President speaks out on PCoI Report on Easter Sunday attacks

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday countered with solid facts on falsehoods over the Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Easter Sunday attacks that was submitted to him on 1 February being propagated by certain groups seeking undue political advantage.

The President pointed out that his Government was not in power when the attacks took place and the Report has concluded that the root cause behind this tragedy was the inefficiency on the part of the Yahapalanaya Government.

“We do not want to hide the Report. The people did not even get a glance of the reports of some Presidential Commissions appointed in the past. We released the current Report within a month. The Government cannot exercise capital punishment to the guilty. The punishments are determined by the Judiciary. Our Government will take the responsibility of punishing the perpetrators. We will leave no room for separatist terrorism or Islamic extremism under our Government,” President adds.

The President expressed these views during the 13th ‘Discussion with the Village’ program held at the Manduragama in the Weragala Grama Niladhari Division, Giribawa Divisional Secretariat in the Kurunegala District on Saturday.

Following is the full text of President’s speech:

The Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday attacks was released recently. I saw some politicians seeking to gain undue political advantage from this, making us the scapegoat. But the fact remains that attacks took place on 21 April 2019. At that time we were not in power, I was not the President and we did not have a Government.

The final Report was submitted to me on 1 February this year. It clearly states at the outset that “the Commission was appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena, at his discretion in accordance with the provisions of Section 393 which is the Second article of the amended Presidential Commission of Inquiry Act, on 21st of September 2019 to investigate and report on the following matters”. The Commission was appointed by the former President.

When the Report of the Commission is scrutinised, it has clearly stated who should be held responsible for this incident. I have marked a few places to raise awareness. On many occasions, it has been made clear who is responsible for the tragedy. The Report concludes: “Since 2015”, that is, from the end of Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, “national security was not a priority of the government”.

Instead, national unity and reconciliation were given priority. A number of witnesses testified that the Government did not take proactive measures against religious extremism. It further adds that “for what occurred on April 21st, 2019 the inefficient government” was a major factor. Not only the former President Maithripala Sirisena and the Prime Minister but also the Government as a whole is responsible for this tragedy.

Those who were in the former Government pretend as if they were not a part of it. I have seen various political leaders and former Government ministers talking about this as if they were not partners of that Government. That is to mislead you. This tragedy is not up for political gain. This is a national issue. But unfortunately those who were with the very same inefficient Government are now accusing us.

I am specifically aware that the Cardinal is in pain because of this. Several churches were attacked. His eminence has to be responsible for those people who suffered. So it is only fair to speak in the manner he spoke. But the ministers of the former Government claim that when they return to power in future, they would take a number of measures.

I heard one say that they would carry out the death penalty. I do not comprehend how a Government would exercise capital punishment. Our Government is not prepared to influence the Judiciary and impose death sentence.

We will take legal action against the perpetrators and the court will determine what their punishments should be. The Government does not have the power to condemn anyone to be hanged to death. That happened in the past. Our Government does not do that. It is very wrong to politicise this using falsehoods.

On page 503 of the Commission’s Report states: “One of the main reasons for the attacks on Easter Sunday was the lack of focus on national security and defence. It is proposed to pass an act on National Security as part of Defence Policy. The ruling party had no control over the national security and the priority to be given to national security.”

We prioritised national security during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. We ended 30 years of terrorism. Not only that, since then we launched a special program to prevent the re-emergence of terrorism anywhere in the country.

We deployed intelligence cells, the Armed Forces and the Police everywhere in the North and launched a special program to assure national security. It is clear from the Report of this Commission that the failure to continue these security measures led to the unfortunate turn of events. It clearly states that this situation was a result of lack of proper focus on national security.

Again on page 306 it is stated that when the testimonies were examined that it was difficult for the Commission of Inquiry to fathom why Mr. Wickremesinghe and his Government have failed to play a more active role in combating emerging Islamic extremism. It states “There are hundreds of IS supporters in Sri Lanka, and IS is spreading like wildfire in South Asia”.

The Report has emphasised the need for the formulation of a legal framework to prevent the spread of religious hatred. Unfortunately, the then Government, including Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, failed to do so. Several witnesses testified that the Government was reluctant to take drastic action against rising Islamic extremism because of its dependence on the support of Muslim political parties. The evidence produced before the Commission of Inquiry to support this conclusion.

This Commission was not appointed by me, it was appointed by our former President at the request of that Government. Some people are trying to escape guilt by pinning blame on the former President. But this clearly states, and you all are aware, that the Government brought in the 19th Amendment and removed his powers. But now they remain silent. They removed his powers saying that the Parliament must be empowered.

The page number 18 states that: “Evidence before the Commission of Inquiry clearly shows that the Sri Lankan authorities failed to take adequate and effective measures to mitigate the threat of Islamic extremism at the critical period from 2016-2019.” The Report repeatedly highlights the inefficiency of the previous Government. Now they say what they will do if they come back to power. But they didn’t take appropriate steps while they were in power.

Now our Government has given top priority to national security like in the time of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. We have appointed talented officers to the posts of Defence Secretary, Commander-in-Chief, Head of National Intelligence and Heads of Military Intelligence Units to reactivate the process that we began at that time. Allegations are made against us by the Human Rights Council for these steps. But the responsibility for the security of our country lies with the Government. After the end of 30 years of terrorism, the recurrence of such an incident many years later occurred due to the negligence in prioritising national security. But our Government will never allow separatist terrorism or Islamic extremism to raise its head again. Our Government will act with responsibility to take appropriate actions.

We absolutely reject the absurd and baseless allegations levelled against us claiming that our Government is responsible for what happened on Easter Sunday. When reading this Report it can clearly be seen who is responsible for this vicious incident. It is the responsibility of our Government to punish culprits.

We will fulfil our duty in this regard without failure. We will consider not only this report, but other reports as well by the CID and the intelligence services. Since we came to power we have apprehended a large number of suspects. We will continue that work. We will definitely punish those who are responsible for this tragedy.

At the same time, I have to repeat, as I have mentioned earlier, this is a national issue and it should be kept out of petty politics. Our Government did not come to power by exploiting the Easter Sunday attack, but some say we came to power by selling Easter Sunday carnage. We did not use Easter Sunday incident to gain political power.

You are aware that we won the Co-operative elections well before the tragedy due to the wrong policies of the previous Government. The Local Government Elections took place well before the Easter Sunday attack. We won the majority of local councils that is not an outcome of the Easter Sunday incident.

During my election campaign, I never used the Easter Sunday massacre to garner votes. But, I said that the then Government did not give priority to national security. I made that comment because intelligence officers and leaders were imprisoned to appease the foreign entities. How many of them were taken before courts?

War heroes and the former Navy chief are still suffering. Intelligence officers were falsely accused and harassed. We spoke about those misdeeds that were carried out disregarding national security.

(Source: Daily FT)