by Jatila Karawita
TNA National List MP M.A. Sumanthiran says that the LLRC Report has ‘dramatically failed to address the accountability issues pertaining to the final phase of the North-East ethnic conflict between the government security forces and the LTTE.’
In an interview with Jatila Karawita, MP Sumanthiran, while dismissing all allegations that they were negative or pessimistic on this issue, charged that while the government had held out to the world that the LLRC would be the domestic mechanism to address issues pertaining to accountability, it (LLRC) had failed to shed light on accountability totally.
The TNA National List MP said that while his party would issue a detailed response to the LLRC Report in time to come, only an independent inquiry which is not biased towards either the government or the LTTE would reveal the truth concerning alleged war crimes being committed during the final phase of the war.
QUESTION: The TNA has publicly decried the issuance of the final LLRC Report stating that it is contradictory. The TNA continues to insist that it (LLRC report) is biased. Isn’t the TNA being partisan on this topic, that concerns the Tamil people in the North-East?
ANSWER: The TNA is not pessimistic or negative. If that was the case, we will not be sitting down and talking to the government for one whole year when there was no response at all from the government for eleven months. Only now the government delegation has indicated that they have some ‘problems’ with three matters. We have acted in good faith and with immense tolerance, because we are absolutely sincere in wanting to find a solution. I must also add that there is no question of being partisan in this matter. Our concerns are entirely for the people of the North-East, and we will continue to look after their best interests.
Q: Could you also explain or elaborate at length on the public stsatement that the LLRC Report is contradictory and biased. On what grounds are you basing these charges?
A: I said it was contradictory. We are in the process of preparing a fuller response in which the numerous contradictions will be listed. But for now, I can say that it is a contradiction – to say on the one hand that they did not investigate fully into specific allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity and on the other, to exonerate the government from any wrong doing and conclude that a only few soldiers may have indulged in some of these acts. That is certainly a biased conclusion which runs counter to the evidence of several hundreds of people who came before the LLRC.
Q: The government has reacted strongly to one of the TNA’s suggestions that there should be either an international investigation, or intervention, on issues raised in the LLRC Report. The government, particularly the Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris has said that Sri Lanka is capable of sorting out her own issues sans any intervention or interference from outside forces or countries. What are your comments?
A: The Sri Lankan government has not shown the necessary political will to sort out these issues in a just and fair way. The LLRC Report itself comments adversely on the track record of the Sri Lankan government ino implementing the recommendations of previous commissions! What happened to the Udalagama Commission?
Why did the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) withdraw from their functions?
In any case, what happened to the Report of that Commission said to contain recommendations regarding the killing of the five students in Trincomalee and the 17 aid workers in Muttur?
Can you blame the parents of these persons for filing cases on foreign soil in respect of these matters, after waiting for years for justice and finding that justice is not going to be meted out through any domestics process in Sri Lanka?
Q: The government has said it would appoint a commission shortly or in time to come, to look into intentional or wanton disappearances of persons during the final stages of the North-East conflict, when the war raged against the LTTE at its severest. Given such an undertaking or assurance, isn’t the TNA yet convinced of the government’s genuine initiatives to address issues of a similar nature? What more measures could the government take in this regard?
A: The Government of Sri Lanka issued a joint statement with the United Nations Secretary General on May 26, 2009 in which it undertook to set up a mechanism to look into accountability issues. A year later, it appointed the LLRC, not to look into any accountability issue but to find out why the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002 failed! Yet, Professor Peiris went around the world saying that the LLRC had the necessary mandate to look into issues of accountability. When the UNSG appointed a panel of experts to advise him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka, he protested wildly and said the LLRC will do that.
Whenever the question of accountability was raised by anyone, the government said to wait for the LLRC Report. They protested at the expert panel’s conclusion that there were credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both sides at the last stages of the war, and publicly declared that the government or its soldiers were not culpable for any such thing, without any inquiry whatsoever. Now the LLRC confesses that it did not carry out a thorough investigation, but concludes nevertheless, that the government is not to be blamed. Can this conduct be referred to as ‘genuine initiatives?’
Q: Isn’t it true that the TNA is opposing any move or all moves undertaken by the government to find a solution to the ethnic issue — merely for the sake of it — or sometimes intentionally, in the way the LTTE did during its rein? Even the president has said that the TNA is adopting the same hard-line tactics and stance adopted by the LTTE. What is the genuine stance of the TNA, and is it to oppose this government at every given turn — at the drop of a hat so to say?
