5th Column

Neither forgiven, nor forgotten

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My dear Easter attack victims,

I thought of writing to you this week as we remember all of you, those who are not with us now, as well those who were affected in some way or another, four years after the event. Four years and four different types of investigations and inquiries later we are all still in the dark about how it happened.

We in Paradise are notorious for our short memories. We seem to have forgotten the events of one year ago, when the country was in turmoil and Galle Face was abuzz with the ‘aragalaya’. Although we are still very much a bankrupt nation, we are holding New Year festivals at Galle Face today!

Therefore, it is surprising that we are still concerned about what happened four years ago. That is due to some tenacious people who have continued to fight for justice. They haven’t won all their battles but they have had some small victories. We can only hope that the truth will be revealed, someday.

That the attacks would be used for political purposes became apparent only a few days later. Just five days after the attacks, on the Friday after, Gota maama announced that he will run for President to save the country from what he called ‘Islamic terrorism’. That was quite convenient for him!

We all remember how, in a knee-jerk reaction to the attacks, Aiyo Sirisena appointed a three-member committee headed by a judge and including a retired Police chief to look into the incidents. What they said after a very short inquiry was that the then Police chief and Defence Secretary were negligent.

We recall this was a time when Aiyo Sirisena and Uncle Ranil were at loggerheads. It was six months before the attacks that Aiyo Sirisena sacked Uncle Ranil as PM and appointed Mahinda maama in his ‘constitutional coup’. Therefore, the Greens wanted to lay all the blame at Aiyo Sirisena’s feet.

So, before Aiyo Sirisena’s committee could even get to work, Parliament launched its own ‘Select Committee’ to look into the attacks. Some startling evidence came to light, but the findings of this committee, dominated by the Greens, came as no surprise: Aiyo Sirisena was blamed for negligence.

Meanwhile the presidential race was on. Gota maama’s slogan was ‘I saved the nation once from Tamil terrorism, I will do so again and save the nation from Islamic terrorism’. There was a lot of racial hatred in that campaign, but voters, shocked by terror after 10 years of peace, voted for him.

In the last days of his term of office, perhaps in an effort to save his own skin, Aiyo Sirisena appointed a special Commission of Inquiry, the third of its kind. Unfortunately for the poor chap, this inquiry took some time to do its work, nearly two years. When it concluded, Aiyo Sirisena had left office.

The Commissioners’ findings, presented to newly elected Gota maama recommended criminal proceedings against Aiyo Sirisena, the very person who appointed them. They also blamed Uncle Ranil for not raising the issue of not being invited to security council meetings by Aiyo Sirisena.

By that time, Aiyo Sirisena had returned to Parliament and his Party was part and parcel of Gota maama’s government. So, rather than take action against Aiyo Sirisena as recommended by the Commission, Gota maama did nothing. In return, Aiyo Sirisena remained silent, loyal and obedient!

That was when you, my dear Easter attack victims, and a few interested parties took your case to the highest court in the land. They delivered their verdict only recently. Again, they found fault with Aiyo Sirisena, several officials and Police officers, ordering them to pay millions as compensation.

Aiyo Sirisena is going around saying that he doesn’t have money to pay compensation and we haven’t heard that the others have paid either. We know it is not the money that you are interested in, but justice for the errors of commission and omission. Sadly, that justice hasn’t been delivered yet.

Most of those who were seen as being responsible for the lapses that occurred are still holding various responsible positions in the country. Some people are even aspiring for the top job in the Police force when the highest court in the land has ordered that disciplinary action be taken against them!

Only a few weeks ago we were told DNA tests confirmed that one of the suspects in the attacks had died – when two previous tests had said she hadn’t. It reminds one of JR’s famous words during the Mahara by-election contested by Vijaya: “dinanakan ganan koranna” or “count till you win”!

So, sadly and most importantly, four years later, despite your tireless efforts to seek justice, we are no closer to finding the truth about the attacks, who masterminded them, and whether there was more to it than so-called ‘Islamic terrorism’. As for who benefited most from the attack, we have a fair idea!

Mark my word, dear Easter attack victims, come next year, when it will be the fifth anniversary of the attacks, you will still be raising the same questions and still be seeking answers from the powers that be. I am not sure what is worse, the pain of losing a loved one, being disabled or not knowing the truth?

Yours truly,

Punchi Putha

PS: Those famous words, ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’, does not apply in this instance. That is because ‘they’ know very well what they are doing – using the Easter attacks for political purposes even now, four years later – and that is why they can never be forgiven.