Sri Lanka’s Former President and Top Officials Ordered to Compensate Easter Bombings Victims’ Families
Héloïse Regnault de Montgon
East & South Asia Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
On January 12, 2022, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court ordered former President Maithripala Sirisena and senior officials to compensate the families of victims who died in the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings (Al Jazeera, 2023). More than 500 were injured and 279 were killed in the attacks (Gunasekara and Mashal, 2023). Two groups who pledged allegiance to ISIS have been blamed for the suicide bombings which targeted three Catholic churches and three hotels (Al Jazeera, 2023).
The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka ruled on a petition filed by the victims’ families and church officials (Al Jazeera, 2023). The ruling found that Sirisena and top officials failed to act on intelligence they received on planned attacks as early as April 4, two weeks before the attacks occurred (Gunasekara and Mashal, 2023). This ruling is a landmark one, as the presidential immunity of former leader Sirisena was overturned. Amidst a severe economic crisis and political unrest in Sri Lanka, this ruling is a progression in the prosecution of former government officials’ failures (Gunasekara and Mashal, 2023).
Sirisena was ordered to pay 100 million rupees ($273,300) to family members of victims who petitioned the Court. The police chief, two top intelligence officials and the secretary to the ministry of defence were ordered to pay 210 million rupees ($574,000) (Al Jazeera, 2023). Earlier this year, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the country, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith addressed the UN Human Rights Council to demand an investigation. Since Catholic churches were targeted on Easter Sunday, the attacks could have been religiously motivated (Al Jazeera, 2022). While the lack of action from the government can be attributed to internal rifts between elected officials at the time, this new ruling shows that investigation into the causes of these attacks continue (Al Jazeera, 2022).
Failure on the part of Sirisena and senior officials to prevent the Easter bombings despite intelligence on such intentions could constitute a violation of international human rights law. This would be the case if it is confirmed that the attacks perpetrated had religious motives. Article 26 of the ICCPR states that “the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as [...] religion” (UN Human Rights, 1966). Furthermore, Article 27 says: “in those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, [...] to profess and practice their own religion” (UN Human Rights, 1966). A 2012 official census found that 7.4% of the Sri Lankan population was Christian, making them a religious minority in the country. Article 27 of the ICCPR is therefore applicable in this case. Sri Lanka ratified the ICCPR in 1980, which obliges them to prevent such discrimination in the country (United Nations, n.d.).
Failure to protect churchgoers who were targeted in these attacks despite prior intelligence constitutes a violation of Articles 26 and 27 of the ICCPR. Further investigation will determine the motives behind these attacks, and the responsibility of former government officials in these matters.
Al Jazeera. (2023, January 12). Sri Lanka ex-leader ordered to compensate Easter bombing victims. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/1/12/court-rules-sri-lanka-ex-leader-failed-to-stop-easter-attacks.
Al Jazeera. (2022, March 8). Sri Lanka cardinal seeks UN probe into 2019 Easter bombings. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/8/sri-lanka-cardinal-seeks-un-probe-into-2019-easter-bombings.
Gunasekara, S. and Mashal, M. (2023, January 12). Sri Lanka’s Former President Ordered to Pay Victims of 2019 Bombings. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/12/world/asia/sri-lanka-former-president-compensation-bombings-2019.html.
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