Viewpoint by Somar Wijayadasa*
“The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them—Lois McMaster Bujold.
NEW YORK (IDN) — The phrase “the land like no other” justifiably portrays Sri Lanka—the resplendent island to attract tourists but the country is also condemned for its murders, abductions, tortures, and disappearances of thousands of its citizens—without justice.
Justice is still pending in the April 2019 gruesome Easter Sunday suicide attacks on three churches and luxury hotels that killed almost 300 and injured at least 500 persons.
In the attacks’ aftermath, then President Maithirpala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe blamed each other for their inaction despite the prior intelligence and multiple warnings on imminent attacks.
Sirisena formed a Presidential commission to probe the attacks, but the inquiry revealed that Sirisena and several top officials were guilty of ignoring prior credible intelligence and recommended criminal action against them.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa became the President promising to promptly solve the murders and mete out justice to all victims.
According to reliable sources, the delay is not due to a recalcitrant legal process but due to the President’s efforts to cover up the involvements of senior officials.
They question: Why did Rajapaksa redact the Commission report? Why is it not published? Which high ranking security official paid the attackers? Why a suicide bomber contacted an intelligence officer prior to he blew himself up? Why was an arrested intelligence officer rescued from the CID by top military brass? These questions must be answered to achieve justice.
However, after wrangling for thirty months, on October 1, the Colombo High Court served indictments on Former IGP Pujith Jayasundara and former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando in connection with the offenses of murder and attempted murder, for their serious lapses and grave omissions to prevent the attacks.
Altogether, 25 people have been indicted with 23,270 charges, and a three-judge bench is expected to hear the cases in November.
Referring to the indictments, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit opined that those people charged could be “smaller fish” and accused the government of still not taking steps to identify the “big fish, still at large”.
No justice or accountability
Our multi-ethnic, multi-religious country with a population of 21 million (with 70 percent Buddhists, 13 percent Hindus, 10 percent Muslims, and 7 percent Christians) has been a fertile ground for rogue politicians to divide and rule.
Since independence, our politicians have aroused communal conflicts, and often destabilized the country to achieve their own personal or political agendas—to grab power and amass stolen wealth.
Sri Lankans have short memories, but impossible to forget what happened when politicians made Sinhala the official language of the country; banned the teaching of English in public schools; and made Poya (Full Moon) days public holidays. All political decisions to win Sinhala Buddhists’ votes.
Worst yet, we saw carnage when the Marxist Movement (JVP) staged insurrections in 1970 and 1989 that led to the deaths of over 70,000 misguided youth; the 1983 riots against the Tamils; the tit for tat killings by the JVP and the Government in 1989; Tamil Tigers thirty-year separatist war, and now the Easter Sunday bombings.
Referring to the attacks, Cardinal Ranjith said, “Politicians do not want to end this culture of killing. Extremism is beneficial to them, and they continue their selfish journey through the tears of human suffering”.
Despite these horrendous episodes, Sri Lankans never learned from their follies for blindly believing and voting to power a bunch of vacuous, unethical, and selfish politicians.
Rise of Authoritarianism
Since becoming President, Rajapaksa has appointed many current and retired military officers and loyalists to run important Ministries that were previously handled by experienced technocrats in governance.
Last year, our despicable Parliamentarians approved the 20th Amendment to the Constitution bestowing more powers to the President.
It also debased the judiciary by granting the power of appointments and promotions of judges to the President thereby bringing judges under the President’s control—indubitably, a death blow to democracy.
Emboldened by power, Rajapaksa pardoned several murder convicts on death row—including a soldier who murdered eight Tamil civilians, including three children, and another murder convict who killed a Parliamentarian.
Meanwhile, suppression of Press freedom and persecution of journalists continues. According to Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka—at least 44 journalists have been killed or disappeared during the past two decades.
Rajapaksa has now promised to soon release a new Constitution—framed without the participation of its citizens. Also, another sinister ploy “One Country, One Law” is in the making that may end in ethnic violence and bloodshed.
Lankan human rights lawyer, Ambika Satkunanathan opined: ”It shows complete disdain on the part of the executive for the rule of law, for legal process and for public accountability”.
Presidential Commissions—a devious mechanism to achieve sinister objectives
Lack of space compels me to refer you to two credible articles that highlight the reports of two recent Presidential Commissions.
The Colombo Telegraph’s breath-taking article entitled Full Text Of The Leaked Report: War Criminals, Murderers And Fraudsters Exonerated By [Rajapaksa’s] Political Victimization Commission.
It reveals “the Commission unanimously decided that the charges and indictments against every accused in so-called emblematic cases highlighted by the UN, including the murder and abduction of journalists, should be dismissed, the indictments in currently active trials quashed and the complainants acquitted and released”.
Accordingly, Rajapaksa pardoned and exonerated his close relatives and henchmen who were previously indicted and were in jail or death row for murders, abductions, money-laundering, etc. The article reveals names of those exonerated.
In the second article, the “Sri Lanka Brief” published a scathing account of why Rajapaksa appointed a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) to recommend civic disability up to seven years “be imposed on Opposition politicians, and other senior officials named by the PCoI”. It contains names of persons to be punished.
These authoritarian actions prove that Rajapaksa is edging closer towards a military regime.
As Sri Lanka gathers international notoriety as a country with hundreds of murders with no murderers except finger pointing at the Rajapaksa clan, the UNHRC and other human rights organizations have excoriated the Sri Lankan Government for evading justice, and for lack of rule of law.
In 2017, describing thirty years of disappearances in Sri Lanka, the Amnesty International presented a brief entitled Only Justice Can Heal Our Wounds pointing out that “since the 1980s, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people from all ethnic and religious communities have disappeared.
It also pointed out the painful reality that “In Sri Lanka, enforced disappearances have touched every community—spanning time, geography, ethnicity, religion and class”.
“Many victims,” it added, “are believed to have been abducted, tortured, and killed by government security forces, including units operating under the country’s current political and military leaders. There has been virtually no accountability for these grievous crimes.”
Furthermore, the UN Human Rights Council reported last year that “Sri Lanka has the world’s second-highest number of cases registered with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances”.
These are not preposterous stories concocted to discredit those who govern Sri Lanka but the ghastly reality in “the land like no other”.
“United we stand, divided we fall”
The need of the hour is to recall the old mantra “united we stand, divided we fall” that our parents and teachers taught us from our childhood.
In this fraught period in Sri Lanka, all religious leaders representing Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims should unite and form interfaith groups to encourage our citizens to live together in harmony.
Only a knowledgeable and unified citizenry will be able to protect our country and pave the way for Sri Lanka to become a peaceful and prosperous country for future generations.
“Remember, upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”—Alexander the Great. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 November 2021]
Photo: A leaked copy of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on political victimization being handed over. Source: Colombo Telegraph
*Somar Wijayadasa, an International lawyer was a Faculty Member of the University of Sri Lanka (1967-1973), worked in UN organizations (IAEA & FAO from 1973-1985), a Delegate of UNESCO to the UN General Assembly from 1985-1995, and Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000.
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