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Easter Sunday massacre: Justice for victims high priority for Catholic Church

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Cardinal reiterates call for implementation of PCoI recommendations

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Justice for 2019 Easter Sunday victims and their families remains a high priority for Archbishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

In spite of the incumbent dispensation dragging its feet, on the issue much to the disappointment and ire of the Catholic Church, the prelate is determined to continue his struggle.

Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, in an exclusive interview with The Island at the Archbishop’s House, Borella, on Tuesday (21) emphasized his resolve and that of the Catholic Church to bring the ongoing campaign to a successful conclusion, whatever the impediments. The Catholic community expected justice, the Cardinal said, though the vast number of victims were Catholics, other communities, too, were affected. Those in authority shouldn’t forget that several dozens of foreigners perished in those multiple and almost simultaneous attacks.

“We had no option but to seek the intervention of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council as the government hampered the investigation. The decision was made against the backdrop of the government pursuing a strategy contrary to the promises repeatedly made in the run-up to the last presidential election in Nov 2019,” the Cardinal said.

The prelate examined the handling of the Easter Sunday investigation, taking into consideration the government statement at the ongoing UNHRC sessions. Addressing the 50th UNHRC session in Geneva, on June 13, Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP said: “On the Easter Sunday attacks, the Attorney General has sent out several indictments to High Courts and the Trials in this regard are proceeding.”

Asserting that an attempt was being made to deceive the international community and even the current crisis that had been caused by shortsighted policies of the incumbent dispensation exploited to cover up its own sins, the Cardinal urged the government to address what he called essentially an accountability issue. The prelate warned it would be a grave mistake on their part to believe that the time would solve the issues at hand. Referring to the 2015 Geneva resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, the Cardinal emphasized the inordinate delay in addressing the Easter Sunday issues would be disadvantageous to Sri Lanka struggling to cope up with an extremely dicey economic situation.

A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry quoted Prof. Peiris as having told Geneva sessions: “The international community is aware of the grave social and economic situation that Sri Lanka has been faced with in recent weeks. While this situation has been aggravated by ongoing global crises, including the pandemic, the focus of the protests has consisted of demands for economic relief and institutional reform. In recognition of these challenges and in moving forward in an inclusive manner, we consider it crucial to heed the aspirations of all segments of our people, in particular, the youth.”

The Archbishop of Colombo reiterated that whatever the bombastic public pronouncements made, both here and abroad, the government hadn’t heeded their serious concerns over the Easter Sunday investigations. The government owed an explanation and public apology as regards the failure on its part to implement recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Easter Sunday carnage.

The bottom line is that the recommendations made by PCoI, that had been appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena and accepted by the incumbent President, were yet to be implemented, the Cardinal stressed. Sirisena, now an SLPP Member of Parliament, in his capacity as the President, named the five-member PCoI in late Sept 2019. The PCoI handed over its report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Feb 01, 2021.

Recalling the simmering controversy over the government withholding some crucial sections of the report, the Cardinal pointed out that none of the major recommendations had been implemented yet. “That is the crux of the matter,” the key member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference said. “The moment a disputable decision to appoint a six-member Ministerial Committee to study the recommendations and the report of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security was made we realized the duplicity of the current leadership. The government sought to suppress those reports,” the Cardinal pointed out.

The Committee headed by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa included Johnston Fernando, Udaya Gammanpila, Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardena.

The Cardinal said that the Catholic Church and the vast majority of people had been quite mystified by the appointment of that group as the recommendations were made by a highly qualified team. The PCoI, led by Supreme Court Judge Janak de Silva, included Court of Appeal Judge Nishshanka Bandula Karunaratne, retired Supreme Court Judges Nihal Sunil Rajapaksha and A.L. Bandula Kumara Atapattu and former Secretary to the Ministry of Justice W.M.M.R. Adhikari. H.M.P. Buwaneka Herath functioned as the Secretary to the PCoI.

Declaring that the hapless public, struggling to make ends meet, had lost faith in the current political party setup, the Cardinal said that none of those lawmakers earned the respect of the public. Their pathetic response, both in and outside Parliament, to the developing economic crisis, underscored the fact that the country couldn’t depend on the current lot at all. Instead of repeatedly warning of an impending famine, due to a toxic combination of reasons ranging from the overnight change in the agricultural policy to the forex crisis, the government should provide clear solutions, the Cardinal added.

Questioning the much touted ‘One Country, One Law’ concept that had been promoted by the incumbent administration, the Catholic Leader stressed that the country should be re-built on the basis of (1) equality in every aspect (11) law enforcement and related mechanisms, such as the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) should be free from political interference and (111) targeted action to eradicate waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement.

Having dismissed the International Monetary Fund (IMF) advice, the government was now pleading for a debt restructuring programme, the Cardinal said. However, perusal of reports of the Parliamentary watchdog committees, COPE, COPA and COPF disclosed in spite of the country asking for a moratorium on debt repayment, corruption was at full swing, the Archbishop said.

