The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the pursuit of reconciliation in Sri Lanka, following the conclusion of a 27-year-old war in May 2009. The Sri Lankan Government, in response to the 285 recommendations made by the LLRC, sought to implement the recommendations made through a National Plan of Action (NAP) and appointed a Task Force Headed by Presidential Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga to provide it with leadership.
This report looks at specific recommendations made by the LLRC in order to achieve reconciliation in the country by calling for institutional reform, introduction of new institutions for the delivery of expeditious justice and redressal to communities which suffered due to the war and the requirement to strengthen the processes which are currently in place.
Specific recommendations have been made to strengthen the county’s human rights regime and the maintenance of law and order, in a bid to assist Sri Lanka return to normalcy, specially the communities that suffered due to the protected war. In this regard, the LLRC had called for, through specific action, the strengthening of key public institutions and the introduction of new instructions to address the current issued faced by the country.
Among the key recoemmdnations for the strengthening of democratic institutions included the call for the establishment of an Independent Permanent Police Commission Independent Public Service Commission, appointment of a Special Commissioner of Investigation to investigate the alleged disappearances and an Independent Advisory Committee to monitor and examine the detention and arrest of persons, disarmament of armed gangs through specific police action, enhancement of the capacity of the Police Department for improved maintenance of law and order and the establishment of a National Lands Commission, among others.
Sri Lanka’s response to the call by the international community had been less than satisfactory. The Sri Lankan Government’s onslaught on the Judiciary together with the crushing of political dissent had proved a potent combination that had undermined democracy while accelerating the path towards an authoritarian rule, threatening long-term stability and peace. The most significant blow to the country’s democratic institutions was witnessed with the politically-motivated impeachment of the Chief Justice, reflecting both intolerance of dissent and the weakness of the political opposition, an outrageous act that undermined a vital organ of government.
The Executive and the Legislature have thus, together, incapacitated the last institutional check on the Executive, at a time when the State has made strong commitments to strengthen public institutions in a bid to help the country to return to normalcy.
Given Sri Lanka’s failure to practically implement the recommendations by the LLRC, it is incumbent upon the international community to demand time-bound actions to restore the rule of law, investigate rights abuses and alleged war crimes by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and to make genuine effort to devolve power to Tamil and Muslim areas of the North and East.
The island’s governance crisis became manifest with the impeaching of an independent Chief Justice whose ouster is traced by independent observers to two judgments delivered by her on crucial bills, one of which presented by the president’s brother, Basil Rajapaksa which was designed to subvert the process of shared power through the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution by creating a parallel mechanism.
So far, the government has failed to conduct credible and impartial investigations into allegations of war crimes, disappearances or other serious human rights violations or to take genuine corrective measures as recommended by the LLRC. In addition, an Independent Commissioner to investigate rights abuses and to expedite the process has become a matter for examination by the National Plan of Action (NPA) while the government has in effect, removed the last remnants of judicial independence by unceremoniously impeaching the Chief Justice. At present, the military enjoys the same degree of control it enjoyed over terrain and matters during the time of war with many civilian tasks still being carried out or supervised by the military. Over 90,000 people remain displaced in the former war zones due to military occupation with no possibility of land restitution in the near future.
The government’s actions in the past months have only contributed to the consolidation of its own political power, further diminishing the hope of achieving reconciliation and peace in the near future.