UN pushes justice for Easter Sunday bombing victims

Never forgotten: A commemorative plaque is seen in tribute to the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks on its fifth anniversary outside St Anthony’s church in Colombo. — AFP

The United Nations urged Sri Lanka to bridge its “accountability deficit” and ensure justice as the country commemorated the 279 victims of its worst-ever attack against civilians five years ago.

The UN’s top envoy to the country, Marc-Andre Franche, told a remembrance service in Colombo that there should be a “thorough and transparent investigation” to uncover those behind the Easter carnage in 2019.

Bombers hit three churches and three hotels in the island’s deadliest suicide attack aimed at civilians, but grieving families say they are still waiting for justice.

Among the dead were 45 foreigners, including tourists visiting the island a decade after the end of a brutal ethnic conflict that had claimed more than 100,000 lives since 1972.

“Sri Lanka suffers from a continuing accountability deficit, be it for alleged war crimes, more recent human rights violations, corruption or abuse of power, which must be addressed if the country is to move forward,” Franche said yesterday.

He noted that victims are still seeking justice despite the country’s Supreme Court holding former president Maithripala Sirisena and his top officials responsible for failing to prevent the attack.

“Delivering justice for victims of these attacks should be part of addressing the systemic challenge,” Franche said.

He said the UN Human Rights office has also called on Colombo to publish the complete findings of previous inquiries into the Easter Sunday bombings and to establish an independent investigation.

Sri Lanka’s Catholic church has alleged that military intelligence officers were involved with the bombers who carried out the attack that helped the political ambitions of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a retired army officer campaigning on security.

Seven months later, he won the presidency.

The leader of the Catholic church in Sri Lanka, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, said Rajapaksa since his victory had systematically protected those behind the bombings.

Rajapaksa was forced out of power in July 2022 following months of protests over an unprecedented economic crisis that caused shortages of food, fuel and medicines.

Evidence tendered during a civil case brought soon after the attacks showed that Indian intelligence officials warned Colombo of the bombings some 17 days earlier, but the authorities failed to act.

Then-president Sirisena and his officials have been ordered to pay 310 million rupees in compensation to victims and relatives.

But the ruling has yet to be fully implemented as Sirisena has appealed and a fresh hearing is scheduled for July. — AFP

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