Public Perceptions of the LLRC in Trincomalee

Photo credit JDS

President Mahinda Rajapaksha appointed the Lessons learnt and Reconciliation commission in May 2010 and after 18 months of sittings, the commission submitted its report to the President in November 2011. The report is not only about the effects of war but also about the need to depoliticize state institutions and foster good governance. However, at the time of writing, the report is not yet accessible in Sinhala or Tamil, even though it was reported in the media that Sri Lanka’s Central Bank had commissioned the translations. As Kishali Jayawardena argued, many commissions of inquiry in Sri Lanka have been political exercises rather than genuine attempts to reconcile a traumatized nation.[i]

While there are many national level civil society discussions on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), there seems to be very little discussion on what citizens say about the LLRC and its recommendations. However, there is widespread hope that public demands will create the space to implement the LLRC recommendations and find ways towards reconciliation among different ethnic communities. With this objective the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) in collaboration with the National Collaboration Development Foundation (NCDF), a community based organization, organized workshops in Kanthale in Trincomalee. In Trincomalee district there are Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in similar proportions in the population.

The workshops focused on raising awareness about the LLRC and its recommendations. We conducted four workshops from April to July 2012 with farmers, youth, civil society groups and representatives from political parties. There were 140 participants and members from all three ethnic communities took part in these workshops. This article will discuss workshop participant’s views on the LLRC.

The views expressed at the workshops on the LLRC are not different from the views of the government’s positions on the LLRC. However, the participants were not aware of the content of the LLRC. Once we presented its recommendations, they started to talk about their issues and problems with regard to them. The majority of people who participated in the workshops were Sinhalese. Discussing the causes of the war, the participants related those to the LLRC. They think that the international community and politicians should take the responsibility for the problems and issues facing Sri Lanka. A senior citizen, aged over 65 said that,

“The LLRC is an international conspiracy”(meva jathyanthara kumanthrana).  Even in the past these imperialists tried to suppress us by using many mechanisms. From Elara’s time to the current situation it is evident”.

Some of the Sinhalese participant’s views on the initiation of LLRC are not different from the views of Tamil participants of the workshops. Tamil participants also thought that the international community pushed the LLRC forward. But the difference is that though Tamil participants thought that it came out of international pressure, they think it is a positive attempt by the international community.

In the current political context, the LLRC is often portrayed as a tool for international interference alongside the UNHCR resolution of March 2012. In relating the LLRC to the UNHCR resolution most of the Sinhalese participants expressed the view that the international community wants to divide the country. We only have this country; they don’t want us to be together. The government’s main narrative in relation to the Geneva resolution was that ‘justice’ was defeated by power[ii]. If the government sees the LLRC as a home-grown process, then how does the international community, seeking to enforce the LLRC recommendations, undermine ‘justice’?

Since the publication of the LLRC report, the government has shown signs of backtracking  on these recommendations. According to the participants, during the debates on the UNHCR resolution, some people related to the Defence Ministry and other nationalist intellectuals had gone to the Kanthale and spoken to people about the effects of the “international conspiracy”. The LLRC report explicitly recognizes that the primary responsibility in relation to reconciliation in Sri Lanka is with the government. However, these duplicitous efforts by the government show that it is unwilling to create the space for reconciliation.

These participants didn’t know that the President appointed the LLRC. Furthermore, they didn’t know anything about its recommendations but they thought that it existed to divide the country. As for the second reason the country is facing problems, Sinhalese participants claimed:

“Our politicians support the creation of this kind of intervention. Mr. Bandaranayake did engage with regional politics. When he goes to Jaffna he said we will give you equal opportunities (sama thana denava) at the same time he said the same thing to the Muslims. However, when he goes to the South he says that the Sinhalese are the majority. No one can ask for anything the Sinhalese don’t like. This is the person that made Sinhala the only official language”.

In general, Tamil people have heard about the LLRC. But they also don’t know what it is, or who created it, nor its implications. Most of the participants of the Tamil medium workshops were women, and they said that whatever the commission was, their grievances should be addressed by it. They said, even though they are happy with the end of the war, there are many issues in their community regarding language, education, gender violence and illegal drugs. They discussed all their problems in the workshops.

