An Echelon Media Company
Tuesday January 31st, 2023

The often futile quest for Justice in Sri Lanka affects all

Police and Ambulances outside the Shrine of St Anthony in Kochchikade after the Easter Sunday attacks

ECONOMYNEXT – It is nearly two years since the Easter bombings killed about 115 in the St. Sebastian’s Church (Catholic) in Katuwapitiya, about 50 in the St. Anthony’s Church (Catholic) in Kochchikade, about 30 in the Zion Church in Batticaloa, and about 66 more at other locations including three big tourist hotels. Those responsible have often been identified by their ethnicity (Muslim) and religion (Islam). However, the masterminds, as well as high-level politicians and government officials who could have prevented the attacks, are yet to be determined, though suspicions have been cast on several persons, including then-President Maithripala Sirisena, then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and then Chief of Police Pujith Jayasundara.

The most prominent advocate for justice in relation to the Easter bombings has been the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith. His efforts would have contributed to the previous United National Front (UNF)-led Government taking quick measures towards investigations and reparations.

A multiparty parliamentary committee was set up a month after the attacks, and a report was submitted and published six months after the strikes. In September 2019, Sirisena had set up a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) to look into the attacks. Two interim reports and a final report had been handed over to present President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in December 2019, March 2020, and February 2021, respectively, but they have not been published.

Separately, police investigations had led to hundreds of arrests; some of those arrested have been released and some are still in detention, though I have not seen reports of formal charges being filed against anyone. Within a few months, the then UNF-led Government had paid more than Rs. 262 million in compensation for the dead and the injured, with Rs. 1 million per dead person. Additionally, Rs. 20 million each had been allocated to rebuild the two Catholic churches and Rs. 5 million for the Zion Church in Batticaloa.

Then President Maithripala Sirisena visits the bombed out Katuwapitiya Church days after the attack. The Opposition has called for his arrest/PMD Photo

In addition to the Government’s efforts, there has been a programme of reparations led by the Catholic Church. During a visit to the Katuwapitiya Church and in discussions with those affected and those supporting them, I learnt that the Catholic Church’s efforts included medical support for the injured, dedicated psychological support teams for each family, scholarships for children, religious services, etc. Monuments for the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks had been built within a few months in the two affected Catholic churches and elaborate arrangements were announced by the Archdiocese of Colombo to commemorate the first year of the bombings. These were supported by the Government. The commemorative events had to be restricted due to Covid-19 but were nationally televised, including on state television stations and received wide media coverage. Many political leaders, including the present President, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa, have repeatedly committed to ensuring justice for the Easter bombings. These are important affirmations of respect for survivors and victims’ families, although justice has not been served yet. While inadequate, this is significant progress within two years, by dismal Sri Lankan standards of acknowledgement, memorials, compensation, and other forms of reparations and justice for serious crimes and rights violations committed decades ago.

Navaly Church bombing in Jaffna, 1995

St Peters Church in Navaly the congregation remembered the bombing after 20 years

Attacks and killings in churches were common during the war. One of the most horrific incidents is the bombing of the Navaly Church (Catholic) and its surroundings in the Jaffna diocese (Northern Province) in 1995, where about 147 were reported to have been killed. However, those responsible have not been referred to as terrorists and no references have been made to their ethnicity or religion.

All the people in Navaly that I met categorically stated that the bombing had been done by the Sri Lanka Air Force. This was reinforced by the issuance of death certificates by the Government stating the cause of death as “death due to injuries caused by aerial bombardment”. Back in 1995, there was no other armed group that could carry out aerial bombing. The then Catholic Bishop of Jaffna is reported to have said that the “displaced had sought shelter in the church and temples, based on instructions given by the Ministry of Defence”. The same media report indicated that the said Bishop had written to then-President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga the day after the attack, describing the tragedy, and appealing to her to “kindly instruct your forces to desist from bombing, strafing, artillery rocket attacks on civilian targets such as kovils, churches, schools, and hospitals.”

