(May 07, After winning a second term as President and consolidating power through a general election, Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa has decided to appoint a committee to probe any right abuses committed during the decade-long war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and to compensate the victims and their families who suffered during the conflict that killed nearly 100,000 people.
The President will shortly appoint a commission to report on the 'Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation' with regard to the difficulties and troubled times that Sri Lanka had to undergo due to the terrorist inspired, maneuvered and created conflict situation in recent years, the government media unit announced today.
The commission outwardly appears as a Truth Commission that can lead to a genuine post-war reconciliation if it proceeds in a genuine path. But it is not an international commission of eminent persons. Still there is no guarantee about the ethnic balance of the commission. The guarantee of the safety of the witnesses is something unachievable in the present context of Sri Lanka. Yet, the Sri Lankan government needs to ensure accountability for serious violations, an absolutely vital precondition for genuine reconciliation and lasting peace. Let us wish the proceeding of the commission may find solutions for these basic issues. But, does Sri Lanka have capacities for a commission of this nature? Why does it not go international?
In the present context, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is so powerful that the international community will not consider penalizing him. Instead, they can help to build up a productive mechanism for a true reconciliation process. The President needs to understand that reconciliation cannot be imposed. It should generate on its own. He can facilitate it efficiently to achieve positive outcome.
Last May, President Rajapaksa promised UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to investigate allegations of laws-of-war violations.
Western governments and right groups have accused Sri Lanka military of war crimes during the final phase of its bloody offensive with the LTTE in which the military crushed the rebel outfit and all of its senior leaders last May.
This commission seems a result of US pressure. In October, the US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp called on the Sri Lankan government to "develop an accountability process that respects the interests of all."
In November, the publication of the State Department report compelled Rajapaksa to appoint a six-member committee of "experts" to "examine [its allegations] carefully." The committee's only mandate was to provide recommendations to the president in December (later postponed to April), and its members appeared not to be independent-minded.
Now that committee has gone and a new committee appears before the world that has all reasonable doubts on such moves of Sri Lankan rulers. Once the President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) to probe a number of serious violations of human rights. But the IIGEP ended with no productive result and the conclusion of some members of the group that the government lacked the political will to hold accountable the perpetrators of these egregious crimes.
However, we think that it is not fair to be totally pessimistic regarding the fresh move of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa since it is a move for his benefit in the present context than one that can cause damage to him as it could happen before April 08 general elections.
The President is using the present political stability and outward return of normalcy in the country as an opportunity to mend ties with the Western governments that were traditional allies of Sri Lanka and also to emerge in international politics as a recognized leader that defeated terrorism.
The Commission in assessing the 'Lessons Learnt' from the recent conflict phase will search for any violations of internationally accepted norms of conduct in such conflict situations, and the circumstances that may have led to such actions, and identify any persons or groups responsible for such acts, the government announced.
The government says the findings will help to ensure that there will be no recurrence of such tragic conflict in the future. The words alludes a general amnesty although it is not directly connoted.
The Commission comprises seven eminent Sri Lankans that live in the country and abroad. They will evaluate the nature of compensation to be granted to the victims of the conflict or their dependents.
It will also make recommendations for the reconciliation process among the communities, reconstruction, and rehabilitation and recommend the legislative and administrative measures that may be necessary in order to prevent such situations in the future.
The Terms of Reference for the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation are to be Gazetted in the next few days.