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The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission
In May 2009, President Rajapaksa promised that the government would investigate allegations of war crimes. The government created a domestic commission of inquiry, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation
Commission (LLRC), in May 2010, partly in response to demands for accountability. Its mandate was to report on events between 21 February 2002 and 19 May 2009 and to identify those responsible for the breakdown of the 2002 ceasefire as well as a method for reparations. The LLRC was also tasked with identifying administrative and legislative measures needed to prevent recurrence of conflict and to promote national unity and reconciliation. According to the UN commission of experts, the LLRC did not meet international standards for an accountability process. Specifically, the UN commission found that the LLRC was compromised by conflicts of interest of various members, a failure to engage in what it termed ‘genuine truth-telling’ about abuses which took place in the final stages of the conflict and failure to engage in proper investigation of abuses by both sides of the conflict.
Human rights advocates have strongly criticized the LLRC because it was not mandated to address and not interested in addressing accountability for serious abuses such as war crimes or crimes against humanity. Its mandate was to focus on the root causes of conflict and methods for promoting reconciliation only. The commission had no mandate to investigate allegations of international humanitarian law, nor to impose accountability. Further, the commission came under severe criticism as being subject to government interference and therefore not independent. Its chair, C.R. de Silva, was the Attorney General under Rajapaksa, and was charged with implementing the Prevention of Terrorism Act and accused of tolerating and covering up police abuses. Many who sought to testify before the commission claimed that the commissioners appeared unsympathetic and uninterested, and witnesses were subject to threats and intimidation.
The significant turnout of individuals wishing to testify amongst the affected populations even at the flawed LLRC indicates a demand for an accounting of abuses and for accountability. Despite the LLRC’s many shortcomings, large numbers of civilians did present testimony across the country, and thousands in former conflict areas in the north and east presented detailed testimony about abuses. According to Amnesty International, the commission was not prepared for the turnout, lacking adequate facilities and Tamil translation. Further, despite some reports of threats to witnesses, the commission’s mandate did not include witness protection.
In its hearings, which were held around the country and concluded in January 2011, the LLRC did not investigate allegations of violations of international humanitarian law; hearings in Colombo largely included government officials and others who focused exclusively on the limited topics of the mandate - the causes of conflict and modes of reconciliation. When the commission was presented with testimony of violations such as disappearances in the north, it did not investigate them further. The recommendations of the commission have offered what one expert at Amnesty International terms ‘problem solving’ proposals, such as technical reforms to trace the disappeared, rather than to investigate abuses or punish perpetrators. An expert at the International Center for Transitional Justice characterized the commission as simply another in a long line of commissions of inquiry in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, ostensibly designed to reach the truth about past abuses, which in operation would do the reverse. The report of the commission was released in mid- December 2011, amid criticism that it had sought to minimize government responsibility, although its report did identify extensive harm to civilians whom it categorized as caught in the crossfire. Independent international observers raised concerns that the report failed to apply international humanitarian law standards and relied upon testimony of government officials and of Tamil doctors detained under terrorism legislation.73
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