In December 2011, the “LLRC” report on the conduct of the Sri Lankan military and circumstances surrounding the end of the civil was published. Considering it was commissioned by the same state that committed the alleged war crimes, which killed at least 40,000 civilians in its final stage, hopes were not high for the report holding any value. However, the report’s findings, although biased and toothless, did offer some criticisms and solutions that many hoped the government would act upon.
However, six months on from the publication of the report, over 18 months on from the publication of that report’s interim recommendations, and three years since the end of the war, it is evident that the Sri Lankan government have no intention of acting. It is true that some of the recommendations of the LLRC will take time, but the process of implementing them has not even started. Meanwhile others could be implemented tomorrow – and yet still haven’t.
In Recommendation 9.277 of the LLRC’s report, it stated that “the practice of the National Anthem being sung simultaneously in two languages to the same tune must be maintained and supported.”
Yet a number of high profile events: independence day, New Year, have passed since these recommendations came out: events at which the anthem was sung exclusively in Sinhalese. Then, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, said in a characteristically brusque and incendiary fashion that singing the national anthem in Tamil, a simple and cheap measure to implement, was “a ridiculous idea”.
The last time the national anthem was sung in Tamil was in December 2010 and was scrapped by Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cabinet, who stated that no other country in the world had a national anthem in more than one language. This is incorrect: Canada and New Zealand have their national anthem in two languages, whilst Switzerland and Belgium have four different linguistic versions of their anthems – all enjoying equal status, sometimes being sung separately and sometimes with alternate verses taken from each version. Meanwhile South Africa’s national anthem has five verses each in a different language.
This means of excluding the Tamil population and language from the national identity occurred after decades of the Tamil national anthem being used and officially recognised at public events.
The Sri Lankan government’s failure to implement this simple yet symbolic measure proposed by the LLRC is a reflection of the lip service it has paid to the LLRC and to reconciliation with Tamil communities, indicating that it is merely appeasing demands by the international community rather than genuinely attempting reform.
Many other proposals from the report, including investigating its use of heavy artillery in civilian areas at the end of the civil war and giving more powers to Tamils in Tamil majority areas, have been disregarded, or indeed retrograde steps appear to have been taken, in the hope the international community will forget to check up on their progress in time.
This week GL Peiris, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister met Hilary Clinton, US foreign secretary in Washington. Clinton stressed that that the North of Sri Lanka needed be demilitarized, with provincial elections there and she emphasized the need to implement the LLRC plans and investigate war crimes allegations, “to strengthen reconciliation, public confidence inside and outside Sri Lanka, and, frankly, to speed the healing of the country.”
However, despite their assurances to the world they are making progress, the Sri Lankan government has been busily engaged, doing the exact opposite through its militarization of the country.
Since the end of the civil war, the number of army camps in Tamil provinces have increased, with many military settlements being created to evict Tamils and increase the Sinhalese foothold in the region. Nowhere was this militarization more evident than in this week’s celebration to mark the anniversary of the end of the war.
For any external commentator or foreign body who may believe the government’s claim that they are pursuing reconciliation, they only need to watch footage of the victory parade in Colombo, featuring artillery, tanks and rocket launchers parading down Galle Face, with warplanes flying above and navy gunships sailing along the coast.
At a time when sensitivity and restraint needed to be displayed, with many Tamil, Sinhalese and other communities grieving for their deceased loved ones, the government dispelled all notions of reconciliation with a flamboyant and unsavoury show of military might.
The way the Government behaves one way abroad and another at home can be further seen in their approach to the LLRC. While the LLRC is constantly used abroad as a shield to hide from international pressure it is scarcely mentioned by the government domestically and they have not even translated it into Sinhalese or Tamil.
According to Sri Lankan news reports, Clinton praised Sri Lanka’s new inquiry to implement post-conflict recommendations, saying it was an “excellent mechanism for implementing the LLRC’s recommendations”.
The onus lies with the international community to keep the pressure on Sri Lanka as it makes yet another promise to implement reconciliation. This is another delaying tactic, and unless international powers agitate for reform, the government will be keen to let this inquiry gather dust, just like its many many predecessors.