Seeking for truth and justice | Sunday Observer
Right of Reply:

Seeking for truth and justice

10 October, 2021
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith

My attention has been drawn to the opinion column written by journalist Rajpal Abyenayake in the Sunday Observer of October, 3 2021. And as this article appears to reflect inaccurate information on the position of the Catholic Church and me regarding the search for the truth behind the Easter Sunday attack and it can lead the readers to a wrong assessment of the current status of the matter, I wish to make the following clarifications.

Presidential Commission

In the first place, I wish to affirm that all that the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has continued to ask from those holding authority, political or legal, is that every effort be made to implement, as speedily as possible, all the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the matter. As the gazette notification appointing the commission, published on September, 21, 2019, stated it was established - “to call and receive public complaints, information and other materials against public servants/officers or other persons who were working at that time or who still work or any other persons who are alleged to have direct or indirect connection to the bomb explosions that took place on April, 21, 2019 causing loss of life or damage to properties or regarding acts or abuse or misuse of power and such other alleged acts and/or omissions.

To hold prompt, impartial, complete investigations and inquiries regarding complaints, information and other materials referred to in paragraph 1 above, to identify persons or organisations who are directly or indirectly connected to these terrorist acts referred to in paragraph 1 above, to identify officers and authorities responsible or who failed to pre-determine that terrorist and extremist activities of this nature would take place within the country and to ascertain matters incidental to it and who failed or neglected to take action according to law and not taking proper action in this regard, to identify all authorities who are responsible for failure to prevent the terrorist attacks that took place on the 21 st April, 21, 2019 and to identify the authorities who failed to perform their duties and did not take proper action due to incapacity, to identify persons and organisations, who are connected with public protests, acts of sabotage, causing damages to properties and persons thereby causing public unrest, after the attack took place on April, 21, 2019, to identify persons, organisations, who aid and abet actions which caused racial and religious disturbances or give support for such acts within the country and which created public unrest and which disturbed social order and disrupted the social integrity and caused racial disturbances, and to transmit to the Attorney General such material on investigations and inquiry, enabling the Attorney General to consider the institution of criminal proceedings against persons alleged to have committed the said offences, to make recommendations on measures to be taken to prevent the possible damage to national security and national unity by such acts of terrorism and extremism.”

[From the Gazette notice issued by the former President Maithripala Sirisena on September, 21, 2019 No. 2141/88 appointing the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday 2019 attacks] Thus, what should be clear to all readers, including Abeynayake himself, is the fact that a Presidential Commission of Inquiry was established and was entrusted with the task not only of identifying the perpetrators and those who aided and abetted in these terrorist attacks on the innocent civilians but also those who failed in their duty to prevent such attacks after coming to know of the possibility of such.

These latter persons, according to the Gazette, included “officers and authorities”. It is now common knowledge that the Presidential Commission report was duly handed over to His Excellency the President on the February, 1, 2021 after lengthy study, interrogations and inquiries lasting nearly 14 months.

Recommendations Even though the Commission members claimed that 22 volumes of their findings had been handed over to the President and recordings of proceedings, only the 1 st volume was made public and contains the summary of recommendations made by the said Commission. These recommendations can be categorised as follows; 1) Recommendations concerning persons and organisations identified as those directly involved in the attacks or those who contributed towards these attacks in cash and other inducements.

2) Recommendations: concerning organisations that contributed to causing communal and religious disharmony and the radicalisation especially of youth. This included a recommendation to curb the activities of some Muslim organisations and individuals as well as some extremist organisations of the Sinhalese [Pages 361, 362, 367-370].

3) Recommendations concerning legal action to be taken against the former President, the former head of the State Intelligence Services, the former CNI and several other top level police officers for what the commission termed “criminal liability” recommending further “that the Attorney General consider instituting criminal proceedings against them under any suitable provision in the Penal Code”.

This included action to be taken against the former Secretary of Defence and the former Inspector General of Police. The former Prime Minister’s “soft attitude” to Islamic extremism too was considered a serious failure of duty, though the commission due to reasons not known, did not recommend legal action against him.

4) Recommendations for the granting of suitable compensation payments to the victims of this violence and their families, 5) Recommendations with regard to the prevention of such acts of violence and terror and the fostering of greater harmony and unity among the different communities in Sri Lanka, 6) And recommendations concerning the need to continue further investigations on certain other persons and matters that emerged in the evidence but which “due to time constraints” [P.54 of the Report] could not be fully examined by the Commission. In addition these recommendations for further inquiries are made also in pages 58, 76, 118, 223, 224, 402 of the Report. Partiality What the Catholic Church requests those in authority is to take swift and determined action on the implementation of all these recommendations. Some sources argue that the conclusions of the Commission are not legally binding but are only recommendations.

That may be true to those who do not feel the pain and the immense suffering caused to the victims but not to others who feel betrayed in the matter of truth and justice. If that was the position, why appoint such commissions and waste millions of rupees in tax payers hard earned cash? Even though action has been taken to charge 24 accused for these acts of violence, so far only two persons holding responsible offices at the time of the attacks have been charged for willful neglect of duty even though the Commission has accused many others for criminal neglect of duty. In the case of most of these persons including the former President himself, the Commission has stated: “the COI is of the view that there is criminal liability on his part for the acts or omissions explained above.

