By Chamitha Kuruppu
The much-awaited final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was presented to Parliament yesterday by Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva, making it public.
Chapter four of the 388 page report titled ‘Observations and recommendations’ emphasises that the security forces had not deliberately targeted the civilians in the no fire zones, although civilian casualties had in fact occurred in the course of crossfire.
“Further, the LTTE targeting and killing of civilians who attempted to flee the conflict into safe areas, the threat posed by land mines and resultant death and injuries to civilians, and the perils inherent in crossing the Nanthi Kadal Lagoon, had all collectively contributed to civilian casualties. It would also be reasonable to conclude that there appears to have been a bona fide expectation that an attack on LTTE gun positions would make a relevant and proportional contribution to the objective of the military attack involved,” it further added.
The report also states: “Having reached the above conclusions, it is also incumbent on the commission to consider the question, while there was no deliberate targeting of civilians by the security forces, whether the action of the security forces of returning fire into the no fire zones was excessive in the context of the principle of proportionality. Given the complexity of the situation that presented itself as described above, the commission after most careful consideration of all aspects, is of the view that the security forces were confronted with an unprecedented situation when no other choice was possible and all ‘feasible precautions’ that were practicable in the circumstances had been taken.”
The report points out that while the commission finds it difficult to determine the precise circumstances under which such incidents occurred, the material nevertheless points towards possible implication of the security forces for the resulting death or injury to civilians, even though this may not have been with intent to cause harm.
“In these circumstances the commission stresses that there is a duty on the part of the State to ascertain more fully the circumstances under which such incidents could have occurred, and if such investigations disclose wrongful conduct, to prosecute and punish the wrong doers. Consideration should also be given to providing appropriate redress to the next of kin of those killed and those injured as a humanitarian gesture, which would help the victims to come to terms with personal tragedy, both in relation to the incidents referred to above and any other incidents which further investigations may reveal.”
Commenting on the allegation that the Sri Lankan Government deliberately shelled hospitals containing civilians, the LLRC report notes: “Thus the commission’s task of reaching a definite conclusion as to who was responsible for the shelling of hospitals and loss of lives/damage to property is made extremely difficult by the non-availability of primary evidence of a technical nature and also the fact that supportive civilian evidence is equivocal in nature and does not warrant a definitive conclusion that one party or the other was responsible for the shelling.”
“Although the commission is not in a position to come to a definitive conclusion in determining responsibility that one party or the other was responsible for the shelling, nevertheless given the number of representations made by civilians that shells had in fact fallen on hospitals causing damage to the hospitals and in some instances loss or injury to civilian lives, consideration should be given to the expeditious grant of appropriate redress to those affected after due inquiry as a humanitarian gesture which would instil confidence in the reconciliation process.”
Commenting on alleged disappearances after surrender or arrest, the report states: “The commission must emphasise that in respect of the representations from a number of people who stated that they had directly witnessed certain persons surrendering to the custody of the Army, it is the clear duty of the State to cause necessary investigations into such specific allegations and where such investigations produce evidence of any unlawful act on the part of individual members of the Army, to prosecute and punish the wrongdoers. The commission must also stress in this regard that if a case is established of a disappearance after surrender to official custody, this would constitute an offence entailing penal consequences. Thus the launching of a full investigation into these incidents and where necessary instituting prosecutions is an imperative also to clear the good name of the Army, which has by and large conducted itself in an exemplary manner in the surrender process and when civilians were crossing over to cleared areas, which conduct should not be tarnished by the actions of a few.”
The commission had also recorded the grave violations of human rights by the LTTE such as the grave violations of core principles of IHL by the LTTE are referred to in Chapter 4 Section II, particularly with regard to the no fire zones and the very fact of using civilians as human shields to advance their military strategy, together with the practice of placing and using military equipment in civilian centres, the shooting at civilians trying to escape into safe areas, the conscription of young children to engage in combat even in the final stages of the conflict, the laying of landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) knowing that civilians would be exposed to danger even outside the conflict zone and the forcible use of civilians to provide support services to them to carry out their military objectives.
The commission also said all this thereby made the identification of civilians and combatants an almost impossible task particularly in the congested final no fire zones and that the continued use of suicide attacks causing loss of innocent civilian lives underpins not only the blatant disregard of IHL principles by the LTTE, but also highlights the task that the security forces were faced with in securing a military advantage while combating an enemy which had no respect for civilian life.
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission comprised Chitta Ranjan de Silva PC (Chair), Chandirapal Chanmugam, Prof. Karunaratne Hangawatte, M.T.M. Bafiq, Maxwell Paranagama, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera, PC and Mano Ramanathan.