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Is the LLRC just a white-wash commission?

[Press Release, Sunday, 3 October 2010 09:25 No Comment]

By Satheesan Kumaaran

One could ask him or herself how it is possible to seek justice from the butcher for killing animals. The butcher would have his own story. The animals, which are already dead, leave only the witnesses to seek justice from the investigation commission appointed by the butcher. How it is possible to get justice from this commission? This concept applies to the seven-member commission set up by Rajapaksa and the Tamils who are the victims of the genocidal war.

The Sri Lankan President, who himself ordered the military to wipe out the Tamils last year in the guise of fighting terrorism, appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), headed by former Attorney General C. R.de Silva, to hear the complaints of the witnesses of the war which came to an end last year. The LLRC is looking into reasons behind the breakdown of the 2002-2008 ceasefire and the final years of the Eelam War IV. Another mandate of the LLRC is to recommend to the government measures that would prevent the outbreak of a similar civil conflict.

It is widely spoken among Tamils that this commission is just a white-wash and it was set up in May this year by the President on the request of India’s intelligence wing, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in an attempt to ease the pressure from southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu and its 70 million people.

Also, speculations are spreading among political circles that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to rush to set up the commission in order to compromise the United Nations and its General Secretary Ban ki-Moon. The Sri Lankan government unleashed malicious attacks as part of an insidious propaganda war against the UN panel appointed by Ban Ki-moon. The panel was assigned to look into the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka during the last stages of war with the LTTE. Sri Lanka claimed the UN panel is “an evil interference in the domestic affairs of Sri Lanka” and the brainchild of Ban Ki-Moon.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry has also expressed strong opposition stating “Sri Lanka regards the appointment of the Sri Lanka – Panel of Experts as an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation. This interference, moreover, has potential for exploitation by vested interests hostile to the process of reconciliation taking place in Sri Lanka…Sri Lanka is a sovereign state with a robustly independent judiciary and a tried and tested system for the administration of justice. The Government of Sri Lanka has consistently promoted and protected human rights. Indeed, this has been explicitly acknowledged by legitimate organs of the United Nations system. The Human Rights Council of the United Nations has formally adopted, after the cessation of the conflict situation, a resolution commending, inter alia, the commitment of Sri Lanka to the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Sri Lankan government Spokesman and Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has accused the UN of having a “hidden agenda.” He released a statement which said: “The United Nations appointing of a Panel of Experts to advise the Secretary General on accountability of activities that took place towards the last end of war in Sri Lanka is uncalled for and unnecessary.”

In this context, the LLRC was formed by Rajapaksa and started its work last week. Rajapaksa simply wants to erase the UN investigation over the alleged war crimes. Rajapaksa very well knows that if the UN appointed a special commission to investigate, thousands of witnesses will give their testimonies, which would definitely discredit the Sri Lankan government. As a result, Rajapaksa and Co. would have to face international war crime charges. So, Rajapaksa, with the support of RAW, appointed LLRC just to hoodwink the UN and others.

Brave Tamil men and women speak out

Hundreds of people lined up to give their testimonies in front of LLRC, but most of them are not allowed to testify. Fifteen of nearly four hundred persons were allowed to bear witness before LLRC in Mullaiththeevu Government Secretariat last Monday, Sep. 20th. It is reported that the officials were handing out forms asking the people in hundreds to fill them out and hand them in as the commission officials do not have time to speak to everyone. So, they handpicked only 15 of them, most were women. These people came optimistically hoping that they could get details of the whereabouts of their husbands, children and relatives who had disappeared without a trace after surrendering themselves to the Sri Lankan army in the final days of the war in Vanni last year. The disappointed people expressed their concern saying that the Commission is nothing but a hoax staged by Rajapaksa to deceive them and the world.

Since September 18, 2010, the LLRC is recording the statements of war affected people in Vanni district. The first assemblage was at Kilinochchi town and later in Kandaavvalai in Kilinochchi district, and then on Monday at Mullaiththeevu Government Secretariat. Before leaving to Vavuniya on Monday, the LLRC officials had witnessed the areas where the Sri Lankan armed forces killed tens of thousands of people, while they were in bunkers, temporary tents and lines for food, using the banned cluster and phosphorous bombs. The officials, when commenting on the sites, reported that they could feel how badly the people were affected. They also visited Mullaiththeevu hospital and other places which are mostly seen as ghost sites.

Despite claiming that the LLRC is being held in public, the government blocked BBC coverage of the hearings. It is worth mentioning that Sri Lankan government officials regularly accuse journalists, both foreign and domestic, of bias against the government.

Agricultural officer Nadarajah Sundaramoorthy told the Commission that more than 40 to 45 pregnant mothers and babies died when they were hit by shells and aerial strikes as they waited in a queue to collect nutritional food. He said the incident occurred in Puthumathalan, where the LTTE and civilians were cornered in the final days of the conflict. He said his daughter was injured when a bullet pierced her throat.

Sundaramoorthy said that the Sri Lankan army used cluster and phosphorous bombs. As a result of using these banned bombs, civilians suffered heavy causalities. Daily, 400 to 600 persons were dying. Another 1,000 people were injured on a daily basis. He blamed the government saying that the government declared a buffer zone, and asked the civilians to stay in the buffer zone. However, after the announcement and after civilians sought shelter in this narrow strip of land, the government launched massive aerial and shelling attacks on them resulting heavy casualties to the civilians. If the civilians were not asked to stay in the declared safety zone area, not as many civilian casualties would have occurred.

