Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered former President Maithripala Sirisena to pay a compensation of LKR 100 million (roughly ₹2.2 crore) to victims of the April 2019 Easter Sunday terror blasts, while pointing to a “reckless” intelligence failure on the part of the Executive.
“A Victim Fund must be established at the Office for Reparation, which must formulate a scheme to award the sums ordered as compensation in a fair and equitable manner to the victims and families,” the island’s top court noted. Further, the former IGP, former Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, former head of the State Intelligence Service, former Chief of National Intelligence and the State were also ordered to pay compensation totalling over LKR 200 million.
On April 21, 2019, Sri Lanka witnessed serial blasts across churches and luxury hotels in the capital Colombo, nearby Negombo, and the eastern city of Batticaloa. A total of 279 people died and hundreds were injured in the incident that shook the island, a decade after its brutal civil war ended.
While Thursday’s court order is significant for the families of victims, the investigation into the blasts is ongoing. Sri Lanka’s Catholic church has been flagging the lack of progress in the probe, and the Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has raised the issue at international forums, including the Vatican and the UN Human Rights Council, contending that the incident was “not purely a work of extremists, but a grand political plot.”
Citing several “failures” of the then President — also the Minister of Defence — and senior officials, the Supreme Court’s seven-judge Bench noted that the lapses in communication within the security establishment, and the sporadic conduct of National Security Council meetings amounted to “a serious omission on the part of the then President”. The observation appeared to echo the findings of a parliamentary panel probing the blasts in 2019 that accused Mr. Sirisena of “actively undermining” government and security systems.
The court also drew attention to Sri Lanka’s failure to act on intelligence provided by India weeks before the attack, and noted: “Easter Sunday was just a few weeks away when the heads-up about the imminent attack came from India, but there is little alertness or perceptiveness shown by officials to carry out any measures to safeguard any of the churches in the country.” The court said the state intelligence chief’s argument, that the alert from India was “mere information and not intelligence”, was “fatuous”.
Colombo-based Human rights defender Ruki Fernando said the Supreme Court judgment is “a significant moment” in the struggles for justice by survivors of the Easter Sunday attacks, and an acknowledgement of the pain and grief of survivors and victims’ families. “Importantly, it recognises the importance of accountability of very senior state officials, including the then Executive President. This poses a serious challenge to investigators, prosecutors, and the judiciary to hold those most responsible, or the masterminds, criminally accountable,” he told The Hindu.
However, the compensation awarded is “relatively low” in his view, considering the large number of those killed, injured and affected in various ways, their diverse long-term needs, the seriousness of the crimes. “This is the largest post-war massacre in Sri Lanka,” Mr. Fernando said.