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The recently released Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), with special reference to its important recommendations, was discussed during a study session held at the SEDEC Auditorium on 31st January 2012, facilitated by a group of distinguished resource persons. A number of Priests, Religious, academics and civil society leaders were present.
The study was mainly focused on the LLRC recommendations pertaining to Reconciliation, Humanitarian Issues, Good Governance, Political Solution to the ethnic conflict and Human Rights.
Rev Fr Mervyn Fernando, Director of Subodhi Institute of Integral Education acted as the Moderator of the sessions while the participants were welcomed by Rev Fr George Sigamoney, Director of Caritas Sri Lanka SEDEC who in his address said that “as Caritas and as a Church institution working for national unity, our belief is that the LLRC recommendations, when speedily and properly implemented, have the potential to point a way forward for Sri Lanka”. Fr Sigamoney said that reconciliation, good governance, human rights, humanitarian issues and a political solution to the ethnic conflict are areas where Caritas has always invested much energy and still continues to prioritize as keys to national transformation in the post-war period. He recalled that the submissions made by the Church to the LLRC in 2010 largely dwelt on these matters. “It is worthy of mention that several matters taken up by the Church have found their place in the LLRC Report”, Fr Sigamoney noted and stressed that as a faith community that is made of made up of both Sinhalese and Tamil people, the Church remains convinced of its role in uniting a divided nation.
Deshamanya Bradman Weerakoon, a former Civil Servant in his introductory remarks traced the mandate and composition of the LLRC as well as the manner in which it carried out its Terms of Reference (TOR). He made special mention of Chapter 9 of the Report titled PRINCIPAL OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS and stressed that “ it is important that the many excellent and do-able recommendations are implemented, with datelines and budgets if necessary, and monitored”. Alluding to the Government’s response to the LLRC’s Interim Recommendations of 2010 which did not receive the attention they deserved, Mr Weerakoon said that this time around “ implementation is critical”. Citing some of the reactions to the Report, he said that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been critical of it while the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) has claimed that the LLRC has gone too far on devolution of powers. Meanwhile, about victims in the North and East, not enough has been said, Mr Weerakoon observed, adding that the Report has cogently analysed the root causes of the ethnic issue and that its recommendations “provide a framework for action by all stakeholders, in particular the Government, political parties and community leaders”. He cautioned that speedy implementation is absolutely essential, backed by monetary inputs and monitoring mechanisms, as there is presently a tendency towards the solidification or chrystallisation of existing power structures.
Speaking on a comparison between Sri Lanka’s LLRC and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the South African High Commissioner His Excellency Geoff Doidge highlighted restorative justice as a key element of the TRC. “ It involved the perpetrator’s repentance and a victim’s forgiveness”, he said, adding that Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s theological view of reconciliation resonated well with the largely Christian population in his country. A strong witness protection program was another distinguishing feature of the TRC, the High Commissioner said. With regard to the LLRC Report, he noted that it is a step forward in opening up the space for further discussions and for implementing the recommendations of both the Interim and the Final reports.”There needs to be constant engagement on the list of recommendations and time frames must be agreed to”, he stressed. In his opinion, a good starting point will be to take up recommendations that are practical and require minimal constitutional or legal changes. Unpacking the role of civil society and the international community may also be crucial in assisting Sri Lanka on this path to progress, he declared.
The subject of Reconciliation was thereafter taken up by Rev Ebenezer Joseph, General Secretary of the National Christian Council (NCC) and Dr Jehan Perera, Executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC) while Humanitarian Issues were dealt with by Rev Fr C G Jeyakumar, former Director of HUDEC Jaffna and Mr Jeevan Thiagarajah, Executive Director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), followed by Ms Bhavani Fonseka, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and Dr Wijaya Jayatileke, Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) who elaborated on issues of Good Governance. Mr Mirak Raheem, Senior Researcher at CPA and Dr Jayampathy Wickremaratne, President’s Counsel spelt out the space for a Political Solution while Mr Javid Yusuf, Attorney-at-Law and Mr Rukshan Fernando, Head of the Human Rights in Conflict Program of Law and Society Trust (LST) elaborated the position with regard to Human Rights.
The study session also provided opportunities for discussions and exchange of views. All participants were of the consensus that the LLRC recommendations in Chapter 9 of the Report should be disseminated widely and that the people must be made knowledgeable and responsible. The importance of using the available Sinhala and Tamil translations was also pointed out, as well as taking forward the findings and outcomes of this Caritas study session.
In his concluding remarks, Fr Mervyn Fernando emphasized the important role of religions and religious leaders. “ Churches and religious leaders have been silent and inactive”, he said. “We have not used our potential. Buddhist clergy especially have a big role to play and they have powerful reasons for pushing these matters forward”.