US Support for LLRC Helps Sri Lanka Avoid Accountability for Crimes Against Humanity

By Tamils Against Genocide , Monday, September 12 2011
Tamils Against Genocide urges the U.S government and others to move without further delay toward an independent, international inquiry into allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Sri Lanka.

In 2009 tens of thousands of Tamils were systematically killed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict leading to allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide. The UN Panel of Experts has called the events a ‘grave assault on the entire regime of International Law’.

The United States and others must desist from lending credibility to Sri Lanka’s sham domestic investigation the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee (LLRC) appointed in May 2010 by the Sri Lankan President. For the LLRC is merely a duplicitous effort to deflect international scrutiny.

Ahead of Assistant Secretary Blake’s current visit to Sri Lanka, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of the LLRC’s report: "Our first goal is to ensure that it is a good, strong, credible report that can take Sri Lanka forward."

But Amnesty International last week has characterized Sri Lanka’s domestic investigation as inherently “flawed at every level: in mandate, composition and practice.”

Amnesty’s comprehensive criticisms in its latest report entitled ‘When will they get justice?’ reinforce earlier studies by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Crisis Group (ICG). In 2010, all three organisations cited in detail the LLRC’s flaws when they boycotted it.

The LLRC has been marketed as a progressive step towards reconciliation following the example of South Africa. But it is wholly inadequate to promote justice and reconciliation in ethnically polarized Sri Lanka and this is not its true purpose. The LLRC has been used solely to deflect international pressure for an independent international investigation.

The LLRC holds no mandate of any sort to act as a mechanism of accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Even though the U.S government admits accountability is a critical factor in national reconciliation.

Instead the LLRC is authorised to gather views, experiences and opinions about the ‘circumstances of the failure of the ceasefire’ and ‘attendant consequences’, to identify the ‘roots of the ethnic crisis’ and present non-binding recommendations to the President of Sri Lanka on ethnic reconciliation. This is no substitute for justice for the victims. 

The LLRCs lack of mandate is exacerbated by its lack of independence. Commission members are solely appointed, dissolved by and catering and liable to the President of Sri Lanka – the man allegedly responsible through chain of command as the Commander-in-Chief of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces for the alleged crimes against humanity. Justice is fatally undermined by such a fundamental conflict of interest.

Recently Assistant Secretary Blake while acknowledging ‘brutal, awful crimes’ also characterized the LLRC as ‘having some good people’ and therefore being an adequate mechanism for initiating prosecution.

But the notion that the LLRC’s suitability arises from its having ‘some good people’ is contrary to domestic US and international judicial norms, and falls short of the criteria of the Office for War Crimes in its August 2010 report to Congress on ‘Measures taken by Sri Lanka and International bodies to Investigate Incidents During the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka and the Effectiveness of Such Measures’ . ( ).

The panel includes former officials who defended their government publicly against the same allegations they would need to investigate. Amnesty also reports widespread actual bias during the proceedings leading it to conclude that “Commissioners’ comments before and during hearings belie claims that the LLRC is a neutral and independent body”.

According to Amnesty the commission exhibited ‘a disturbing lack of compassion’ amid ‘failure to treat victims and their families with dignity and respect”. The panel Chairman instructed witnesses to ‘forget the past’.

The LLRC has no witness protection procedures. This in a context where Amnesty says “Sri Lankans, particularly in the north and east of the country, remain subject to serious threats including enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings…Threats, intimidation and even the murder of witnesses in both criminal and human rights cases are ongoing problems.”  

Sri Lanka has set a landmark precedent for war crimes in our century. The path to investigation will thus decisivley influence confidence in international norms of justice. 

We urge US State Department officials engaged with Sri Lanka to publicly adhere to the US State Department’s own August 2010 criteria for an internationally acceptable war crimes investigation.

These include the structural independence of the executive and judiciary, the absence of bias and provisions for witness protection. Sri Lanka’s LLRC falls to meet these standards. It has been comprehensively criticized by INGOs including Amnesty, the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch.

As Amnesty International highlights in “Sri Lanka: Twenty years of make-believe. Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry” the country has a disturbing record of deceptive national commissions. None of its commissions have resulted in prosecutions of perpetrators of atrocities. They serve instead as delaying tactics to wait out international pressure. 

The LLRC is the same. The U.S government must desist from encouraging Sri Lanka's duplicity and move forward with a real investigation. This is why we are calling for an immediate independent International mechanism. Anything less adds to the trauma of victims and their families.