Justice Denied for Easter Attacks Victims
By Buddhika Samaraweera
Two years back, 21 April 2019 dawned like any other day and most Sri Lankans were still enjoying with their families and friends since it was just seven days after Sinhala and Tamil New Year. The Christians too were commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as is done every Easter Sunday at Churches, but that enjoyment lasted only for a few hours of the morning that day.
The whole atmosphere was tragically transformed into one of utter numbing shock, leaving the world stunned in sheer disbelief, and Sri Lankans paralysed in fear and heart-wrenching sorrow. Marking the biggest human massacre in Sri Lanka in recent times, several explosions occurred like clockwork at three leading hotels in Colombo, three prominent Churches and two other locations. More than 260 people including children lost their lives, while hundreds more suffered injuries.
After more than 10 years since the end of a gruelling separatist war, the ugly face of terrorism raised its ugly head once more, on 21 April 2019, when the Christians were commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This Wednesday marks exactly two years since that brutal episode. The loved ones of those killed in the attack are still in tears and the injured are still being transferred from one hospital to another in hope of restoration.
Not only Catholics but also believers of other religions suffered in the bombing and the families of the victims are still hoping that justice will be served to them. A father who lost his 19-year-old son and 22-year-old daughter in the April 21 bombing of St. Anthony's Church in Kochchikade made a sensitive statement at a recent Media briefing at the Archbishop's House in Colombo. His son was scheduled to sit for the A / L examination in 2019 and his daughter had been studying at the University of Kelaniya. He said all those who did not take action to prevent bombings despite receiving prior information should be punished.
Meanwhile, Chandima, a resident close by St. Sebastian's Church, Katuwapitiya, who participated in the Media briefing, said that she had lost her husband and two daughters due to the bombing. However, she said that it does not appear that the Government and other authorities are taking action to punish the perpetrators and those responsible for the bombings. She added that His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, had been with them since the day of the attack.
In addition, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Easter Sunday bombing has recommended that one person killed in the suicide bombing at Zion Church in Batticaloa, which was one of a series of bombings on Easter Sunday, should be considered a hero.
According to the report of PCoI, the suicide bomber explodes the bomb around 9:03 a.m. at Zion Church and a total of 31 deaths occurred of which the majority were children. A total of 72 injuries were reported. However, the death toll would have been higher if not for the brave action taken by late Ramesh Raju.
Raju’s timely action prevented an absolute carnage
Nagaiya Stanley, one of the pastors of the Church was concerned by an individual standing near the main entrance of the Church and requested Raju to politely take him away from the main area. By that action, Raju was then able to prevent Azad from coming into the church and exploding the bomb in the midst of the entire congregation, which would’ve been an absolute carnage. In appreciation of the brave action of Raju, the PCoI has recommended to the Government to make a reward payment to his next-of-kin.
Meanwhile, expressing the wonder whether there are any external interference behind the investigations into the bombings on Easter Sunday, Archdiocesan Committee for Justice to Easter Sunday Attack Victims stated that if investigations are not properly carried out they are left with no alternative but to intensify islandwide protests.
Baffling, after two years no serious headway
The Committee said, “When we look at the way the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and other relevant institutions handle intelligence and find out the culprits who commit other crimes, taking actions against them speedily, it baffles us as to why after two years they cannot do so in this case. Getting at the culprits who murdered 269 innocent human beings cold-bloodedly and injured seriously over 300 others, some of whom remain maimed and made to go from hospital to hospital for the rest of their life.”
It also stated, “This makes us wonder whether there is any external interference that hampers the efficiency of these institutions in finding out who the real culprits are and in prosecuting those responsible for the attacks. If this does not happen, we are left with no other option but to intensify further our protest action and to extend it to the whole country,”
The Committee also mentioned that it is of absolute necessity to prosecute all Political leaders and officials who did not fulfil their responsibilities towards averting the Easter Sunday bombings despite sufficient knowledge of an impending attack.
According to the recommendations made by the PCoI, all such political leaders and officials who neglected their duties should be brought before the law irrespective of the positions they held, the committee added.
It insisted that all extremist Islamist groups which are a threat to national security must be proscribed with immediate effect while simultaneously taking action against foreign sponsors, local agents, and Islamic preachers who promote extremism and are supporting such groups.
In addition, all imported weaponry by these groups, including all financial assets should immediately be confiscated.
The press release further added that if extremist and terrorist organisations who were responsible for the attack and those who finance them were allowed to possess weapons and operate freely, that would lead to similar or more violent attacks targeting any racial or religious groups. While it is the primary duty of the Government to curb such threats, the Archdiocese stated that it is also the responsibility of the Opposition to give their fullest support in that regard.
The PCoI has also made a number of recommendations to prevent such tragedies from happening again. However, the Government has not yet implemented any of them, but instead seen appointing more committees to study the report.
In this context, it is clear that justice for the victims will be delayed even by a moment through all these processes. Furthermore, we must keep in mind, that every moment, law enforcement is delayed against all parties involved in this attack, all parties, including the Government, are knowingly or unknowingly paving the way for similar or even more destructive incidents in the future.
Justice delayed is justice denied
None of us can bring back to life those who died in this massacre. In addition, those who have been injured and become permanently disabled will not be able to return to normal. However, justice can be served to those innocent people who have had to pay with their lives for no reason, and to those helpless people who have become disabled, by bringing all those who are more or less involved in this genocide, before the law.
It is truly sad that the Government and other authorities have been waiting for protests demanding justice for them. We do not know what caused it, but at least from today, two years after the catastrophe on 21 April 2019, all parties, including the Government, must be determined never to see such catastrophes occur once more.
All authorities should be ashamed of the fact that victims were extremely helpless so much so that they had to get onto the streets and stage protests, demanding those responsible for this catastrophe be prosecuted. The only appeal to the Government and all authorities concerned is to try to bring solace to tearful eyes of those who have lost their loved ones, and those who have been disabled. They have no other recourse. Promptly prosecute all perpetrators who brutally destroyed the absolute right to life of nearly 260 innocent people for no reason.