 “The main problem for us is that every day the police and the army come to our houses and check for former LLTE cadres. They take many former LTTE carders away for questioning. Now what has happened is that our youth have started to leave the country”

They discussed how their social environment has begun to change since the end of the war. A female participant said:

“There are many reports of child abuse and rape cases. Every day we can hear something about child abuse. There are many widows as a result of the war. They are facing difficulties when they travel by bus. If they are nicely dressed, most of the time they face difficulties. Many women have started to wear different clothes that were not familiar to us before the war. The cultural dress codes have started to change.”

The LLRC discussed the issue of the overt military presence in the north and its implications on the local population. They have highlighted some of the representations made before it such as the need for defence ministry clearance even to have civil functions such as weddings. The views of the Sinhala people who participated in the workshops differ from this. “There are many police and army personnel here. But we don’t have a problem with them. We don’t have any issue with them keeping guns if they are not targeting us”. When we discussed this issue in the first workshops, participants did not believe that there are negative aspects to militarization.

The LLRC has shown the need to take steps towards the development of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Many of the representations made before the commission relate to the nature and substance of development required in those areas. Particular problem areas include fisheries and agriculture. The most significant means of livelihood for the people in the Kanthale area is agriculture. Therefore, most of the inter-community problems have been shaped around the matter of sharing water. Sinhalese have problems with the Muslim community regarding water supplies for their agricultural activities. To resolve these problems with the other communities, the participants emphasized the need to have a policy about the lake and water supply.

Most of the people in Kanthale accept that there are problems for the Tamil people in relation to language. Tamils and Sinhalese both recognized that language is as a cause of their grievances.  A Sinhalese participant said that,

“Before 1956 our names on the birth certificate were in Tamil. For example, if my name is Punchi Banda, it was written on the birth certificate as Punchi Vanda. Mr. Bandaranayake changed it. But now Tamil people have the same problem, everything is in Sinhala. They come and ask us for help. A Tamil person said, “We have many issues in relation to language. There are many public meetings but we don’t know what the officials say. We can’t communicate with the police. If there are fixed prices for everything at the market it is good, because we can’t bargain due to the language issue. Our children lost many opportunities because of the language issue. We think the ‘56 Sinhala Only Act should get the blame for all these problems.”

Workshop discussions showed how majoritarian politics have played a role in not solving problems but creating them.  The LLRC recognizes the importance of language policy and practice in reconciliation processes. The Commission has emphasised the need to implement structural and administrative adjustments in relation to language policy, such as ensuring all government offices, including police stations, have bilingual officers who are accessible at all times. The LLRC also emphasized the symbolic relevance the National Anthem being sung in both languages; Sinhala and Tamil.

With the acceptance that there are problems specific to Tamil communities, many participants have suggested power-sharing at an administrative level, rather than a regional level. There was a senior citizen who said, “They have problems in relation to their day-to-day lives, especially language problems. Therefore, we have to devolve power but keeping the “thone lanuva” (rein) in the central government’s hands. If they try to ask for a separate state then we can stop them using that power”. The stated Tamil specific problems are not considered. Living among different ethnic groups, Tamils and Muslims are familiar with each other’s grievances. Therefore, both communities accept that there are ethno-specific problems that require solutions.  There has been a tendency among the Sinhalese to oversimplify Tamil grievances and reduce them to the language issue. Dialogue to understand and accept other grievances should be considered.

There are also problems between Sinhalese and Muslim communities. A villager said: “We are the oldest people in this village and as Sinhalese we are a minority in Trincomalee District. We have problems with Muslims in Kinniya regarding water supply. Whatever problems arise, the government first tries to solve their problems. What we say is – the government has to provide assistance equitably”.

Mentioning issues in regards to their lands, many of the participants said that to, “integrate two communities by settling Sinhalese in Tamil areas will also be the solution for the problems they face in their everyday lives. Then they won’t ask for separate lands for their people”. The solutions they suggested can be seen as synonymous with government sentiments and policies. Even though the idea of a mixed settlement is seen as a solution for the problems, it has been developed by the Sinhalese, not by the Tamils.

This commission was supposed to achieve truth and reconciliation, however, evidence shows that it hasn’t achieved this among the people. J.C. Weliamuna has argued that unless there is sufficient and intensive demand by the people of this country on the streets, the government will not even consider implementing these recommendations.[iii] In my view, to get popular support on this issue, civil society organisations will have to make further efforts to remedy the grassroots level opinions and misunderstandings of the role and function of the LLRC.


