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Saturday May 18th, 2024

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 suffers over $138mn foreign outflow from govt bonds in 2024 after rate cuts

ECONOMYNEXT – Foreign investors have dumped 41.6 billion-rupee ($138.6 million) worth of Sri Lanka government securities in the first 20 weeks of 2024, the central bank data showed, after reduction in the key policy interest rates.

The foreign holding in Sri Lanka’s treasury bills and treasury bonds fell to 75.9 billion rupees on the week ended on Friday (17), May 2024, from 117.4 billion rupees on the week ended on December 29.

The central bank rate has reduced the key policy rates by 50 basis points so far in 2024, extending the rates cut by 700 basis points since June last year.

The rupee appreciated 9.1 percent in the first four months, but the gain failed to attract foreign investors amid a dragged debt restructuring negotiation with external private creditors.

Currency dealers said lackluster demand for dollars due to dampened imports with heavy controls, boom in both tourism revenue and remittances have helped to increase the dollar liquidity in the market, leading to the appreciation of the local currency.

The dealers said foreign investors can earn capital gain if they had bought government securities before the appreciation and now the offshore investors might be selling their bonds.

“They are also discouraged by policy rate cut because that will reduce their returns from the rupee bond investments,” a currency dealer said.

The yield in 12-month T-bills has fallen 336 basis points in the first four months of this year, the central bank data showed.

The central bank also reduced the Statutory Reserve Ratio (SRR) of commercial banks by 200 basis points in August last year to boost liquidity in the market with an aim to reduce market interest rates.

Under tough International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditions for its $3 billion loan program, the central bank raised key monetary policy rates in 2022 and last year to bring down inflation which hit over 70 percent in 2022. The inflation has fallen to the lower single digit now.

The rupee has appreciated to around 300 against the US dollar this week from around 330 level early in November. The local currency was at 365 rupees against the US dollar in early 2022. Depreciation causes capital loss for foreign investors. (Colombo/May 18/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ tourist fair seeks to involve universities

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ tourism fair kicked off this week to promote interaction between industry stakeholders and relevant Government bodies, including the Tourist Police, and also universities.

“Several universities, including Colombo, Uva Wellasa, Kelaniya, Sabaragamuwa and Rajarata were given free stalls to facilitate student interaction with industry professionals,” Chairman of the Sancharaka Udawa Organising Committee, Charith De De Alwis said in a statement.

The event takes place today (18) at the BMICH and houses stalls for hoteliers, tour and transport services, with a goal of attracting 10,000 visitors.

Organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), the 11th edition of Sancharaka Udawa offers a platform for both B2B and B2C sectors.

“Sancharaka Udawa houses over 170 exhibitors and a footfall of more than 10,000 visitors,” De Alwis said.

This year’s edition will include participants from outbound tourism sectors to facilitate capacity building. The event provides networking opportunities for industry newcomers and veterans.

“The networking platform offers opportunity for small and medium-sized service providers integrating them into the broader tourism landscape. The anticipated outcome is a substantial increase in bookings particularly for regional small-scale tourism service providers.” (Colombo/May18/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s CEB sells LTL shares to West Coast IPP for Rs26bn

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Electricity Board has sold shares of an affiliate to West Coast Power Company Limited, an independent power producer giving profits of 25.9 billion rupees in the March 2024 quarter, interim accounts showed.

The sale has been carried out as a transfer.

“Twenty-eight percent (28-pct) of share ownership of CEB within LTL Holding’s equity capital has been transferred to West Coast Power Company Ltd for a total consideration of Rs 26 billion as part of a partial settlement of outstanding dues…” the March interim accounts said.

“This transaction resulted in a net gain of Rs25.9 billion rupees which has been recognized and reflected in the ‘Gain from Share Disposal’ in the individual financial statement in CEB.”

LTL Holdings is a former transformer making unit of the CEB set up with ABB where the foreign holding was sold to its management.

The firm has since set up several IPPs.

West Coast Power operates a 300MW combined cycle IPP in Kerawalapitiya promoted by LTL group liked firms in which both the Treasury and Employees Provident Fund also have shares.

Its operational and maintenance contract is with Lakdhanavi, another private IPP. The firm has been paying dividends.

The capital gain from the transfer of shares helped the CEB post profits to 84 billion rupees for the March 2024 quarter.

CEB reported gross profits of 62.7 billion rupees from energy sales and 30.6 billion rupees in other income and gains in the March 2024 quarter. Other income was only 3.1 billion rupees in last year. (Colombo/May18/2024)

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