He further told the Commission that after a long time he and his family managed to return to their house. However, he said all of their possessions were stolen. When they reached the home, he saw some valuables remained, but the very next day they disappeared. Even the roof sheets were seen in the army camp roofs in the region. This is the reality in Vanni, he told the Commission.

Another woman testified about her son who surrendered through a Catholic priest to the army during the final stages of the conflict. She said she does not know his whereabouts. V Kandasamy, another villager blinded during the war, said people should never have this happen to them again. Some of the civilians, mostly women, showed up with photographs of missing persons and requested that the commission help them in their search.

The men and women who got the opportunity to give their testimonies told exactly what happened despite knowing that they are living in the control of the enemy. Even after sixteen months, all of the missing persons are feared to have been summarily executed by the army. The government has barefacedly committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, during and after the war, with impunity. Even after the war, nearly 100 Tamils have disappeared in the Eastern Province. Hundreds of Tamils continue to be arrested and imprisoned in jails in the south under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations. This is the reality on ground in Sri Lanka against Tamils.

Testimony from the wife of LTTE’s former Trincomalee political head

Ananthi Sasitharan (40), the wife of former LTTE Political Head of Trincomalee Elilan, when she was giving her testimony to the LLRC, said that her husband, Mr. Elilan, and other senior LTTE officials Yogaratnam Yogi and Lawrance Thilakar, both of whom took part in negotiations earlier, and LTTE Political Wing Deputy Chief Thangkan, former Jaffna Political Head Ilamparithi, Head of Administrative Unit Poovannan, Piriyan, Theepan, Sports Wing Chief Raja and his 3 children, Kuddi and Holster Babu were among those surrendered in front of her eyes to the Sri Lankan forces under the coordination of a Catholic Priest at Vadduvaakal in Mullaiththeevu on 18 May, 2009. In addition, the list of names of missing are Poet Rathnathurai, V.Balakumar, LTTE strategist, Karikalan, Head of the Political department, Batticaloa and Ilankumaran (Baby Subramaniam) Head of the Educational Department.

Mrs. Ananthi Sasitharan further said President Rajapaksa should know the whereabouts of her husband and fellow LTTE officials who surrendered. If they have not been murdered, then the government must produce them or disclose their whereabouts. It should be mentioned the ICRC, media, INGOs, Members of Parliament, and UN Agencies have been denied access to internment camps holding LTTE cadres.

Mrs. Ananthi Sasitharan, in a letter addressed to Ms. Sooka Yasmin (Executive Director) of Foundation for Human Rights, on September 15, 2010, wrote: “My husband Sinnathurai Sasitharan on 18.05.2009 at Vanni Mullaiththeevu District in Vadduvagal Division on the Head of Church Father Francis Xavior with many hundred Tigers surrendered to Mullaiththeevu Sri Lankan Army.

“I had complained by a letter to the Vavuniya, Colombo International Red Cross Society and in person. I had complained to Vavuniya Human Rights Commission up to date, regarding my husband I did not receive any information. Several months lapsed, but I did not come to where is my husband. But in Veerakesary Tamil News paper an message was appearing that with him 4 persons the terrorism Investigations Unit are kept in Colombo and in addition in the Internet messages came regarding him I understand that the Church Father Francis Xavior who took them to surrender also disappearing.

“I have three female children namely Ms. Nalvizhi, Ezhilvizhi and Ms. Kalki. I do not have my parents. Without my husband, I am living with my children under many difficulties. I had opportunities to see many persons at the Vanni war, who lost their homes and their belongings of many lacks and on the Earth I saw thousand dead bodies, body parts limbs lost bodies, human decomposed bodies. Now, I am living with mental stress with my children, thinking what would be the future. We are living hiding ourselves with the fear that the Sri Lankan Army may arrest all of us at any time. Therefore, please consider our pathetic position and help us to receive my husband with life.”

Mrs. Sasitharan is asking the media persons to bring to light her plea to the attention of world leaders and media outlets to excert pressure upon the Sri Lankan government to release her husband. Despite the pleas from people like Mrs. Ananthi, international media and world diplomats have taken little attention to their pleas.

Whether the Tamils need to put their trust on the seven-member Commission or not, the so-called Commission will not bring any justice to the affected people. This is a hoax Commission of Sri Lanka, created merely to keep the global powers at bay. However, Tamils who are living throughout the world have the opportunity to record what the civilians have been giving in their testimonies as the Commission hears the complaints in public, although armed forces are restricting media outlets, including the BBC, to cover the hearings, the statements reaching the public.

It is in the hands of the Diaspora Tamils to collect all these statements and put pressure upon the UN to speed up the work of UN Expert Panel, and then through all these evidences, the UN should set up international inquiry commission to investigate the war crimes instigated by Sri Lankan State under the guise of fighting terrorism. It is vital for the human rights activists and Tamils to take every opportunity they get in order to help out the affected people to get freedom and justice.

(The author can be reached at e-mail: satheesan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)

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