Manny Thain, Tamil Solidarity national secretary
As expected the report by the Sri Lankan regime into the civil war and its aftermath is a complete distortion of the truth. Although the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) uses language which is often vague and designed to confuse, its meanings are clear enough. It effectively justifies the killing of tens of thousands of Tamil-speaking people, as well as the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands more.
Not only that, its conclusions will have far-reaching and damaging effects on the lives of Tamil-speaking people in the north and east. This is because it enshrines the militarisation of the region and the programme of new settlements. This, in turn, can only fuel further division and conflict in the future. We will return in the new year to a more detailed analysis of this document – it is nearly 400 pages long! For the time being, we will make a short preliminary comment to draw attention to some of the LLRC conclusions.
From the outset, it is important to take account of who wrote the report and in whose interests. The commission was made up of people hand-picked by the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa with the sole purpose of defending the actions of that regime. It is not in any way independent.
Even when it uses phrases which appear ‘neutral’, they are in fact biased in favour of the regime’s aims of continued oppression of Tamil-speaking people, and of promoting Sinhala chauvinism in order to divide and rule over the working-class and poor throughout Sri Lanka.
In a post-conflict situation, especially in a country with ethnic tension and conflict, commissions of inquiry can play an important and progressive role. However, to be truly independent of the vested interests of the political establishment, regional powers and big corporations, such commissions would have to be made up of representatives of working-class and poor people from all communities, and be genuinely accountable to those people. This is the opposite of what we have here with the LLRC.
Its report claims that “a substantial proportion” of ‘new IDPs’ (those displaced in the last year of the civil war) “have been returned to their own land or resettled in alternate land”. But it does not say what that really means. How many people have been resettled and where? It does not explain that tens of thousands are now living in militarised zones, many in makeshift camps with extremely poor conditions, and with no prospect of earning a decent living. Nor does it take account of the tens of thousands still held in detention.
Ominously, the report says that the north and east will be run by an ‘area civil coordination officer’. In other words, there will be an overlord appointed by the Rajapaksa regime, who will rule over the area. The report also sees the continuation of the militarised zones – an army of occupation – for an indefinite period of time.
The LLRC speaks frequently of ‘new IDPs’ and ‘old IDPs’ (those displaced by the LTTE) as a means of downplaying the terrible conditions and ongoing oppression faced by Tamil-speaking people, but also to reinforce ethnic and religious division. Here, it must be said, the mistakes made by the LTTE at the time have played into the hands of the Rajapaksa regime – and the LLRC is using it for its own purposes. For a struggle for national self-determination to be successful, it needs to be based on a firm foundation. The poor and oppressed of all the ethno/religious groups in Sri Lanka are, in reality, natural allies. This is because they all face the common problems of poverty, unemployment, lack of education, housing and prospects for the future. If these class-based issues can be used to unite the different struggles of the working-class and poor, the movements will be stronger.
The initial military success of the LTTE gave it control of large areas of land. But the LLRC is trying to exploit the fact that the LTTE did not build unity across the ethno/religious divide. When the world situation changed post-9/11 and the LTTE found its access to funds etc increasingly restricted, this weakness was exposed. The Rajapaksa regime took advantage, unleashing the most brutal, all-out military offensive.
Using the LLRC report as cover, the Rajapksa regime is carving up the north and east with the ‘resettlement’ of Muslims in the Eastern Province and Sinhala in Jaffna. This is a totally hypocritical position, of course. The regime is cynically using these communities as a wedge against the Tamil-speaking people. It is necessary, nonetheless, to recognise that there are legitimate claims by displaced people from all the various communities in Sri Lanka.
The policy of the Rajapaksa regime, however, will only fuel further distrust, division and conflict in the future. And the LLRC report is designed to give legitimacy to Rajapaksa’s plans.