Easter Sunday probes shift to gear | Daily News

Easter Sunday probes shift to gear

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa receiving the Easter PCoI report.

Concluding 16 months of extensive investigations, the much-awaited Final Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Easter Sunday attacks was submitted to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on February 1.

The hefty report comprises 472 pages, 215 annexures and six volumes. The five-member Commission headed by Supreme Court Judge Janak de Silva, which was appointed on September 22, 2019, was entrusted with the task of finding the missing pieces of the puzzle behind the Easter Sunday carnage that shook the Nation in a series of suicide bombings in churches and hotels. The series of brutal attacks took about 270 innocent lives and injured more than 550 people including foreigners, children and women.

The Commission recorded evidence from 457 people and carefully analysed the data and information obtained from them. Some information that came up during the cross-examination of testimonies sent shockwaves across the country as those triggered more questions than answers on the inaction over the multiple foreign intelligence pre-warnings of the attacks and the lukewarm attitude by the then authorities over matters of national security.

Follow-up actions

Former President Maithripala Sirisena was grilled by the Commission he himself appointed, for more than eight days, and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former Ministers, former Defence Secretaries, the former IGP, high-ranking Intelligence officials and Security Forces personnel were among others who were interrogated by the Commission.

The Commission had previously presented interim reports to the President on two occasions last year. Addressing the Independence Day Ceremony at Independence Square last Thursday, the President vowed to take speedy action against those responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks and the Central Bank Bond Scam in keeping with the pre-election promises of his Government.

He said that he had already given instructions to implement the recommendations of the PCoI report on the Easter Sunday attacks. “We will not allow those responsible for designing and enabling this massive tragedy to escape justice,” he stressed.

It was welcome news that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is determined to take swift legal action based on the Commission report, which has been produced putting in a lot of money, time and effort. The country has seen many Presidential Commissions comprising retired Judges and erudite members over the past decades and they had presented comprehensive reports after extensive investigations. What had not been very forthcoming were the follow up actions based on the findings and recommendations of those Commissions.

It is learnt that Archbishop of Colombo, MalcolmCardinal Ranjith has already written to the President asking for a copy of the PCoI report on the Easter Sunday attacks. As soon as the report was handed over to the President, he called for the release of the report. National People’s Power (NPP) Leader Anura Dissanayake, speaking to the media on Monday, also demanded that the report be tabled in Parliament. The Government has not yet responded to this request.

Marches in the North

In the meantime, the Northern and the Eastern Provinces saw a “Pottuvil to Polikandy” or “P2P” five-day walk organized by a number of Tamil political parties and civil society groups last week to highlight the issues faced by minorities. A great deal of attention was also focused on an Independence Day march organised by several groups in Jaffna on February 4, where they called for unity among all communities in a unitary Sri Lanka. This parade organised by the Jaffna Civil Society Centre under the theme “One Country, One Nation” commenced from the Pannai square in Jaffna and proceeded towards the Jaffna Fort and concluded near the Jaffna library. The event that followed the parade saw the participation of the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara and several Tamil politicians. The marchers carried trilingual placards and national flags, calling for peace and reconciliation among all communities. Several other Independence Day ceremonies took place throughout the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The P2P march began from Pottuvil in Ampara on February 3 and ended in Polikandy in Point Pedro last Sunday, covering a length of about 460 kilometres, connecting the two furthest points in the North and the East polity. The walk was meant to steal the limelight ahead of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session scheduled to begin later this month.

With the UN Human Rights Chief’s report on Sri Lanka on the table in Geneva, Tamil political parties have demanded that the international community pressurize Sri Lanka towards “justice and accountability” and lasting solutions for “minority grievances”.

The procession, which travelled through eight districts, was also joined by some Muslims and Tamils of Indian origin. Collectively they called for “justice” for the families of missing persons, release of Tamil prisoners detained for long periods under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a stop to mandatory cremations of the bodies of Muslim brethren who succumb to COVID-19 and a Rs. 1,000 basic daily wage for plantation workers (which has now been approved with the intervention of the Wages Boards).

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran in a Facebook video added that the march was also aimed at “raising awareness about the restrictions on minorities, land grabbing in the North and other alleged human rights violations in the country”.

Along with MP Sumanthiran, TNA MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam and Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) Leader MP Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam were seen in the march, attended by many Tamil-speaking former and sitting MPs and Provincial Councillors including former MP and Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) Leader Mavai Senathirajah, Tamil Makkal Thesiya Koottani (TMTK) Leader MP C.V. Wigneswaran, and Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) Leader MP Mano Ganesan.

Unity matters

The Police obtained several Restraining Orders from the Magistrate’s Courts in the relevant areas on the grounds that the march could cause a public nuisance and violate COVID-19 health guidelines. The Police told the Court that it could be an attempt to tarnish the country’s image and spread communal disharmony with the Geneva UN Human Rights Council sessions around the corner.

The protesters marched ahead despite the Court orders and interventions by Police at several points. Mindful not to exacerbate the situation, the Police then let it proceed while tightening surveillance measures. It was reported that the Police were contemplating taking legal action against the organisers based on the evidence recorded in CCTV cameras.

The marchers and the vehicles carried placards and black flags as a mark of protest and red and yellow flags were also seen in the hands of many. Red and yellow are colours associated with the TNA logo.

The marchers stopped at the “memorial” of Thileepan, a political wing leader of the LTTE who fasted to death in 1987 near the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, and at the first Black Tiger suicide bomber “Captain” Miller’s “memorial” at Nelliady. Tamil Diaspora groups supportive of the LTTE organized vehicle processions in major cities such as London, Geneva, and Toronto waving the LTTE flag. The LTTE remains banned in most countries and it was somewhat disconcerting that the authorities in these countries still allowed these protests by groups allied to a banned terrorist organisation.

The protests here and abroad, which gave the impression that the “P2P” protesters were glorifying the ruthless LTTE, raised many eyebrows and proved that the suspicions of the Police were not without reason. Those acts led to many independent observers questioning the bona fides of the initially stated purposes of the protest.

Many will agree that division on ethnic lines in this manner does not do any good to the country. It is not a good sign if moderate voices of the Tamil and Muslim communities are increasingly failing to be heard amidst the din created by hardliners in their respective communities.

Analysing the country’s annals, it is evident that ethnic divisions were not deeply rooted at the time we gained Independence from the British colonial rule. Peaceful coexistence was a reality back then, and there had been many Tamil and Muslim leaders including Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam and T.B. Jayah who fought shoulder to shoulder with Sinhalese leaders in the country’s freedom struggle. It is high time we cultivate the same spirit of unity among us in the face of countless challenges before the country in all spheres. As the proverbial saying goes, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall”.