[i]  Jayawardena Kishali, Ed. A Legacy to Remember: Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry -1963-2002. Colombo: Law and Society Trust, 2002.

[ii] Dinamina,”Balaya Yukthiya paga damai”, 23rd March 2012. p1.

[iii] http://groundviews.org/2012/02/06/can-gosl-implement-llrc-recommendations/

 

  • Citizen

    As far as the LLRC is concerned the views of ordinary people was irrelevant. LLRC was simply meant to postpone or weaken the demands of the International Community for justice and reconcilliation. The mandate given to the commisioners was limited and it was more of a forum to publicise and justify the so called humanitarian operation.

    After the release of the report, it was a bit of a shock to the Govt as the Commisioners had managed to include some findings and reccomendations which they felt was necessary for the true spirit of reconcilliation. These were clearly beyond the wishes and expectations of the Govt. Since then the Govt has backtracked and LLRC is being held in abeyance. The President has appointed yet another commission to see how to implement LLRC.

    This article intends to further discredit the LLRC and bring in yet another irelevant factor – ‘What the ordinary people think of LLRC’. In implementing justice there is no need to bother about what anyone thinks. No doubt it is the intention of the Govt to get the people and the PSC to reject or water down the LLRC by deleting the offending reccomendations.

    In other words it is ‘Balalun Lawwa Koss ata Ba nawa’- To use the cats paw to remove the hot jack seeds from the frying pan. Then the Govt will say “this is DEMOCRACY, we do as the people and democratically appointed Parliment says. Govt is not responsible, it is the people.”

    • rita

      Dear citizen, pl note:
      ”The workshops focused on raising awareness about the LLRC and its recommendations” and ”unless there is sufficient and intensive demand by the people of this country on the streets, the government will not even consider implementing these recommendations”

      I think these organisations are trying to do an urgently needed job.

  • Citizen

    What I think is the President should have the courage to implement LLRC. He has the popular support to do so. There is no doubt that the majority in parliment will endorse this plan of action. He will also receive the support of the International Community.

    Instead the extremist are being placated and the ball is thrown to the parliment and people to decide. People will say various things but leaders are there to lead. They must decide what is best for all communities. LLRC reccomendations are the minimum requirement to ensure reconcilliation amongst the communities. Asking second and third opinions is not the way to go.

    Having opinion polls to decide what people want will always be one sided as the Majority does not feel there is any problem. It is the people in the war torn areas who are suffering. It is better to ask the displaced people in the North and North East what they want and do something for them.

    Perhaps this articles needs to detail exhaustively and analyse the opinions of various segments if this is a representative sample of the people in Trinco as well as other areas. It is not clear what the result is and what was achieved.

    • Dev

      If there is a will within the govt esp the president he could/would have implemented the LLRC report.

      The unique feature of the LLRC was it was actually released, many are the commissions that have been appointed whose reports are gathering dust not to be seen by the public ! The LLRC was released not because the government wanted to but because the international community was watching and waiting !

      If the 18th amendment can be rushed through in double quick time, then why the delay in implementing this?
      The non implementation of the easiest and something that costs zero cents –the return of the national anthem in Tamil has not been done is a sign of things to come !

    • rita

      In the elctions he got overwhelming majority from the people. So he can get on with the full implementation of LLRC if he thinks it is right.

      But we can say from his inaction that he doesn’t wish to implement the recommendations of LLRC – he doesn’t feel that he should be fair to the ethnic minorities.

      • Luxmy

        Rita,
        You’re absolutely right when you say: ”he doesn’t wish to implement the recommendations of LLRC – he doesn’t feel that he should be fair to the ethnic minorities”:

        ‘’The launch of the National Policy Framework for Social Integration that took place at the President’s House in Temple Trees follows the report of the Lessons Learn and Reconciliation Commission which was validated by the UN Human Rights Council in March and the National Human Rights Action Plan to be submitted at its forthcoming meeting in November. …. The national anthem was sung in Sinhala only’’ – Vasudeva And Putting Social Integration Policy Into Action, Jehan Perera (Chairman, NPCSL), 23 July 2012, http://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/vasudeva-and-putting-social-integration-policy-into-action/

        When he stops the national anthem from being sung in Tamil when he launched the National Policy Framework for Social Integration he insults all the Sri Lankans.

