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A cursory commission and star witness

In Colombo, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) records evidence from witnesses at the sprawling, white-washed 'Lighthouse' bungalow, a colonial era mansion used by the British. Sutirtho Patranobis writes.

world Updated: Aug 24, 2010 14:51 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

In Colombo, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) records evidence from witnesses at the sprawling, white-washed 'Lighthouse' bungalow, a colonial era mansion used by the British. When I walked in last week to hear defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa depose before the panel, the air was relaxed, almost informal and security checks cursory.

Welcoming enough, I thought, for someone to saunter in and tell the LLRC without fear or favour why the ceasefire agreement (CFA) with the LTTE failed and the war continued for several bleeding months.

After deposing, Rajapaksa shook the grateful hands of the panelists, mostly former bureaucrats and legal experts, and chatted with them animatedly about the hostage rescue mission to free Tamil civilians. He denied that the government was building permanent military bases on civilian property in the north.

To me, it seemed that the formally attired, and mostly smiling, LLRC was more than half-way to "ascertain, circumstances that led to the failure of the CFA of 2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter till May 19, 2009" and make far-reaching recommendations.

But sadly not everybody was convinced. "The CFA had no logical connection with the war and its causes; the conflict began long before the war did. The LLRC is an effort to counter-maneuver the UN panel (set up to look into rights violations during the end of the war)," said a researcher requesting anonymity.

"Blame the international community and United National Party for the CFA and the LTTE for its breakdown. That's what the LLRC will point out," said another.

I was then prodded to take a look at a 2009 Amnesty International report titled Twenty Years of Make-Believe: Sri Lanka's Commissions of Inquiry.

Which among other criticisms, quoted the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons – appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and headed by Justice PN Bhagwati – as having concluded that a 2006 Presidential Commission of Inquiry to look into 16 key cases of human rights violations was not meeting international standard.

There were "serious conflicts of interest…that compromised the independence of the Commission and, lack of effective victim and witness protection."

Interesting, but that was of course a different commission. And as for protection, I'm sure star witness Rajapaksa's testimony to the LLRC was without a trace of fear.