The Tamil National Alliance has published their response to Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Report. They are predictably not too happy – they think that 1) the commission was flawed 2) that they almost blindly accepted government narratives 3) that war crimes were ignored and 4) that (vaguely) an international investigation is necessary. I half agree with them.
Sri Lanka had a brutal civil war for 30 years. After a cease-fire ended, war resumed, this time with the government rapidly decimating the LTTE in the East and North. Despite launching a few terrorist attacks, the LTTE main kept retreating – pushing a column of civilians (essentially hostages) in front of them. With a great (and undocumented) loss of human life and limb, they finished off the LTTE and ended the war.
What follows is excerpts from the TNA’s response to the LLRC report. You can read some highlights of the LLRC report here.
The Commission Was Wack
The TNA says that the commission was biased, unbalanced, and didn’t assign enough time or value to the narratives of victims. I went to a bunch of sessions and I think this is largely true.
The LLRC’s processes and practices have failed to win the confidence of the Tamil community. The Commission also falls dramatically short of international standards applicable to accountability processes. [Because:]
- The ethnic and gender imbalance in the membership, the conflicts of interest and patent lack of independence of the members
- The LLRC’s methodology assigned relatively lower importance to victims’ perspectives
- The LLRC did not have an effective witness protection programme
- The LLRC’s interim recommendations, issued more than a year ago, are yet to be meaningfully implemented
On these points I broadly agree. The LLRC was a government supporting body, no doubt, not an impartial commission. That said, I think they actually produced a surprisingly candid report. For the first time the government has officially acknowledged civilian casualties, disappearances, food shortages, etc. While I don’t think the Commission was the best possible one, it is still a pretty remarkable and useful step forward.
For the TNA, however, this is not nearly enough. They think the commission itself was wack.
The Commission Bought The Government Line
According to the TNA, the LLRC uncritically accepted whatever the government told and gave them and didn’t put the victims first. Also true, IMHO.
- The LLRC also fails to correctly apply the law to the facts. It neglects to examine the possibilities of violations of IHL and domestic law that are credibly alleged to have been committed.
- The LLRC concludes that the government security forces did not deliberately target civilians within the NFZs
- The Commission failed to call for crucial evidence in terms of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) footage, videos of aerial attacks and military logs
- Second, the LLRC’s preferred narrative of ‘retaliation to LTTE attacks’ is an unreasonable generalisation that does not apply to numerous accounts by victims of the
- the Commission wrongly concludes that the actions of the security forces complied with the Principle of Proportionality
It’s true. The commission accepted whatever the government said in terms of justification. It was kinda pathetic to watch sometimes, especially when Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa came. The dudes were basically bowing and scraping.
The TNA’s ostensible complaint is that the process was flawed, which is true. Their real issue, however, is that the commission reached didn’t reach the conclusion the TNA has already reached (also without much of a formal process). ie, that the end of the war was a war crime, was not proportional, and should be apologized for and rolled back as much as possible.
As is traditional with oppositions, they’re citing process, but their main concern is really the conclusions. Basically government says war ending was good, TNA says it was bad. I think the process is failed in both directions, but that the end of the war was quite obviously good.
Proportionality Vs. Distinction
The TNA breaks from criticizing process when they suggest that the end of the war was a war crime because civilians were killed. The government’s line is essentially that of Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court (via Wikipedia):
Under international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute, the death of civilians during an armed conflict, no matter how grave and regrettable, does not in itself constitute a war crime. International humanitarian law and the Rome Statute permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives
To most observers I think the end of a 30 year war would be proportional to the civilian casualties (especially since the US et al have taken more casualties not winning wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and actually winning in Libya). To the TNA the casualties are not proportional, but they also don’t approach the question with much rigor. Their main complaint seems to be that the commission had a pre-determined conclusion on the matter which didn’t match the TNA’s pre-determined conclusion.
My comment is that the civilians were not directly targeted, but they were not spared in the assault on the LTTE. At the time I thought the military was unnecessarily aggressive, but they did achieve a significant military objective, ie, ending the entire war. I think that would hold up in terms of the brutal logic of war.
In a very vague and roundabout way, the TNA seems to be calling for international investigation.
The TNA calls on the international community to institute measures that will advance accountability and encourage reconciliation in Sri Lanka in keeping with the recommendations of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts.
On this I just completely disagree. Their response to a biased commission seems to be calling for one biased more in their favor. As the preliminary UN Report shows, the ‘international community’ already has a pre-determined conclusion and their process seemed to consist (perhaps necessarily) of reading TamilNet.
So, read the thing yourself, at least the Executive Summary, which I did. I half agree in that the process was damn flawed, but I disagree with the conclusions the TNA has drawn – that civilians were deliberately targeted and that the whole report is to be largely rejected. The ending of the war was quite brutal, but the end of the war was the highest military objective possible. The report is deeply flawed, but still represents a huge step for the government (admitting civilian death and suffering at all) and should be encouraged and built upon. IMHO. Please read the TNA’s response for yourself.