By Priests and Religious for Peace and Justice, North-East and South
This statement comes in the wake of the release of a documentary by Channel 4, exposing the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday bomb attack in 2019. The documentary has recently drawn the attention of various stakeholders. The Priests and Religious for Justice and Peace, North-East and those in solidarity with them from the South and stand for the cause of the Eelam Tamils express that the unitary state structure would continue to perpetrate violence against the numerically fewer communities especially the Eelam Tamils. The Eelam Tamils have been living in the island affected by the protracted war perpetrated by the state and continue to experience genocide as a historical process due to genocidal policies of the state endorsed by the parliament of the unitary nation-state.
We, thus, state the following:
We have witnessed the enthusiasm among the brothers and sisters in the South insisting on the international nature of inquiry needed for the investigation into the crimes committed. The archbishop of Colombo in his press release dated 6th September 2023 emphasised calling for an “ international team assisted by Sri Lankan officials of the CID whose services were originally sought by the government …. [for] free, impartial, just, transparent and broad based investigation into what the Channel 4 Television Network revealed …” and requested the “fellow citizens to focus their attention on the facts that have been spoken of in and through this programmes and our concern is not to find fault with this Channel on its past relationship with this country but the content of their findings which are important for us.” Further to note, “unless such a transparent and sincere investigation is launched, we do not feel that truth and justice will be meted out to the innocent victims of the 2019 Easter attacks.”
We strongly endorse the demands of the Cardinal and sincerely support his plea for holding perpetrators accountable so that the victims have justice meted out. Recongition of the responsibility of the government/state structure in perpetrating the crime is a significant milestone. The government/state structure have to be held accountable for the crimes it committed on their own citizens as it is their responsibility to protect their own citizens. It is to be noted that the state has a monopoly over the practice of violence.
On another note we as Priests and Religious for Justice and Peace, North-East and South would like to emphasise that Channel 4 also released previous documentaries on crimes committed in violation of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law which were painted as fabricated and fake but we Eelam Tamils know too well the truth of those crimes as we remain witness to truth and tell the truth to the power.
We would like to reiterate our demands that there cannot be an international nature of investigation demanded for one documentary released on the Easter Sunday bombing, while completely refuting the truth of the documentaries previously released by the same Channel 4 on crimes perpetrated against Eelam Tamils. We feel this exposes deeply polarised understandings of justice and further divides the communities and unravels the hierarchy of victimhood. It is unfair to neglect the emblematic cases that the recent documentary discloses.
Eelam Tamils have been demanding an international investigation into crimes committed with the deep experiential knowledge and conviction that the Sri Lankan judiciary which is part of the unitary state structure is deeply flawed and hence it cannot render justice to Eelam Tamils. We would like to state again with emphasis that Eelam Tamils demand international inquiry into genocide, as a historical process which is the crime of the crimes and of which state is responsible and complicit. Eelam Tamils lost hope in the Sri Lankan judicial mechanism long ago.
We are also deeply disappointed that the Daily Mirror publication online carried the news titled, ‘Perpetrators behind Easter Sunday attacks can be forgiven: Cardinal’ that reports “Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith over the weekend stressed that the perpetrators behind the Easter Sunday attacks can be forgiven if they accept responsibility and repent.” The statement was supported by citing the example of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. The example and the Cardinal’s statement in the context of the Easter Sunday bombing is quite misleading. The historical context of South Africa is distinct from that of Sri Lanka. South Africa’s transition of power from the minority rule to allowing universal voting rights for the oppressed majority included a long process of consultation within the country and in designing a Truth and Reconciliation model, they did not eliminate retributive justice but emphasised the need for restorative justice for victims in that specific context, at that time which need to be taken into account of.
Forgiveness to the perpetrators, if repented without retributive, transformative and restorative justice in Sri Lanka is problematic, for the following reasons:
1. Sri Lanka has a culture of impunity embedded in its nationalistic consciousness justifying the crimes of the military apparatus as a mechanism that;
a) safeguards the Sinhala-Buddhists, the Sri Lankan citizens,
b) protects the nation and
c) religion which is Buddhism
2. Impunity sustains militarisation of the island especially in the North-East. As reported the North-East remains heavily militarised, especially the district of Mullaitivu where the last phase of the war was staged. The ratio of militarisation is, for two civilians there is one military personnel.
3. Militarisation continues to perpetrate crimes, and as a result of heavy militarisation, Tamil women are the worst affected demographic.
4. The culture of impunity has become an intrinsic characteristic of unitary state structure.
5. Sri Lanka’s unitary state structure continues to construct the ‘Other’ who are non-Sinhala-Buddhists, as the non-chosen.
6. Forgiveness cannot be compromised for justice because it is not a substitute for justice.
Victims of state violence are not a monolithic group in Sri Lanka. Treating victims as a homogenous group is to have all the victims on the same pedestal which is deeply problematic. The portrayal of victims as passive victims shows “having power over” is problematic for they are the agents of transformation and are entitled to ethics of representation.
We would like to call upon all those who love humanity to uphold peace for which justice is a precursor to work together in bringing justice to the victims of crimes without any discrimination.
 Yohan Perera ‘Perpetrators behind Easter Sunday attacks can be forgiven: Cardinal’ Daily Mirror (11 September 2023) available at: <https://www.dailymirror.lk/top-story/Perpetrators-behind-Easter-Sunday-attacks-can-be-forgiven-Cardinal/155-267058#:~:text=Archbishop%20of%20Colombo%20Cardinal%20Malcolm,they%20accept%20responsibility%20and%20repent.> 267058#:~:text=Archbishop%20of%20Colombo%20Cardinal%20Malcolm,they%20accept%20responsibility%20and%20repent.
 Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research ‘Mapping Militarisation in Mullaitivu’ available at: <https://adayaalam.org/mapping-militarisation-in-mullaitivu/>.