Ensuring justice for Easter Sunday victims | Sunday Observer

Ensuring justice for Easter Sunday victims

7 February, 2021

Ten years of peace and calm. That is what we gained after the triumph against LTTE terrorism in May 2009. In case you wonder whether we have forgotten the Mathematics (now it is nearly 12 years), we have not. That hard-earned peace and tranquility evaporated in an instant on April 21, 2019 (Easter Sunday), when, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the victory over terrorism, extremist terrorists inspired by the ISIS exploded eight bombs in churches, hotels and guesthouses in Colombo, Negombo and Dehiwela, killing over 250 Sri Lankans and foreigners, as well as injuring nearly 600. It was a heinous crime by any yardstick.

There is a popular saying among terrorism experts – “terrorists have to be lucky only once, Governments have to be lucky all the time”. In other words, Governments have to maintain eternal vigilance for any suspicious activity. Terrorists can slip through if the guard is let down even for one second. Unfortunately, the Yahapalana Government that came to power in January 2015 played fast and loose with National Security, decimating the National Intelligence Network and generally weakening the Security Forces’ readiness. Getting into bed with forces inimical to Sri Lanka at the UNHRC was more important to certain figures in that Government than protecting and nurturing our Intelligence and Security Forces.

It was a disaster waiting to happen. But wait a minute – even with our weakened intelligence network, the attacks could still have been prevented as a friendly neighbouring country gave us all the information several weeks beforehand – names, places et al. Yet no one in authority in that Government bothered to take it seriously or there was a serious breach in the Chain of Command. We all know the result.

Worse, the Yahapalana Government was in no hurry to investigate it after the incident. It was the intervention of Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith that prevented a greater calamity. Finally, then President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to probe the series of devastating attacks. Its work ended only last month.

The Easter Sunday attack was a major factor in the decision of the voters to elect a Government that takes National Security seriously. True to his word, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa upon his election in November 2019 revamped the Intelligence Network and strengthened National Security and the Security Forces. As promised, he also expedited investigations into the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, alongside the existing Commission of Inquiry. Accordingly, the Police have made a large number of arrests. The President also instructed the Attorney General’s Department to swiftly act upon the Easter Sunday attacks.

It was therefore, not surprising that President Rajapaksa focused on this issue during his well-received Address to the Nation on Independence Day. “I have now received the final report of the Presidential Commission appointed to inquire into the Easter Sunday attacks. I have already given instructions to implement its recommendations. Simultaneously, taking into account the recommendations of the previous Parliament’s Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security, action will be taken against all parties involved in this tragedy. We will not allow those responsible for designing and enabling this tragedy to escape justice. We will never allow extremism to raise its head again, in this country,” said the President.

This will not only reassure the Catholic community, the segment most affected by the Easter bomb blasts, but all Sri Lankans who wish to see justice being done by the victims and their families. The culpability in this case must naturally extend to those at the top who ignored repeated warnings given by foreign intelligence agencies, apart from those who funded and organised the blasts. Both these sections must not be allowed to go scot-free. The authorities must also investigate whether any foreign elements were behind the dastardly attacks.

The President’s promise to nip extremism in the bud is also timely. Islamic religious leaders and scholars must join in this effort to stop the radicalisation of Muslim youth. Online hate speech must also be monitored. In fact, there should be no room for racism and extremism from any quarter in our quest for peace and reconciliation, which the President alluded to in his speech. As the President noted, the “challenges of establishing national security, achieving true reconciliation among various communities of our nation, and building a strong economy that can deliver sustainable economic development and eliminate poverty still lie ahead of us”.

The issue of peace and reconciliation is becoming important also in the context of the upcoming UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva. Some local and foreign forces are acting in unison to tarnish Sri Lanka’s image once again at this forum. In the words of the President, “traitorous elements always band together and seek to marshal domestic and foreign forces against the leadership that upholds an indigenous way of life and country’s sovereignty”. Such elements mislead the public through false propaganda in a subtle way.

The public – and the international community – must be alive to these attempts at portraying the humanitarian operation of 2009 in a bad light. It was the world’s biggest hostage rescue operation after all. If the assessments on the 2009 scenario are based on facts, no one will be able to mislead the wider international community. Sri Lanka must even more forcefully make its case before the UNHRC, having rightly rejected the error-filled and evidence-less Report by the UN Human Rights Commissioner. The world must help Sri Lanka’s efforts to stamp out extremism and reconcile the different communities instead of placing obstacles on its way to unity and prosperity.