There is a community monument built at the Navaly Church some years ago. Last year, during the 25th-year remembrance, the names of some of the victims were displayed. Compensation has been limited to Rs. 15,000 for a dead family member that some victims’ families had received. I have not heard of government support to rebuild the bombed church, a Hindu kovil, and other buildings. The 25th-year commemorative event did not receive national television or media coverage, and the Police and Army had tried to intimidate and obstruct the commemoration. There have been no high-profile PCoIs and no parliamentary committee. No arrests. No commitments by presidents and political leaders to ensure justice. The Northern Tamil clergy’s calls for justice had not received the kind of mainstream media coverage that the Cardinal’s calls for justice had received.


Lack of truth and justice in SL and the need for international options

Families of tens of thousands of Sri Lankans killed and disappeared have not known the truth of what happened to their family members or received justice. Amongst those killed and disappeared without truth and justice are Fr. Francis Joseph (disappeared after surrendering to the Army in 2009 in Vattuvahal in the Mullaitivu District), Fr. Jim Brown (disappeared after signing in at a Navy checkpoint in 2006 in Allaipiddy in the Jaffna District), Fr. Chandra Fernando (killed in 1988 in Batticaloa), Fr. Michael Rodrigo (killed in 1987 in Buttala in the Monaragala District), Fr. Mary Bastian (killed in 1985 in Vankalei in the Mannar District), and Sister Mary Agneta (killed in 1983 in Lunugala in the Badulla District). There are many others.

Nearly 40 years afterwards, there has been no justice in Sri Lanka for wartime massacres and crimes, except in a few cases where Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres have been convicted. In a rare case, a single soldier was convicted in 2015 for the massacre of civilians in 2000 in Mirusuvil, but he was pardoned last year by the present President. Many journalists have been killed and subjected to enforced disappearances, but there is only one case where charges have been filed against the accused. There has not been a single conviction.

The end of the war did not end enforced disappearances, killings, and massacres in Sri Lanka and impunity for them. Protests for clean water in Rathupaswala in 2013 and workers rights in Katunayake in 2011 (both in the Western Province) and another protest by fisherfolk in Chilaw in 2012 led to the killing of protesters by the Army and the Police, and there has been no justice. Many of those killed in these incidents were Catholics. Neither has there been justice for the 2012 Welikada Prison massacre or the 2020 Mahara Prison massacre or the killings during the 2014 riots against Muslims in Aluthgama.

Many victims’ families and activists have demanded access to the reports of Commissions of Inquiry they had given testimonies to and co-operated with, and the Cardinal is the latest to join this line, demanding a copy of the report of the PCoI into the Easter bombings. After a month, as this is being written, the President’s Media Division (PMD) reported that he had been handed over the report, but it is yet to be published for survivors, victims’ families, and other citizens to see. The Cardinal is also reported to have rejected another committee to study the Commission report, just a few weeks after there was widespread criticism and scepticism about the appointment of a PCoI to assess the findings and recommendations of preceding commissions and committees.

The failure of domestic laws, institutions, mechanisms, and processes to ensure justice, have led to survivors, victims’ families, and other concerned parties to seek international justice. Earlier this year, 12 years after the killing of Editor and Journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, and no signs of justice in Sri Lanka, his daughter filed a complaint with the United Nations (UN). A few years earlier, she had filed cases in the US. The latest to be frustrated by the lack of domestic justice is the Cardinal, who told the media that he will consider seeking justice from an international court and seek the assistance of international organisations if there is no justice in Sri Lanka for the Easter bombings.


Past divisions and future opportunities for a united front for justice

The context, background, and extent of wartime abuses, post-war abuses, and the Easter attacks are not comparable, but the grief of survivors, victims’ families, and affected communities and their aspirations for justice are often similar. Privileging some survivors, victims’ families, and affected communities over others in terms of justice (including acknowledgement, compensation, memorials, investigations, prosecutions, and convictions) can increase trauma and further polarise communities.

