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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Five years on Cardinal Ranjith renews broadside against Easter Sunday attacks culprits

  • Blasts ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for reneging on promises to deliver justice 
  • Reveals Rajapaksa had personally conveyed his inability to carry out recommendations of investigative bodies against those aligned with him 
  • Refutes claims by Rajapaksa that the Catholic Church was a key party to the Aragalaya movement
  • Criticises lack of response from current President Ranil Wickremesinghe to a communique by clergy and laymen calling for justice
  • Condemns AG’s silence on legal action against officials implicated in the attack
  • Voices suspicions that former and current Governments attempting to conceal the truth and protect those connected to terror incident 
  • Says foremost duty of current or new Govt. is to conduct an independent investigation and uncover the truth
  • Claims Church approached UNHRC not out of a lack of love for SL but because all local avenues for justice were unavailable

By Maneshka Borham./ Daily FT

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday launched a scathing attack against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the main commemoration event held at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade as the Catholic community marked five years since the tragic Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Ranjith said in the eyes of the Catholic community, Rajapaksa remains a figure who reneged on his commitments, failing to fulfil the promise of delivering justice to the victims as he had pledged. Over 250 were killed including 45 foreigners along with over 500 injured in the terror attacks in three city five-star hotels and equal number of churches in different parts of the country on 21 April 2019.

The Cardinal highlighted that in the aftermath of the attacks, various investigative bodies, including a committee led by former Judge Vijith Malgoda, a select committee, and a Presidential Commission of Inquiry, were established to examine the incident.

“Notably, it was Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the victor of the Presidential election held in November 2019, who was entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the recommendations outlined in these reports,” he said.

Image courtesy of Daily Mirror

He recalled that before the election, Rajapaksa attended two political rallies in Negombo and Ja-Ela, and also participated in a meeting with the Catholic Bishops Conference. He said during these interactions, Rajapaksa assured the attendees that a transparent investigation into the attack would be conducted and justice would be delivered to the victims.

However, Ranjith disclosed that the day after the PCoI report was submitted, Rajapaksa personally contacted him to discuss the challenges he faced in implementing the recommendations. He said Rajapaksa cited the difficulty of having to potentially arrest leaders of certain organisations aligned with him or consider banning these organisations as per the report’s suggestions.

“Rajapaksa, in the eyes of the Catholic community, became someone who reneged on his promises. He delayed the submission of the first volume of the report and withheld others. Moreover, as President, he showed no interest in delivering justice despite being tasked with the responsibility. Instead, he opted to appoint a committee of six ministers to implement only selected recommendations,” Ranjith lamented.

The Cardinal also recounted Rajapaksa’s efforts to remove officials involved in the investigations. “One key investigator was imprisoned, while others were transferred to distant areas. It’s regrettable that only officials sympathetic to him were appointed to disrupt the investigations,” he said.

Expressing perplexity over the then Government’s disruptive and delayed actions, the Cardinal accused Rajapaksa of failing to respond to a letter signed by 34 persons, including clergy and laymen, sent in July 2021 calling for an independent and transparent investigation into the attacks.

He also addressed accusations by Rajapaksa in his recent book ‘The Conspiracy’ that the Catholic Church was a key party behind the Aragalaya movement, which forced him to resign. The Cardinal clarified that while Rajapaksa had shattered the community’s confidence in him to deliver justice and reveal the truth about the attack, it was not only Catholics but members of all communities who had joined the struggle against him. “It is true that Catholic clergy joined the Aragalaya, but it was not only Catholics present there,” he emphasised.

Ranjith highlighted that all communities had united in response to the economic collapse and ensuing hardships faced by the people due to Rajapaksa’s decisions. He asserted that Rajapaksa’s failure to lead the country on a democratic path and unify all communities led to the Catholics, along with others, joining the Aragalaya movement out of deep patriotism.

The Cardinal firmly stated that attributing political motives to the Catholic Church is incorrect. Instead of accusing the Church, he urged everyone who holds such notions to introspect and reflect on the past.

