Let Justice be Done
Sri Lanka has had several Presidential Commissions since the Executive Presidency came into being 43 years ago in 1978.
The first Presidential Commission was appointed by President J.R. Jayewardene in March 1978. Recommendations made by that Commission were carried out to the letter by the Government in power then, legally, whereas in the case of the other commissions since appointed, they were either aborted or their recommendations not carried out, or if carried out, upon appeal to Courts, namely, the Supreme Court, their findings were squashed.
The 1978 Presidential Commission which comprised three members, namely Supreme Court Justices S. Sharvananda and J.G.T. Weeraratne and Appeal Court Justice K.C.E. de Alwis was appointed to inquire into abuse and misuse of power committed by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike when she was in power from 1970 to 1977.
That Commission, after nearly 30 months deliberations (almost 900 days), in September 1980 came to the conclusion that Bandaranaike was guilty of misuse and abuse of power and recommended that she be stripped of her civic rights for seven years. Parliament then passed the required law depriving Bandaranaike of her civic rights for seven years.
At the time of passing that law, Bandaranaike was an ordinary MP representing the Attanagalla electorate under the SLFP ticket. She never challenged the findings of this Commission in Court, nor did she challenge the legality of Parliament passing a law depriving her of her civic rights for seven years.
However, prior to the expiry of seven years, Jayewardene, issuing a Presidential pardon, restored Bandaranaike of her civic rights on 1 January 1986.
Meanwhile, the lead story of this newspaper’s Wednesday’s (24 February) edition reported that the five-member Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into ‘Bloody Easter Sunday’ has recommended criminal proceedings against former President Maithripala Sirisena, among others.
‘Bloody Easter Sunday’ resulted in the deaths of 270 and injuries to around 500. It occurred on 21 April, 2019.
It took place with eight suicide terrorists carrying out almost simultaneous attacks on St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade, Kotahena; St. Sebastian Church, Katuwapitiya and Zion Church, Batticaloa and Hotels Shangri-La , the Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand Colombo.
The five member PCoI comprised Supreme Court Judge Janak de Silva; Appeal Court Judge Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne; retired Supreme Court judges Nihal Sunil Rajapaksha and A. L. Bandula Kumara Atapattu and former Justice Ministry Secretary W. M. M. R. Adhikari, respectively.
Seemingly, paradoxically, this Commission was appointed by Sirisena when he was in power.
In fact soon after ‘Bloody Easter Sunday,’ Sirisena appointed a three-member Commission to inquire into the attack. That Commission comprised Supreme Court Judge Vijith K. Malalgoda and included former IGP N.K. Ilangakoon and former Law and Order Ministry Secretary Padamasiri Jayamanne. The Malalgoda Commission handed over their recommendations to Sirisena on 10 June 2019. However, the contents of this report were never made public.
Parallel to the appointment of the Malalgoda Commission, Parliament too appointed a Select Committee to probe ‘Bloody Easter Sunday.’ The contents of the Parliament Select Committee report too haven’t been made public.
Meanwhile, the PCoI which recorded evidence from 457 people over a period of 214 days compiled a report which comprised 472 pages, 215 annextures and six volumes. They submitted their report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on 1 February, 2021.
Nonetheless, Rajapaksa, on Saturday (20 February) appointed a six-member committee to study ‘in depth the facts and recommendations on the course of action contained in the final report of the PCoI into ‘Bloody Easter Sunday.’ The Committee is headed by the President’s elder brother Minister Chamal Rajapaksa and comprises Ministers Johnston Fernando, Udaya Gammanpila, Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardene. This Committee is required to submit its report to President Rajapaksa before 15 March, 2021.
The masses expect that the culmination of the appointment of these committees and commissions would result in justice being meted out for the sake of the 270 who died and the 500 who were injured because of ‘Bloody Easter Sunday’.