While the passage of the US-tabled LLRC-based resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions has renewed expectation in some quarters of the Tamil diaspora that the resolution will be the first step towards exposing the culpability of Colombo in committing war-crimes, Tamil circles expressed the need to exercise caution, pointing out that the history of failed Commissions in Sri Lanka during the last 30 years, and the futility of UN-approved domestic transitional justice mechanisms where alleged perpetrators will be allowed to direct and control internal criminal investigations, will result in the resolution turning into an albatross around Tamils neck, providing political space to Rajapakses to whitewash war crimes and the on-going structural genocide.
Despite the horrendous historical record of failure of several Sri Lanka appointed Commissions of Inquiries, the International community’s recommendations continue to rely on internal Colombo controlled investigation mechanisms to identify perpetrators of the alleged genocide on Tamils. While the accepted doctrine of complementarity may necessitate exhaustion of internal mechanism before external intervention, the willingness of the International Community to continue to provide additional time while Colombo has squandered more than 3 year without any credible action, has increasingly alienated many diaspora Tamils from the power players of the West, Eezham Tamil observers in Washington said.
The West’s evolving muted and suspect solution space to seek accountability and justice for Tamils, coupled with the Wikileaks-exposed behind the scenes maneuvering of the coalition countries to advance Blake’s policy of blunting Tamils struggle, highlight the need of the Tamil diaspora to avoid over-dependence on any single international mechanism, but to unitedly marshal the resources and talent and work independently using the legal, and other local and international mechanisms for maximum sustained effectiveness, diaspora activists say.
The report labeled Post-war Justice in Sri Lanka, released by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and Amnesty’s “Twenty Years of Make-Believe:…,” provide a clear record of the fate that befell more than 10 commissions appointed by Colombo during the past thirty years. Pertinent excerpts from these reports are listed below.
Sansoni Commission: (August 1977)
Supreme Court Judge, Justice M.C. Sansoni, to examine the causes and events surrounding ethnic violence in August 1977. But instead of improving the situation, the government enacted new legislation to shield errant government forces from prosecution. The CoI’s proceedings were reportedly hampered by political interference. The report put most of the blame for violence on the Tamil political leadership, and discounted significant witness testimony that implicated the state (although it reported the allegations). Amnesty 2009.
Inquiry into attack on MSF Vehicle (Palampiddi-Iranai Road Inquiry) May 1991
To inquire into the shooting and attack by aircraft which caused injury and damage to personnel and property of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on 3 May, 1991 and to ascertain whether the firing upon of the MSF vehicle by a government helicopter was intentional or accidental. ICJ 2010
Comment: In the evaluation of contested testimony, this Commission report appears uncritically to favour government over MSF testimony.
Kokkadicholai Commission of Inquiry: June 1991
To report on whether there was any connection between the two incidents of the explosion of a device on 12 June 1991 resulting in the deaths of two soldiers and the injury to another and the killing of sixty-seven civilian inhabitants of nearby villages in Batticaloa. It was also required, inter alia, to report on whether the civilian deaths resulted from actions of the armed forces and, if so, the reasons for such killings.
Commission Report: The killings were not found to be the result of military action but rather, offences committed by soldiers who ran amok. The Commission opined that the offences were punishable in terms of the Penal Code but that, due to the finding that there was no evidence against any particular soldier or soldiers as such, it was determined that “the offenders cannot be brought before a criminal court of law.” ICJ 2010.
Commission of Inquiries: (September 2006)
Sri Lanka’s President created “The Commission of Inquiry Appointed to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Violations of Human Rights which are alleged to have arisen in Sri Lanka since 1 August 2005, and also invited an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) to act as observers of the activities of a local Commission, which would investigate these violations.
CoI partially completed investigations and submitted a report to the President. The report has not been made public. IIEGP quit its mission saying the CoI’s work “lacks transparency,” and the process “falls short of international norms and standards.”
It is time for the international community to stop believing the charade that has been played for nearly 20 years. Sri Lanka is neither willing nor able to address impunity on its own. The international community should use its significant influence to encourage the Sri Lankan authorities to investigate past violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, prosecute suspected perpetrators in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness, ensure reparations for victims and prevent future violations. Amnesty 2009.
Other listed Sri Lanka Commissions in the ICJ report are:
- The 1991-93 Presidential Commissions (1991-1993): The Commission was to inquire into allegations “that persons are being involuntarily removed from their places of residence by persons unknown.”
- The 1994 Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances
- The 1998 All Island Disappearances Commission
- The Batalanda Commission, Dec 1995
- The Presidential Truth Commission on Ethnic Violence (1981-84)
- The Bindunuwewa Commission March 2001: To inquire into questions of responsibility, rehabilitation, administration, and prevention in respect to the 28 Tamil youth between the ages of 14-23 years who were killed while some 14 other Tamil youth were seriously injured at the Bindunuwewa Rehabilitation Centre during the month of October 2000.
Spokesperson for Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), a US-based activist group that helps Tamil victims of war seek legal redress, said “Despite the presence of soft language related to violation of international law in the UNHCR resolution that purports to put Sri Lanka on notice, only continued exposure by the diaspora Tamils of the gruesome details of the crime of the 21-st Century, the slaughter of 40,000+ Tamils in Sri Lanka’s killing fields, in the legal system and corridors of power in the West, will force the International Community to take punitive action on the perpetrators of war crimes in Sri Lanka.”