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Justice Elusive for Easter Victims

On August 22nd Catholics raised black flags in their homes and other establishments.

Five months ago, the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka declared March 7, Black Sunday.

The August 22 protest was not without incident; at least two churches reported that flags and posters put up by them had been removed. One report said that those seen removing the flags were members of the Local Council and connected to the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, the current administrators of the country.

The protests are to force a closure on the Easter bombings that took place on April 21, 2019. On that tragic day, two catholic churches, an evangelical church, and three popular hotels in Colombo were bombed by Islamic extremists claiming more than 250 lives and permanently injuring a host of others. Many families are left without a breadwinner. Amongst the victims were several tourists visiting Sri Lanka.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the head of the Colombo Diocese, has been an ardent fan of the Rajapaksa clan and the political parties they represent. Long before the Easter bombings, the Cardinal minced no words in indicating which side of the political divide he was in.

Of course, the Easter bombings gave him the best opportunity to direct his flock away from the government of the day, popularly known as the Yahapalanaya, and to have his preferred party and family seem as the nation’s saviours.

At every turn, be it delivering the Sunday homily, or at any other event, he said in no uncertain terms that the Yahapalanaya government must go. He assured his flock that justice will be served under a Rajapaksa administration and that international interventions are never a necessity in a country that protects human rights. One such instance was when he delivered a homily at the St. Matthew’s Church in Ekala in 2018, where he more or less smirked at human rights, which he called was a concept of the West.

But contrary to his assurances his favourite political administration has failed, again and again, to bring the main perpetrators of that dastardly act to book. Keep in mind, that the Rajapaksa’s and their political allies not only used the bombings to heighten a sense of insecurity of the country, they also promised to apprehend the perpetrators.

Now faced with the frustrations of his flock who have been waiting for more than two years for the real perpetrators to be named and charged and the administration he placed his faith in, ignoring his pleas for justice, he is threatening to take the case to the international community.

He can rant and rave about the situation. His flock will do the same. Catholics and their supporters whether it’s for political reasons or genuine interest can protest all they want; march the streets, declare Black Sundays, raise black flags, but justice will be elusive.

Families of the disappeared, those who lost their dear ones during the long-drawn-out war, media personnel who have been killed or maimed or made to vanish into thin air are still waiting for answers. It has been years. They have been protesting for more than a thousand days. But to no avail!

Despite repeated assurances to UN bodies, successive Sri Lankan governments have failed to satisfactorily resolve grievances raised by the Tamil community.

Even though internal investigations have been promised, and committees and commissions set up just to get the international community off their backs, recommendations have never been implemented. It has always been a case of raising expectations and wasting public money. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a case in point.

Another notable case was the complaint filed against then Chief Justice Sarath N Silva. Even though the matter was investigated and punitive action recommended by the then UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy, the President of the day, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga took no action. Neither did any of the Presidents who came after her.

In the case of the Easter bombings, there are now clear indications that it was not a plot hatched by extremists, but that political aspirations were the key. And those who benefitted by that horrendous act will make certain that no one would ever get to the bottom of the case.

For those who planned and executed the bombings, and those who benefitted from it, there is everything to lose.

Will the Catholic community win this struggle or will they too become one more group marking anniversaries and joining protests, same as all those others who have been calling for answers, with no end in sight?

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