District and wantedÂ the Commission to inquire into them. Â He was also given the same reply and eventually theÂ National Human Rights CommissionÂ dealt withÂ those complaints as well.
It cannot beÂ presumedÂ that Â the LLRC membersÂ areÂ unaware that there had been three commissions of inquiry set up inÂ 1994 and another in 1998Â to lookÂ specifically into disappearances of persons that occurred in Sri LankaÂ during specific periods. These Commissions were headed by eminent legal luminaries such asÂ Justice K. Palakidnar,Â Mrs. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Â and Justice T. Suntheralingam.Â Â TheÂ unpublished parts of the reports of these Commissions contain the names ofÂ many of the perpetrators against whom the Commissions had found ‘credible material indicative’ of theirÂ responsibilityÂ for severalÂ of the disappearances that took place during theÂ relevant period.Â These Commissions have alsoÂ recommendedÂ theÂ action that shouldÂ be taken against these perpetrators andÂ have also made well-consideredÂ recommendationsÂ 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,Â aÂ CommitteeÂ of three headed by a senior civil service officer of renown, Â Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, was appointed Â under theÂ section 11 (b) of the Human Rights Commission Act No. 21 of 1996Â to inquire into theÂ disappearances of persons that took place in the Jaffna District followingÂ Jaffna being taken over by the Government from the LTTE in 1996.Â An exhaustiveÂ investigation was done into 281 of Â the 327 complaintsÂ of disappearancesÂ were received by this CommitteeÂ and its findings wereÂ endorsed by Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, whoÂ was then the Chairman of the NHRC and forwarded to the President for necessary action. The recommendations made by the above mentioned CommissionsÂ of Inquiry into Disappearances, were re-iterated by this Committee which concluded thatÂ 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 armyÂ andÂ that there is no evidence whatsoever as toÂ what happened to them thereafter.
This Committee whilst making additional recommendations also endorsed the recommendations made by the earlier Commissions on the measures that areÂ needed to be takenÂ to prevent Â 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 naÃ¯ve to thinkÂ thatÂ Chairman of the LLRCÂ who was then the Attorney General, must beÂ unawareÂ of these reports and the recommendations therein. Â TheseÂ well considered recommendationsÂ made by equally eminent members of those CommissionsÂ and those made by the UN Working Group,Â are gathering dust in the archives of the Presidential Secretariat and the Attorney General’s Department.Â If only those recommendations hadÂ received due consideration and implemented,Â disappearances of personsÂ in Sri Lanka would have been a thing of the past.Â Their non-implementation has promoted the spread of the cult of impunity among the perpetrators and has now perhaps become a standard practiceÂ to deal with those whomÂ the authorities find to be irritants or threats to their positions. Â It is no wonder that the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons who were invitedÂ to Sri Lanka in 2007Â toÂ ensure that the proceedings ofÂ another Commission of InquiryÂ appointed during that period was following internationalÂ norms and standards in conducting their inquiries,Â had aborted theirÂ mission and left with a statement in their report thatÂ the government does not have the will to endÂ human rights violations.
In the circumstances,Â it is preposterous forÂ the LLRCÂ toÂ continue to receiveÂ 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 theÂ LLRC to make recommendations on how to preventÂ the repetition of such instancesÂ in the future, whileÂ they already have well considered recommendations on this matterÂ right before them. Â Besides,Â in the absence of an effective witness protection mechanism it is hardly likely thatÂ the LLRC would receive any worthwhile evidence on what actually happenedÂ during the last days of the war.Â Â ThereforeÂ the LLRC may as well do something usefulÂ by listening to the submissions by learned personsÂ on what needs to be done to bring about a reconciliation. Â Some eminent members of theÂ community have already appeared before the LLRCÂ andÂ made representation Â on this andÂ onÂ the mattersÂ thatÂ lead to the break down of the ceasefire agreement. Â The State continues to proclaim loudly that it is waiting for the recommendations of the LLRC to bring about a reconciliation. Â But other organs of the State are doing undesirable things that negate the declared objectives of the State and Â appear to be contributingÂ furtherÂ to put the communities asunder. Â Lets us hope the LLRC would not waste their times on issues that are irrelevant to its Mandate andÂ makeÂ their candid observationsÂ without delayÂ on the lessons learnt andÂ make way for theÂ mutual suspicion between the two important sections of the people of the countryÂ to be dispelled before it is too lateÂ to Â bring themÂ togetherÂ to live as equal citizens of Sri Lanka.