A: The president appointed a government delegation to talk to the TNA in January this year to find a political solution. At the very first meeting with the government delegation we stated for the record that the solution we have in mind is exactly the same as what the president himself articulated in July 2006 when he addressed the inaugural meeting of the APRC and its panel of experts. At the second meeting we gave an outline of the solution we had in mind. The government delegation wanted a more comprehensive set of proposals and we very clearly spelt out our position as early as March this year, at the third meeting.
That position is nothing more than what the successive governments were prepared to settle for since 1987. How then can anyone say that we are adopting hard-line tactics like the LTTE?
It was the government that did not respond for so long after that and we still exercised infinite patience. The president is on record stating that he will fully implement the 13th Amendment, meaningful devolution going beyond the 13th Amendment, 13++, etc. Police and Land powers are devolved even under the 13th Amendment, which also provides for the merger of the North and East Provinces. How then can anyone from the government now say that land and police powers cannot be devolved and that there can be no merger?
Who is changing positions here, is it the government or the TNA?
We are only asking the president and the government to be sincere in this exercise; not to go back on all the undertakings and then blame the TNA for it! We are now accused of not nominating names to the Parliamentary Select Committee. After nine months of talks with us, and after not responding for six months to our position paper given in March this year, suddenly, the president announced that he wants to appoint a PSC. Why then did he appoint a delegation to talk to us in January, and not permit them to respond to us after we placed on the table very reasonable proposals at their invitation?
Even then we did not reject it, but agreed with the president that substantive agreement arrived at between the government delegation and us at the bilateral talks would be taken to the PSC as the SLFP-TNA position. We are still committed to that agreement. And no sooner some substantive agreements are reached at the bilateral talks, we will participate in the deliberations of the PSC. Therefore it is wrong to say that the TNA is opposing all the moves of the government is this regard. We have fully cooperated in every move and are only asking that the president and the government also to please keep to their side of the bargain.
Q: Hasn’t the TNA rejected the LLRC Report simply out of hand when otherwise it has been a comprehensive Report, commisoners having interviewed people from the North-East as well before coming out with suggestions by way of a 400-page report. What prompted the TNA to reject this Report so comprehensively?
A: We have only issued an initial response, in which we have pointed out that the Report has dramatically failed to address the accountability issues. Accountability was the focus of the LLRC Report, although its mandate said nothing about it. The government held out to the world that the LLRC was the domestic mechanism that will deal with accountability issues. In fact, many were reprimanded for not waiting to see what the Report said about accountability. We did not pre-judge the issue, although we always had serious reservations concerning the composition and mandate of the LLRC. But on the most crucial issue, i.e., accountability, the LLRC has in fact failed totally.
That is all we have said for the present. We will deal with the Report comprehensively later.
Q: With the dismissal of the LLRC Report out of hand, it is obvious that the TNA has not even either read it fully or delved into its contents in-depth. What are your comments?
A: We have read it and have made an initial response. We will analyse the contents and make a comprehensive report later. At that point in time, it will be clear to everyone how in-depth we had studied it even before making our initial response.
Q: The TNA and various other anti-government political parties and organizations including Human Rights Watch, both locally and internationally had pre-conceived notions that the government security forces are guilty of committing many atrocities during the crucial final phase of the war. Hence any report issued by the government pertaining to this vexed issue continues to be opposed by the TNA. What are your comments?
A: We will not oppose an independent report on this matter. The LLRC could never have come to the conclusion that the violations were not ‘systematic’ and that the government cannot be held responsible for those, having regard to even the evidence that they had. We will demonstrate that in our detailed report. The government and the LTTE are both accused of violations. Only an inquiry that is independent of both will reveal the truth. If the government is confident that they are not responsible for any violations, then they don’t have to be worried about an independent inquiry into that.
Q: Isn’t the TNA ready to accept the LLRC Report for what it is and doesn’t it carry first person accounts which could be described as authentic under any circumstance?
A: I am sorry, the question is not clear at all. But my previous answers may have addressed whatever was intended by that question.
Q: There are allegations levelled at the TNA that the party is guilty of stalling tactics with regard to current talks held with the government delegation on seeking a settlement to the North-East issue. Could you explain your party’s stance?
A: I think some of the detailed answers above deal with our party’s stance. The TNA is genuinely interested in a just, reasonable and durable political solution within a united country. This solution need not be any more than what successive governments were willing to grant as power-sharing arrangements. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has himself articulated his position in 2006.
There are some people who say that now the circumstances have changed. If by that they mean the absence of the LTTE, that is a dangerous argument. Such a position only tells the Tamil people that if they came with guns, more political power would be devolved! We have clearly articulated a non-maximalist, reasonable arrangement within a united country, and have been waiting for a just and reasonable response since March this year. We are not the ones who stalled the talks. The record will bear that out. courtesy: LakbimaNews