He emphasised that the primary responsibility of any Government, especially a new one, should be to prioritise an independent investigation into the Easter attacks and uncover the truth. He said failing to do so would perpetuate a stain on the country’s reputation and integrity.

Current President Ranil Wickremesinghe was also not spared by the Cardinal in his speech. The Cardinal highlighted that on 23 October 2023, a letter was sent to the current President by Catholic clergy and laymen. However, there was no response from President Wickremesinghe indicating a reluctance to address the Easter Sunday attacks and pursue new information uncovered during the investigation. He said this lack of action underscored the Government’s unwillingness to deliver justice to the victims of the attack.

Ranjith noted that despite recommendations to the Attorney General to take legal action against certain officials from the Government and security forces for failing to take action to prevent the attack, the Attorney General has remained silent. The Cardinal condemned this inaction by the Attorney General, stating that it was unfair and biased, and amounted to an insult to the rule of law in the country.

The Cardinal expressed the community’s confusion and inability to understand how to interpret the actions of the rulers. He voiced serious suspicions that both the former and current Governments were attempting to bury the truth and protect those connected to it. He asserted that there was no other conclusion possible, as otherwise, there would be no reason for their reluctance to reveal the truth.

He pointed out that while an extremist Islamic group was involved in the attack, there is evidence of another group backing them. The lack of investigation and attempts to cover up the evidence can only lead to the conclusion that the current Government wants to sweep it under the carpet.

Regarding the Church’s decision to seek redress from the international community, the Cardinal explained that this step was taken because all local options were closed to them. He emphasised that it was due to the inability to uncover the truth behind the incident that they turned to the UNHRC. He clarified that this decision was not made out of a lack of love for the country but because all local avenues were unavailable. He questioned the Government on its failure to investigate the conspiracy behind the attack.

The Cardinal noted that aside from the loss of human lives and the individuals affected, the attack also altered the trajectory of Sri Lankan politics, consequently negatively impacting the country’s economy. He emphasised that the inability of the economy to recover since then serves as evidence of the widespread and devastating impact of the attack.

The Cardinal highlighted the emergence of a notable ruling class, which initially aligned with traditional leftist and socialist ideals but has now joined forces with a Western-leaning, free trade-supporting faction. He criticised this alliance for disregarding the plight of the people and engaging in plans to sell off national assets to foreign entities, thereby jeopardising the country’s sovereignty.

“Most of the population suffers in poverty while the nation’s assets enrich a select few and foreign entities. Recent legislation appears to steer the country toward a dictatorship. “If someone attributes all these issues to the Catholic Church, it can only be concluded that they are mentally addled and not in their right senses,” he remarked.

He attributed Sri Lanka’s current unstable situation to the politicians who have governed it over the past 76 years since its independence. “We reject the former President accusing the Catholic Church for these issues without addressing them,” he said firmly, highlighting that it reflects a failure to take responsibility. “They must look for solutions rather than laying blame elsewhere,” he said.

In conclusion, the Cardinal emphasised the urgent need for a genuinely transparent and fair investigation, incorporating all information concerning the attack. He underscored that assigning blame to others and hiding the truth will not bring healing to the nation. He lamented the country’s entrapment in a politically corrupt cycle and called for an end to the facade of politicians. “Truth and justice cannot be hidden indefinitely,” he declared.

The commemorative event saw the presence of Catholic clergy, including the Apostolic Nuncio of Sri Lanka Dr. Brian Udaigwe, as well as religious leaders from various faiths such as Omple Sobitha Thera and former Anglican Bishop of Colombo Dhiloraj Canagasabey. Diplomats, representatives of religious organisations, and members of the public also attended. A solemn moment of two minutes’ silence was observed, not only at the event but also in churches across the country, to honour and remember those who tragically lost their lives in the attack. Various other commemorative events were also held demanding justice for the victims including a walk from the St. Anthony’s Shrine to the St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya.

Daily FT

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