This week’s acquittal of former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundera of a plethora of charges filed against them by the Attorney General in connection to jihadist attacks on Colombo’s churches and hotels, completes the sorry circle of Sri Lanka’s sham investigations into the Easter Sunday atrocity in [...]


Divine vengeance and human atrocities


This week’s acquittal of former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundera of a plethora of charges filed against them by the Attorney General in connection to jihadist attacks on Colombo’s churches and hotels, completes the sorry circle of Sri Lanka’s sham investigations into the Easter Sunday atrocity in 2019.  

CID interrogations have reached patent levels of absurdity

This is the fate of virtually every criminal investigation, inclusive of the murder and abduction of Tamil or Muslim children, Sinhala critics or Catholic innocents caught up in brutal power games cloaked in the garb of religious extremism. As this unfolds at one level, Catholic priests voicing blunt concerns as to lack of justice for members of their flock are being summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). That questioning has reached levels of patent absurdity, let it be said plainly.

Complainants are asked as to how they know of matters reflected in Commission reports, extracts of which are in the public domain. Most recently, the media director of the Archdiocese of Colombo was questioned as to how he had been made aware of a statement by the country’s Tourism Minister that former President Maithripala Sirisena had to bear responsibility for the Easter Sunday attacks. Is this what tax payers’ money is expended on? Obviously, the former President was vested with vicarious responsibility for allowing the attacks to happen on his watch.

However if a greater legal burden is alleged on his part or others in political authority, Presidents or not, sitting in office or not, the makers of those statements must be questioned, not complainants. Asking complainants as to how they are aware of information that is categorically part of the public record by the CID, strains even the little credibility left to it. This is while the interrogation of those who actually possess crucial knowledge remains conspicuously absent.

Are public officers ‘helpless’ before politicians?

Perhaps that same enthusiasm in questioning complainants may be extended to interrogating members of the intelligence services, implicated by a former Director of the CID Shani Abeysekera in the petition that Abeysekera filed a few days ago in the Supreme Court, as knowing or having a greater measure of culpability in the 2019 attacks. Gently put, we should not hold our breath for this to happen. Further discussion of the acquittal of the former IGP and the Defence Secretary by a Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar must follow a comprehensive analysis of that decision.

But as reported, the court had remarked that the two officers concerned had been ‘helpless’ in the face of decisions made by others, including politicians and intelligence officers, over which they had no control. This may well be the case in actual fact. However, ‘helplessness’ on the part of public servants when confronted with affairs of State that lead to what becomes (literally) questions of life and death for citizens cannot just end there. That is an easy pass for high state officers.

Rather, there is the legal concept of due diligence on which they must be held to account. That said, the Attorney General deserves the reprimand that he got for indicting these two officers as if the entire cumulative responsibility of the Easter Sunday attacks rested on them as well as for the slim case that was put before the Court. Until the Office of the Attorney General frees itself from the slimy tentacles of politicisation that clings to its decisions to indict or not to indict, it will remain indicted itself in the court of public opinion.

Hard truths in the face of global scrutiny

This is one classic case; many others are documented and are on public record. As much as public officers must not simply raise their hands to the heavens saying that the political command is stronger than their authority and that there is ‘nothing that they can do’, the same applies to the state law office. Its trend in filing or withdrawing indictments with no discernible public responsibility is nothing short of scandalous. These are not abstract issues. When Sri Lanka’s courts themselves reprimand the state law office for actions or inactions, it is the legal process itself that comes under immediate scrutiny.

If our Governments realise this hard truth, it will be easier for them as well as (undeniably) for us. Compliance with the Rule of Law and institutional independence is the core issue on which the country will be assessed and measured at the upcoming 49th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). When the cry emanates from every quarter, that the country’s justice and institutional process has collapsed, a few amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA, 1979) and the sudden releasing of detainees held under the PTA will not suffice to stem the tide.

But all these are games, for the Government as well as for the Opposition. Statements or petitions protesting that the proposed PTA amendments are a farce are well and good. We may hope that this time around at least, signatories to such will read its contents properly rather than sign first and revise later, which appears to be generally the case in such instances. But to more important effect, certain hard questions must be asked.  When the Opposition was in power (2015-2019), what were the steps it took to ensure the demands that they are making now?

The vengeance of the gods

At the time, a counter terror law was proposed that put the PTA to shame in vague definitions of what amounted to terrorism and enormous over-reach on civil liberties including monitoring of financial accounts. Were petitions signed, opposing that proposal as well by the very signatories of the present petition and/or statement circulating in the rarefied confines of Colombo? If not, why not as the Parliamentary lingo goes? The argument that the proposed CTA was merely a White Paper and had no policy impact is demonstrably disingenuous.

If public outrage had not ensued at the time, the CTA would have been part of our law by now. Therein hangs a tale of considerable interest. So to return to Geneva, the question has become simply, how much can each Government pull the wool over the eyes of the ‘international community’ each time these sessions are held? For such is our fate that each and every national policy decision of any importance is reliant on the pressure that emanates from such fora. It was remarked in these column spaces, a few weeks ago, that our Governments have only themselves to blame for making the UNHRC with all its inherent political biases, relevant to us.

There is no point in bitterly complaining about this when we, through our own actions, have reduced the law to a mockery. In the meantime, the good Cardinal, the head of Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church, Malcolm Ranjith thunders that divine retribution will visit the heads of those responsible for the Easter Sunday mayhem. This bears an uncanny resemblance to Tamil mothers who call on the goddess Kali to bring justice to the killers of their children when the  country’s legal system fail them. Seeking the vengeance of the deities has become the only recourse left to Sri Lanka’s many and varied victims.

Perhaps this is why the nation is being increasingly abandoned by the gods as it slides into financial, social and legal anarchy.

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