Statement on the Report of Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission
International Crisis Group
22 Dec 2011
(…) The International Crisis Group welcomes the public release of the report of Sri Lanka’s “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC), presented to the Sri Lankan parliament on 16 December 2011. The report acknowledges important events and grievances that have contributed to decades of political violence and civil war in Sri Lanka and makes sensible recommendations on governance, land issues and the need for a political solution. But it fails in a crucial task – providing the thorough and independent investigation of alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law that the UN and other partners of Sri Lanka have been asking for. It is now incumbent on the international community, through the UN Human Rights Council, to establish an independent international investigation in 2012. Without such an investigation, accountability for the crimes committed at the end of the civil war is highly unlikely; without accountability, and a full understanding of the nature of the violations which took place on all sides, the seeds of future conflict will grow.
Appointed by President Rajapaksa in May 2010, the LLRC has been the government’s primary means of deflecting pressure for an international investigation into credible allegations of grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by both government forces and fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the final stages of the long civil war. The government has pledged that the commission’s report would fully address the international community’s demands for accountability, as President Rajapaksa promised UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after the government’s declaration of victory over the LTTE in May 2009. (…)
(…) Breaking with years of government claims to the contrary, the LLRC has accepted that “considerable civilian casualties had in fact occurred during the final phase of the conflict” and “that shells had in fact fallen on hospitals causing damage and resulting in casualties”. It also recognised the “possible implication of the Security Forces for the resulting death or injury to civilians” but in only three incidents “brought to the attention of the Commission”. It calls on the government “to ascertain more fully, the circumstances under which such incidents could have occurred, and if such investigations disclose wrongful conduct, to prosecute and punish the wrongdoers”.
Yet the report works to exonerate the government and undermine its own limited calls for further inquiry – mostly by accepting at face value the largely unexamined claims of the senior government and military officials who planned and executed the war, and by rolling back well-established principles of international law. (…)
(…) The LLRC’s conclusions are untenable for several reasons. First, it is obvious throughout the report that it considered only the materials the government chose to place before it. There was no independent assessment of the full scope of information in the government’s possession – including all communications with the UN, ICRC and sources in the conflict zone, as well as other evidence from government and international sources, such as uncensored satellite images and footage from the military’s unmanned drones. (…)
(…) An equally worrying deficiency in the LLRC’s conclusions is the fundamental misstatement or misapplication of principles of international law. (…)
(…) The responsibility now falls on the international community to take up the task of ensuring post-war accountability, beginning with a formal discussion of the LLRC report and the UN Secretary-General’s panel report at the March 2012 session of the UN Human Rights Council, leading to an independent international mechanism to investigate all credible allegations and to monitor domestic efforts at accountability.
The Human Rights Council should also take note of the LLRC’s recommendations that the government investigate and hold to account those responsible for abductions, disappearances and attacks on journalists – including those committed by armed pro-government Tamil parties. (…)
See full statement.