The COI recommends that the Attorney General consider instituting criminal proceedings against President Sirisena under any suitable provision in the Penal Code”. [p. 265 of the Report]. The same sort of legal action has been recommended by the Commission for the other senior officers too, including those who were holding high positions in the Police and the Intelligence Services. It is now twenty nine months after the attacks and already 8 months after the presentation of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry Report [PCOI].

Keeping the promise

The incumbent President in his election campaign made a clear promise to the public that he would implement the recommendations of the PCOI if he were elected. In fact at a meeting held with him soon after his assuming duties as President, he promised us, the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka, that he would take swift action to implement the recommendations of the Commission once he receives its report. Indeed he renewed the mandate of the said Commission and received its report on the February, 1, 2021. Yet none of the other recommendations of the Commission have been implemented by the Government nor has it appointed a suitable authority to see to their implementation up to now.

The processes against the former Defence Secretary and IGP were already instituted by the former Government. I do not know if Abeynayake had read the full report of the said Commission before writing his opinion column. I sincerely hope he has done so as he would then be able to understand our struggle to unravel the true authors behind this brutal act. The Catholic community is not asking for special privileges but only for truth and justice which means that the Government cannot pick and choose to implement only those recommendations that are favourable or acceptable to it while forgetting about others which may be politically difficult for it.

Is the Government shielding the former President because he is part of their coalition? Why is it that at least disciplinary action has not been taken against senior intelligence and police officers on whom the report clearly attributes “criminal liability’ and recommends “instituting criminal proceedings”? These officers should have at least beensubjected to disciplinary action by the IGP. Some of them have instead been promoted by the police or continue to exercise high office inspite of the serious charges made by the Presidential Commission against them for criminal neglect of duty. This is deeply insulting and painful to the victims. Why is the government shielding these people? We have a strong suspicion that the Government is acting in this manner because if the former President and the officers are brought before the courts, the truth about the Easter Sunday plot will come out in public.

We are not seeking in any way to justify terrorism. We unequivocally condemn all forms of exclusivism and hate speech or incitement to racial or religious violence including racist diatribe by some sectors now openly supported by the present Government.

What we want the President and the Government to do is to keep true to their promises and to take swift and clear action against any and everybody about whom serious allegations have been made by the PCOI and do so not only against those who aided and abetted Zaharan Hashim and his terror group, funded them or encouraged them by word and action but also against those who by their willful and criminal neglect of duty allowed the terrorists to massacre in cold blood hundreds of innocent civilians.

And with regard to Abeynayake’s question whether the Catholic victims belong to a special class, we wish to remind him that it is not just for the Catholics we stand but for every one killed or injured, which includes Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. We represent all the victims. The author should know that if the full truth behind the plot of the Easter Sunday massacre remains hidden, similar violence can recur in the future and anybody including me and Abeynayake could come under the classless category of the innocent victims of mindless violence. Abeynayake’s attempted argument here to try and portray us as being partial, is thus rejected firmly.

Action should be taken to expose all those responsible irrespective of the position they hold in society or their political influence. If that does not happen and is not seen to happen, then it gives rise to many questions in the mind of the right thinking citizens that the neglect of duty on the part of those who held responsible office at the time of the Easter attack are in some way collaborators with those who carried out the plot and so on.

The incumbent President pledged to the public that he will usher in “one country, one rule” which seems to be only electoral posturing. Ours is not a circus, as Abeynayake states. We are only doing our duty as religious leaders to ensure that similar tragedies will not befall this nation either by wanton neglect, connivance or political conspiracy. And needless to remind, Abeynayake that the President was elected because the people who elected him wanted to ensure a society that is secure and free of such violence.

Further investigations

Besides, the Government should institute serious inquiries into all those aspects of the Easter Sunday terror attacks that have been indicated in the final report of the Commission as needing further study and analysis. These aspects do matter in arriving at a truthful assessment of what really happened, as the general public in Sri Lanka, unlike Abeynayake, is not convinced about “fair play” by the authorities and wish to know the truth.

The leaders of the Church have in their mandate from the Divine Founder, the call to seek to stand always with the people and, specially so, when they are in a position of helplessness.

These Easter attacks blasted the lives of the victims to pieces, wiped away entire families and left others orphaned, broken and with shattered dreams. And so in keeping with our call to true Christian discipleship, we cannot but feel one with those who suffer.

The best action the Government can take now is to do a thorough and deeply truth seeking investigation into all aspects of these attacks, in an open and transparent manner, reveal its results to the public, bring all those responsible, irrespective of their status before the law, and take legal or disciplinary action against all those who knowing about the terror group’s existence and the forthcoming attacks did not fulfill their duty which, if they did, could have easily prevented this unnecessary bloodshed. If the Government is ready to keep their word to us given so publicly and solemnly by the President, we need not go ahead with our campaigns to remind the Government what it should do to keep its promise. For justice has to be done to all those victims whom we represent and it has to be seen to be done too.

Therefore, I would appreciate it if you could kindly publish this letter of mine, giving equal importance, as given to the article appearing in the Sunday Observer of October, 3, 2021. I thank you for your kindness in this regard and wish you all the best.

Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith Archbishop of Colombo