The LLRC: From Recommendations to Actions

by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

One of the saddest aspects of the last three years has been the corrosive distrust among all political players. This is almost relentlessly exacerbated by several factors. The first, and perhaps the most worrying, is what I term a failure of rationalism, the practice of judging situations not in terms of evidence but rather through emotions. This contributes to a tendency to interpret ambiguities in line with fears rather than hopes.

Then there are what might be termed political factors. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the tendency of extremists on all sides to act and speak in a manner that worries those on the other side or sides. The second factor here is the failure of moderates on all sides, who I believe constitute the majority, to rein back their extremists. Combined with this is the tendency of a few of these last to adopt the rhetoric of the extremists so as to keep on the good side of what they believe might become the support base of the latter.

Associated with these are psychological factors. Thus there is a tendency to expect the other sides to control their extremists, whilst expecting them conversely to understand the compulsions that lead one to excuse and even perhaps condone one’s own extremists. And linked to these are supposed strategic factors, most obviously in terms of the belief that others are not sincere in their negotiating positions, and therefore one must demand much more than one really needs, in order to end up with an acceptable via media.

I should add to this last something I feel contributes to disaster in many negotiations, and not only in this country, namely the assumption that one negotiates to get what one wants. On the contrary, I believe that negotiations should be based on trying to ensure that the fears of others are overcome, ie that they get what it takes to reassure them with regard to what has upset them in the past. While it may not be possible to illustrate the various points I have made above with discussion of the behavior of individuals, since what might seem criticism will contribute, given past practice, to a hardening of positions, I can from a positive perspective note that the one period of progress during talks between the government and the TNA occurred when fears to be assuaged were considered rather than advantages to be gained. I believe we were on the verge of a generally acceptable solution to the question of land when other factors brought the talks to a grinding halt.

But this brings me to a final destructive factor, which may seem insignificant but which I think plays a large role in Sri Lankan politics. This is the need to win favour, which it seems is achieved more swiftly by criticizing others rather than by productive work. In the case of our negotiations with the TNA, I found that it was regularly being suggested that I was the TNA representative on the government side. What began as a jest, as I thought, was repeated so often that I fear it began to gain credence in some quarters. This may have contributed to my not being invited to some meetings, so that I felt I served no useful purpose by continuing on the team.
The talks, it will be noted, broke down just when the Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was issued. That was immediately tabled in Parliament with a very positive speech from the Leader of the House. In general the Report was well received by most stakeholders, including what is termed the international community. However there were three comparatively adverse blasts, which seemed to bring together the stranger elements of the coalition that had supported the supposed common opposition candidate Fonseka during the Presidential Election of 2010. This included the TNA, which may have had good reason for its performances in both these particulars, but they were not calculated to win confidence. Indeed I recall at the time, when we were trying to proceed with negotiations, the Leader of the House telling me that he hoped the President had not seen the TNA statement on the LLRC  Report.

But of course there would have been enough and more people who would have brought that statement to the President’s attention. More significantly, it led to those within government who did not like the LLRC Report, but who had kept silent previously, coming out with harsh critiques from the other side. This led to people believing that the government position on the LLRC was ambiguous, whereas it should have been obvious, with a little bit of rational thought, that the Leader of the House would not have tabled the Report so promptly with a very positive statement had he not been instructed to do so by the President.

I recall just before that an ambassador telling me that the government’s position was not clear, and I suggested that what should be considered was, not the pronouncements of individuals, but the speeches of those mandated to speak to the international community. The answer was that the people I mentioned had lost credibility completely, a position mentioned also to someone else by a much more tactful ambassador, which brought home to me, not the mala fides of those who had been named, but rather the impossible position in which they found themselves in the context of so many players making so many noises for so many reasons. Your heart may be in the right place, but it is easy to wilt like a wallflower when confronted by the aggression of the determined, whether international interventionists or national negators.

Despite the clear statement then of the Leader of the House, not one of those I hasten to add who had roused the distrust I mentioned, for his mandate is profoundly national, the next month saw see-sawing, with both sides it seemed trying to demand much more or much less than the LLRC, instead of working without deviance towards ensuring that it was taken forward. In this instance, though I think they were wrong, I can understand the perspective of those in government who attacked the LLRC Report, because they may well have thought that the Coalition of the Devious wanted the LLRC Report recommendations carried out, and then much, much more – so by standing firm against it, they might reach equilibrium.

Meanwhile the President had asked for a Roadmap for fulfillment of the Recommendations but this was not prepared expeditiously. It is possible that those entrusted with the job thought they should delay, given the controversy that had arisen, as they believed, within government ranks, with the more vociferous critical of the LLRC. But it is also possible that it was simply lethargy that prevented the work.

(to be continued)