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LLRC extension is no surprise

News that Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has had it mandate extended by another six months was always expected, but there is an assumed logic behind Colombo's actions. The commission is the Sri Lankan state's attempt to fend off critics, buy time and forestall an independent, international inquiry.

International actors such as Amnesty International, International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch, have consistently rejected the LLRC as not fit for purpose. 

The initial remit of six months, has now become one year, the commission’s new deadline being 15th May 2011 – two years after the government claimed victory in its war against the Liberation Tigers. If there was any doubt as to the state's disingenuous intentions, this recent move is yet further proof.

Conventions, treaties and diplomatic etiquette mean that while a country is undertaking its own internal investigation, the international community will remain reluctant to push through an independent inquiry. Or so Sri Lanka hopes. If true, the six month delay holds back an independent inquiry by at least that time.

However, in a state like Sri Lanka, time is of the essence. As international human rights organisations, including the three listed above, have rightly and repeatedly pointed out, there is no protection for witnesses in Sri Lanka. Viewed in conjunction with on-going abductions, countless disappearances, high profile assassinations and a complete disregard for the rule of law, the plight of witnesses or outspoken critics is truly terrifying.

The argument of respecting a state's sovereignty can only go so far in the face of allegations of war crimes. Indeed, as US President Obama said this week, criticism of the latter is not a breach of the former, but the defence of universally accepted principles.

In practical terms, the more time Sri Lanka is allowed to waste, the more time it has to destroy the evidence and eliminate the witnesses of its crimes. How many more extensions and excuses is the UN prepared to endure, before it feels the need to press forward on an independent international inquiry?