The Cardinal compared the government’s inaction in respect of the PCoI report on the Easter Sunday massacre and parliamentary reports that dealt with the events leading to the current crisis. “In both instances, culprits are known,” he said.

Responding to further questions, the leader of the Catholic Church said that the discovery of a hand grenade inside All Saints Church, Borella, on January 11, this year, revealed machinations amidst turmoil. The recovery of the grenade three days before the Catholic Church marked 1,000 days’ since the Easter Sunday massacre took an unprecedented turn when examination of CCTV footage of the church led to the identification of the person who brought the device into the church at 9.52 am on the same day. Despicable attempt to frame innocent persons for the grenade affair went awry due to the availability of the video footage, the Cardinal said, warning the country would pay a heavy price for staged incidents of violence. Violence that had been triggered by interested parties in several places during yahapalana administration, particularly Ampara and Digana-Kandy, in early 2018 and Beruwela and Darga town in 2014, in the run-up to the 2015 presidential poll, underscored the grave danger posed by elements hell-bent on exploiting ethnic and religious sentiments for their advantage.

The Easter Sunday massacre, too, should be examined in the same context, the Cardinal said, underscoring the responsibility on the part of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary to uphold the rights of all. Perhaps the major reason for the deterioration of good governance is the executive and members of the legislature keen on exercising political power than serving the people.

Rt. Rev. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith also briefly discussed the efforts made by the Catholic Church to bring the war to an end during the presidency of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (1994-2005) and the first term of Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2010). The wartime Bishop of Mannar the late Dr. Rayappu Joseph had been involved in these attempts, the Cardinal recalled focusing on a journey they undertook in August 2007. Having secured approval from the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and clearance from General Sarath Fonseka, they had met senior LTTE representatives at a location near Iranamdu tank east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. “But, we couldn’t convince them to stop fighting.”



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BASL urges President to de-escalate tensions in different parts of country

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to instruct the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of tensions in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by the public.”

 “Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint”, the BASL has said in a media statement.

 “We also call upon you to ensure that steps are taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.”

The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police.

 The armed forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

Full text of the BASL letter to the President:

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expresses its gravest concerns at the current situation at fuel stations throughout the country and the reports of several incidents of conflicts between civilians and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations. There has been video footage of civilians being assaulted by personnel of the armed forces and the police, the latest being of a civilian being kicked by an Army officer at a fuel station. There have also been situations of the police and Army opening fire into the air to contain the crowd.

Your Excellency is no doubt aware that thousands of desperate civilians are waiting in queues at hundreds of fuel stations in the country. The queues are kilometres long. The tension at the fuel stations have arisen from this desperation for which there is no immediate solution in sight.

The BASL wishes to warn Your Excellency of the imminent dangers this situation could give rise to. The present unrest could result in a conflagration between civilians and members of the armed forces or the police. Some years ago, confrontations between members of the public and the armed forces resulted in the deaths of civilians. Such incidents between the members of the armed forces or the police and the civilians will discredit Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the police.

We call upon Your Excellency to take all necessary steps to give instructions to the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of the situation in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by public. Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint. We also call upon you to ensure that steps be taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.

The Sri Lanka Army and other service personnel must be deployed only in very limited circumstances as contemplated in the Criminal Procedure Code. The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police. The Armed Forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

We trust that this will receive the immediate attention of the Government as to do otherwise may otherwise result in unprecedented turmoil and harm.

The BASL believes that the ultimate solution to the situation at fuel stations is to be transparent with the public and to ensure an equitable and effective system of fuel distribution throughout the country.

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SC orders AG to submit report on fuel purchases and distribution

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By A.J.A. Abeynayake

A three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Vijith Malalgoda, Mahinda Samayawardena and Arjuna Obeysekera yesterday ordered the Attorney General to submit a report on fuel purchases, the distribution thereof and the sectors to be provided with fuel on a priority basis.

The Supreme Court made the order after considering two fundamental rights petitions presented by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

The BASL has requested the Supreme Court to direct the Cabinet of Ministers to consult all stakeholders and independent experts to formulate and implement the necessary policies, and to provide concessions in relation to the prices of essential goods and services to the people including LP gas, fuel, electricity, milk powder, medicines and food.

The petitions were filed by the President of the BASL Saliya Pieris PC, Deputy President Anura Meddegoda PC, former Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya, Treasurer Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Pasindu Silva.

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A/L may be delayed by one month

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Education Minister Sushil Premajayantha told Parliament yesterday that although it had been scheduled to hold the G.C.E. A/L Examination 2022 in November this year, it could be further delayed by another month.

Responding to a question by MP Shantha Bandara, the Minister said: “The examination should be held at least after three months of releasing the results of the previous A/L exam because the students who need to sit it again should have enough time to prepare,” the Minister said.

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