The Long Wait for Justice

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In a disappointing turn of events, former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and former IGP Pujith Jayasundara, both indicted on charges of failure to prevent the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks and complicity to murder, were acquitted of all charges on Friday (18), when their case was taken up before a Trial-at-Bar of the Colombo High Court.

The victims of the Easter Sunday attacks that killed more than 250 civilians and injured over 500, including a number of foreigners, have been awaiting justice for over 1,000 days since the attacks. 

However, over the last couple of years, the incident morphed from a terrorist and social issue into a far more sinister political contest, with conspiracy theories and blame games occupying the public space, much to the chagrin of the victims and their families. 

The most devastating attack on civilians since end of the war a decade earlier, the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks highlighted, more than anything else, the failure of the security apparatus of the time to prevent an attack of that scale. Despite repeated warnings by foreign intelligence agencies, even up to a few hours before the attacks initiated, showed an incredulous amount of apathy towards public security by the watchdogs in charge of both national and public security at the time. 

Among over 200 suspects who were arrested within days of the attacks, on charges varying from planning, intel gathering, aiding and abetting or executing the attacks, the two most high profile attests were that of former Defence Secretary Fernando and former IGP Jayasundara, the top most officials tasked with safeguarding the nation and the public against such attacks. 

Leaving aside those who planned and carried out the dastardly attacks, who should be held responsible for neglecting or downplaying intelligence reports that warned of the attacks, starting from 4 April until a few hours before the attacks, which even named the mastermind Zaharan Hashim and his National Thowheed Jama’ath organisation?  

Not only Fernando and Jayasundara, should not the entire government at the time be held responsible for not safeguarding the public? Should not them all, starting from the President at the time, bow their heads in shame for neglecting their foremost duty in protecting the public, and be severely punished for it? As a country that came out of a devastating war, just a decade earlier, did we not learn not to brush aside any security warning that come our way? 

Be that as it may, what actually happened in the aftermath is that any and all responsible parties hastened to wash their hands of any responsibility and started looking for scapegoats and started concocting conspiracy theories, while attempting to mislead the public away from the real issue. 

Amidst these political backbiting, one voice stood unwavering – Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, whose relentless pursuit of justice for the victims of the Easter attacks, prevented the incident from being swept under the carpet. 

Unfortunately though, even after numerous commissions, and hounding by the authorities of those who publicly utter any opinion about the attacks, those responsible for allowing the attacks to take place have not been brought to justice.

Adding salt to the wounds of the victims, the only two people who had been indicted of the failure to prevent the attacks have now been acquitted, draining any hope that they had of seeing justice being done.      

Now we are back to square one. 

In a few weeks’ time, the country will mark three years since the Easter attacks, yet, no perpetrator or any responsible party, have been brought to justice. 

What other remedy is left for those who lost their loved ones, who were peacefully attending the Easter Sunday Mass in Church or enjoying Easter morning breakfast at a hotel before tragedy hit them, in a country that proudly announced to the world that they wiped out terrorism from their land?