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COA News 2024

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Sri Lanka: seeking justice, five years after the Easter Sunday attacks

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, efforts to seek closure and accountability for those responsible for the massacre continue to face many challenges. Father Rohan Silva, director of Colombo’s Center for Society and Religion, speaks of his tireless quest for justice.

By Linda Bordoni

Five years later, the calls for justice and accountability for those responsible for the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka continue to sound, but they remain unheeded and unresponsive.

The coordinated attacks that ripped through churches packed with Christian worshipers and three international hotels on April 21, 2019, killing at least 290 people and injuring hundreds, haunt Sri Lankans who demand closure and truth.

The determined and courageous Cardinal of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith, and Sri Lanka’s Catholic leaders have been at the forefront calling for an independent investigation and the involvement of the international community. Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna in Italy, has pledged support for the cause and joined their call to “stand together for justice.”

Oblate Father Rohan Silvaexecutive director of the Center for Society and Religion in Colombo, was here in the weeks leading up to the fifth anniversary of the massacre, to join the large Sri Lankan community in Italy to commemorate the victims and to meet with Cardinal Zuppi, who assured the Church of the South Asian island of its commitment.

In an interview with Vatican News, Father Silva explained that the center he leads in Colombo is committed to promoting human rights, justice and peace, and includes a team committed to pursuing justice for the victims of the bombings , their families and the people of Sri Lanka.

The mother of two victims of the attacks in her home in Colombo

The mother of two victims of the attacks in her home in Colombo

Justice has never been served

In the five years since the bombings, justice has remained elusive, he said, noting that “despite countless investigative reports and commissions,” the truth behind the attacks and the extent of the conspiracy remains shrouded in ambiguity.

The Oblate priest highlighted the various investigative reports commissioned by the government, from the Malalgoda Report to the Parliamentary Commission Findings to the Presidential Commission Report, noting that despite these efforts, justice has never been served and continues to be overshadowed by accusations of political interference and a lack of thorough investigation.

“Justice was never done.”

Father Silva explained that all the investigations conducted, many of which included members of parliament, have led to accusations of political interference and a lack of transparency. It is widely recognized, he said, that the initial warnings received by the intelligence services before the attacks raised serious questions about the government’s inability to prevent the tragedy.

Political motives behind passivity

The authorities’ negligence in acting on intelligence warnings cannot be overstated, Father Silva stressed, reiterating that there were clear signs of an imminent threat, yet no decisive action was taken.

“We believe the president, Maithripala Sirisena, was aware, but he says he was not aware.”

For example, he went on to say that the role of political motivations in shaping the government’s response to the warnings has been a subject of intense investigation, and allegations have emerged regarding the exploitation of the attacks for political gain, which further complicates the search for truth and responsibility.

The bombings were not only a tragedy but also a wake-up call for Sri Lanka, Father Silva claimed, as they exposed the vulnerabilities in our society and the urgent need for governance and security reforms.

“We know that the attacks were capitalized by politicians during the election campaign.”

In light of ongoing economic challenges and political instability, Father Silva emphasized the importance of persevering in the pursuit of impartial investigation and accountability for all involved, regardless of their political leanings.

The pursuit of justice is not only a moral obligation but also a means of healing and reconciliation, he said, noting that it is also essential for restoring confidence in institutions and promoting unity among the diverse communities in Sri Lanka.

Father Rohan Silva and Cardinal Matteo Zuppi

Father Rohan Silva and Cardinal Matteo Zuppi

Crucial role of the Catholic Church

The Oblate priest affirmed the role of the Catholic Church, under the leadership of Cardinal Ranjith, which has played a crucial role in advocating for justice, promoting interfaith dialogue and preventing division and violence.

“When the massacre took place, there could have been bloodshed in the country,” he said, explaining that this was one of the intentions of the masterminds of the attacks, who hoped to stoke anti-Muslim sentiments and manipulate voters.

“And then Malcolm Ranjith came forward and met the Muslim leaders in the area and assured them that nothing would happen to their community,” he said, “and spared bloodshed, the second bloodshed in the country after the massacre.”

Father Silva noted that there continues to be excellent cooperation between the different faith communities in Sri Lanka and expressed concern that political interference could ultimately lead to division.

“Unfortunately, we see that political interference in this can cause unnecessary division within the community and they (the politicians) can benefit from this!”

Father Silva during a memorial mass

Father Silva during a memorial mass

Father Silva emphasized the valuable cooperation his team has had with international organizations and the support of the global community in the quest for justice.

In particular, he said, a partnership with the Human Rights Council in Geneva provides valuable support to his team’s efforts.

Stand for justice

Just as the tragic anniversary is marked and commemorated every year both in Sri Lanka and by Sri Lankan communities around the world, Father Silva said: “It is not simply to light a candle, but to invite people to stand up for justice.”

“Every year we commemorate this event. But it is not to simply light a candle, but to invite people to stand up for justice.”

A memorial mass

A memorial mass

“In the places where the attacks took place,” he continued, “commemorations will take place in the presence of ambassadors and all religious leaders” who will light candles and pledge to work together to bring justice.

“There will be a procession to mark the event, and the demand for the government to continue to conduct this investigation impartially… they say it is over, but it is not, and we know it!”, he noted.

Father Silva reiterated his invitation to all Sri Lankans to keep up the pressure on their leaders and expressed his gratitude to Cardinal Zuppi “and a group of concerned people” he met here in Italy on April 8.

“He (the cardinal) welcomed us and said that he is happy to be part of this struggle and will support us in all possible ways to achieve justice,” he said, stating that there are plans for a meeting between him and Cardinal Ranjith in Colombo in the future, this will hopefully also gain the support of the Italian government.

Cardinal Zuppi, he concluded, will also celebrate the Memorial Mass at Bologna Cathedral on April 21, together with the Sri Lankan community.

“We believe this will be a great support to our people, and we believe that same support will come from others as well.”

Father Rohan Silva and Cardinal Matteo Zuppi

Father Rohan Silva and Cardinal Matteo Zuppi