With some exceptions, Sinhalese and Tamils, including Catholics, have been selective in their search for justice for wartime and post-war crimes. They have been divided in seeking international involvement for justice. I recall that about a decade ago, at a time when the Catholic Bishop of Mannar and the Tamil Catholic clergy and others were demanding international involvement in seeking justice for tens of thousands of killings, disappearances, and other crimes during and after the war, Cardinal Ranjith opposed international involvement, saying that “such efforts are an insult on the intelligence of the people of Sri Lanka”. But on 11 February 2021, the Cardinal said that he is ready to go to an international court and seek the support of international organisations to seek justice for the Easter bombings if there is no justice domestically. The Cardinal’s call came weeks after a renewed call for international justice for wartime crimes by Tamil political parties, civil groups, and the Tamil clergy including the Catholic Bishop of Trincomalee.

Less than two years after the Easter bombings, the Cardinal is recognising the limits, failures, and challenges of seeking justice in Sri Lanka and the importance of international options and support, which Tamil bishops and clergy had realised a long time ago. Justice is central to the Christian faith and I hope that at least now, Sinhalese and Tamil Catholics can support each other’s quests for justice. Next Sunday, 7 March, could be a beginning. (Colombo March 3, 2021)

Edited by Arjuna Ranawana

(The author is a Catholic human rights activist and a Member of the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Commission of the Conference of [Catholic] Major Religious Superiors)

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  1. sacre blieu says:

    One of the main that crime is increasing, and even certain areas have seen the local governments steeped in crime and the constituency been held to ransom by the administrators and city fathers, like a Mafia style. People are frightened to do or say anything. Even the police of the area are as rather strangely ineffective. Some are now administered by government appointed commissioners and, one such area is in the greater Colombo area in the south. His task is gigantic knowing the depth of criminality that has pervaded the area,and a greater state involvement and support is required for him to accomplish his task and he is doing it with great fervor.

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  1. sacre blieu says:

    One of the main that crime is increasing, and even certain areas have seen the local governments steeped in crime and the constituency been held to ransom by the administrators and city fathers, like a Mafia style. People are frightened to do or say anything. Even the police of the area are as rather strangely ineffective. Some are now administered by government appointed commissioners and, one such area is in the greater Colombo area in the south. His task is gigantic knowing the depth of criminality that has pervaded the area,and a greater state involvement and support is required for him to accomplish his task and he is doing it with great fervor.

Sri Lanka shares down for 2nd day as tax hike, delay in Chinese debt assurance weigh

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares edged down on Tuesday as worries over delay in financial assurances from China which is mandatory for a $2.9 billion dollar IMF loan and rise in protests against tax hike kept investors in check, analysts said.

The main All Share Price Index (ASPI) edged down by 0.28 percent or 24.62 points to 8,865.05. It fell for the second session after hitting more than three-month high.

“The market is looking for more macro cues because of faster Chinese debt assurance was expected. The market is also hit by fall in corporate earnings due to high taxes,” an analyst said.

China has given an initial response on debt re-structuring to Sri Lanka though analysts familiar with the process say it is not a ‘hard assurance’ sufficient for the IMF program to go through.

The International Monetary Fund is working with China on extending maturities of Chinese loans to defaulted countries like Sri Lanka, as there is resistance to hair-cuts, Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told reporters on January 14.
The earnings for first quarter are expected to be negative for many corporates with higher taxes and rising costs. However, investors had not expected earnings to be low in the December quarter because of year end pick ups on heavy counters, the analyst said.
Earnings in the second quarter of 2023 are expected to be more positive with the anticipation of IMF loan and possible reduction in the market interest rates as the tax revenue has started to generate funds.

However, the central bank said the IMF deal is likely in the first quarter or in the first month of the second quarter.

