International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

“Lessons Learnt” Commissions in Sri Lanka

ImageSri Lanka is the new subject of an international justice inquiry due to the increased and discovery of mass crimes against humanity. Both the Tamil rebels and the Sri Lankan government and army have come under fire for supposed crimes committed. The Economist published a piece on the increased scrutiny the Sri Lankan political regime has been placed under. According to the Red Cross, as many as 16,000 people are missing since 1990 and despite continued pressure, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has not been wiling to look into the disappearances.

Even the United Nations has indicated their distrust of the Sri Lankan government and has called for investigations to be conducted, spearheaded by Navi Pillay, the UN Commissioner on Human Rights:

“On February 24th she released her draft report to the council, calling for an independent international inquiry, following an effort by experts sent in 2011 by the UN secretary-general. She says she is concerned at the government’s refusal to allow “a credible national process with tangible results”.”

Most actions taken by the government have been met with skepticism and the people are unwilling to trust Rajapaksa’s ‘commissions’. Interestingly, the government has already conducted a ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ and has suggested that a truth- and -reconciliation commission (similar to South Africa) be initiated as well. The goal of the LLRC was to obtain justice and provide information about the human rights violations that took place during the civil war. In the final report released after the LLRC, it was concluded that the Sri Lankan army did not commit mass atrocities during the civil war. Amnesty International released an article saying the LLRC did not meet its goals and was a bias war panel. Additionally, Amnesty said the LLRC did not go far enough in discussing human rights violations:

“But where it appears to really falter is in ignoring the serious evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of the laws of war by government forces, even though the report highlights the serious and systematic violations committed by the LTTE,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director.”

This brings up an interesting new element to the concept of truth and reconciliation commissions. Is it preferable for governments to conduct such reports that discuss the overall issue and ‘lessons learned’. The Amnesty analysis did say that the LLRC report did provide interesting ideas for improvements on human rights issues in Sri Lanka that the government should take seriously. It is worth considering whether Lessons Learnt commission can work in tandem with a Truth and Reconciliation commission. Further, it is unclear whether can governments and regimes be trusted to release truthful reports that contains valid statistics and prosecute criminal parties that may be associated with the states.

Thus, it is interesting that the Sri Lankan government chose to conduct this commission but it seems that it was done more as a stalling tactic and also was not done to a high degree of accuracy; making both the international community and the Sri Lankan people lose faith in the government. It is likely that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would get a similar reception unless Rajapaksa’s administration is able to change the perception of the government around this issue drastically, which would also take away scrutiny of the international community and the UN.


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