    • Citizen

      Geethika

      Thanks for the explanation. It is good to go into the field and explain things to people. Politicians too go to the field before elections and convince people by various means. Public perception can be moulded by using the mass media and other means so it is a rather volatile factor.

      Public perception can also be coloured by culture, race and religous beliefs. It is not neccesary that such perceptions are morally correct. Right and Wrong can mean differently to different people. People can be aroused to perform criminal acts.

      I think such systems may work in developed countries where there is free media, right to information and rule of law. Here there are Government controls, denial of human rights and justice. Rule of law is selective.

      So the task undertaken by you is commendable but may not be effective unless carried out on a wide scale. Perhaps it will have an impact at micro level in a village or community and help bring about better understanding and reconcilliation amongst people. But it may not have a major impact and change govt policy unless done on a large scale including all the stakeholders.

  • Luxmy

    These organisations have taken on an immense task but somebody has to do it anyway to counteract:

    ”President Mahinda Rajapaksa is to lead a campaign organized by the government to muster the support of the people against the Resolution passed at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva” – MR To Lead Campaign To Get People’s Support, 1 April 2012, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/04/01/mr-to-lead-campaign-to-get-peoples-support/

    • Geethika

      Citizen,
      I would like to explain the theoretical background for this article. Everything in the world is meaningful. There is nothing out of discourse. There cannot be only one discourse for one thing. There is a play among these discourses and what we try in politics is to make one discourse meaningful over the others.
      When we talk about “democracy”, there are many discourses as to what “democracy” is. Therefore to make it meaningful we need to know how these discourses work at regional and village levels etc. According to Gramschi every person is an intellectual. What we need is to recognize the discourses and construct them as worth. I believe in Substantive democracy. We can only achieve substantive democracy by creating a discourse. If you are not familiar with this you may not understand the importance of going to the field and considering their understanding of these things. The view that politicians know everything and that they have to do everything for the public is based on the idea of representative democracy. But how we can be assure the representative of the people always represent what public want? Therefore I think public perception is important.

      • Citizen

        Geethika

        Thanks for the explanation. It is good to go into the field and explain things to people. Politicians too go to the field before elections and convince people by various means. Public perception can be moulded by using the mass media and other means so it is a rather volatile factor.

        Public perception can also be coloured by culture, race and religous beliefs. It is not neccesary that such perceptions are morally correct. Right and Wrong can mean differently to different people. People can be aroused to perform criminal acts.

        I think such systems may work in developed countries where there is free media, right to information and rule of law. Here there are Government controls, denial of human rights and justice. Rule of law is selective.

        So the task undertaken by you is commendable but may not be effective unless carried out on a wide scale. Perhaps it will have an impact at micro level in a village or community and help bring about better understanding and reconcilliation amongst people. But it may not have a major impact and change govt policy unless done on a large scale including all the stakeholders.

  • Ward

    Dear International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) and National Collaboration Development Foundation (NCDF),

    Thanks for your service.

    Hope you don’t forget that LLRC website didn’t have the submissions made in Tamil – it had English submissions – with conspicuous transcrpting mistakes – and some Sinhala submissions translated into English.
    Therefore even the ”informed” section of our citizenry who could go up to the website wouldn’t probably know about the contents of the submissions. This website reported that many English and Sinhala media reported the submissions by Sinhalese selectively.

    Therefore there is a lot of work for NGOO.

  • walter

    LIE AND LIE
    REPEATEDLY WITH COMMISSIONS.(L L R C)

    This is a simple masterpiece.
    Push the problem as far as you can, until you believe it has disappeared.
    Then in the eyes of the Pusher, the problem has disappeared.

    THEY ARE ASKING US TO SHOW THE PROBLEMS.
    THEY ARE CLAIMING THAT THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY AND THE TRAITORS ARE THE ONES WHO ARE CREATING IMAGINARY PROBLEMS.

    This has been the technique since 1948.
    The rulers of this Country have continuously bluffed this muted Nation.
    Pacts, Agreements, and Commissions have been initiated, not one with any sincerity of purpose.
    CITIZENS HAVE BEEN LEFT HIGH AND DRY WITH HOPE, ALL WITH EMPTY PROMISES.