The most liquid index S&P SL20 dropped by 0.64 percent or 17.74 points to 2,764.51 points.

The central bank has said it could cut interest rates in future when the country sees fall in inflation, which has already started decelerating.

The market saw a turnover of 1.7 billion rupees, slightly lower than the month’s daily average of 1.8 billion rupees and while being significantly lower than 2022’s daily average turnover of 2.9 billion rupees.

The bourse saw a net foreign inflow (NFI) of 93 million rupees extending the net offshore buying to 413 million rupees so far this year.

Top losers were LOLC, Royal Ceramics Limited and Hayleys. (Colombo/Jan31/2023)

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Sri Lanka exports fall in December as global recession weighs

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s merchandise exports earnings fell 9.7 percent in December year-on-year as the island nation saw a drop in buying from its key export destinations which are facing a looming recession after the Russia-Ukraine war.

The earnings from the merchandise exports recorded $1.04 billion  in December 2022 compared to the same month in the previous year as per the data released by the Sri Lanka Customs.

“This was mainly due to the decrease in export earnings from Apparel & Textiles, Tea, Rubber based Products, and Coconut based Products, Food & Beverages, Spices & Essential Oils and Fisheries products,” the Export Development Board (EDB) said in a statement.

“The reason for this decline was due to the ongoing recession in major markets due to rising cost of production, energy etc. Imports declined sharply due to inflation and demand for goods and services are reduced.”

However, Sri Lanka saw a record export earning of $13.1 billion in 2022 due to increased demand in the key exports throughout the year

Earnings from all major product sectors except Electrical & Electronic components as well as Diamonds, Gems & Jewellery fell in December.

Exports of Apparel & Textiles decreased by 9.6 percent to $480.3 million in December 2022.  Export earnings from Tea fell by 3 percent to $107.3 million, Rubber and Rubber Finished products dropped 20.3 percent to $74.5 million,

However, export earnings from the Electrical & Electronics Components increased by 16.18 percent to $42.9 million in December 2022, while Diamond, Gems & Jewelry jumped 35.7 percent to $30.8 million. (Colombo/Jan31/2023)

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Sri Lanka records over 6,000 dengue cases in first three weeks of January

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka recorded over than 6,000 dengue cases in the first three weeks of January 2023 after a spell of heavy monsoon rain though a drop in cases is likely from February, officials said.

Health officials identified 6,204 dengue patients by January 22, up from 5,793 recorded in the corresponding period last year.

“A rise in cases can be observed in the November-January period with the heavy rain due to the northeast monsoon,” an official from the National Dengue Control Unit told EconomyNext.

Of all reported cases, 46.3 percent were from the Western Province, official reports showed.

Akuressa, Batticaloa, Eravur, Trincomalee, Madampe, Badulla, Eheliyagoda, Kegalle, Kalmunai North and Alayadivembu MOH areas were identified as high-risk areas for dengue during the third week of January by the health officials.

“We are expecting a decline in dengue cases soon. The Western province is always in the top position with the highest number of dengue cases. Apart from that, we are seeing a higher number of cases during this period in areas like Puttalam, Jaffna districts. A certain number of cases have also been recorded in the Kandy district,” the official said.

“Usually the cases peak in December, but they decline by February. This year, too, we are facing this scenario. There is an increase of dengue during the months of November, December and January”.

Due to the economic situation in the country, the Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) in an earlier report said, diesel and pesticides are not being provided by the ministry.

However, rejecting the allegation, the official from the NDCU said the government has provided enough funds for get the necessary pesticides but it is being used according to a scientific method to avoid building a resistance in the dengue mosquito.

“The recommendation is to do the fogging if there is a dengue outbreak or if there are few patients reported from the same locality.

“If you use this pesticide haphazardly, the mosquitos will develop resistance against it,” the official said, adding that there are adequate stocks of the chemical available. (Colombo/ Jan 31/2023)

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