Australia's Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton (third from right) talks with Catholic priest Shameera Rodrigo (left) during Dutton's visit to the bombed St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo on June 3. Easter Sunday suicide attacks targeting churches and luxury hotels killed 253 people in Sri Lanka on April 21. (Photo by Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP)
Catholic priests have filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka targeting the government for failing to act on warnings that could potentially have prevented the Easter Sunday bombings by Islamic extremists.
The priests have accused 13 public officials, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, of dereliction of duty and violating fundamental human rights, including Catholics' right to freely practice their religion.
A local group of radicals affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS) bombed three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, killing 253 people and injuring more than 500.
Oblate Priest Father Ashok Stephen, attorney-at-law, said the Church was seeking justice for the victims and their bereaved families.
"People have been deprived of their right to life due to the negligence and failures of this administration and top security officials despite reports from India's intelligence service warning them of the risk," said Father Stephen, executive director of the Centre for Society and Religion.
"Thirteen people have been named in the petition, including the premier, and upper-echelon administrative and security officials such as the secretary to the president, the secretary for defense, the commanders of the three armed forces, the police inspector general, the State Intelligence Service and the attorney-general," he added.
Moreover, many children have been deprived of their parents and many parents had to watch their offspring die, the petition stated.
Many of the wounded are still receiving treatment at hospitals nationwide.
Apart from Father Stephen, the other two petitioners are Father Sarath Iddamalgoda, chairman of Janawaboda Kendraya — an agency that helps people to develop their potential through critical thinking and the ability to implement ideas — and Father Sherard Jayawardena, convener of the Christian Solidarity Movement.
They have accused the officials of infringing on some of the fundamental rights enshrined in Chapter 3 of Sri Lanka's 1978 constitution.
These include the right to not be subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment, the right of equality before the law, equal protection under the law, freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly.
It also states that Sri Lankan citizens are guaranteed the right to freely manifest their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
Father Sarath Iddamalgoda said the families of those who were injured in, or served as witnesses to, the Easter attacks have been heavily traumatized, which will take them years to recover from.
"The nation and public have had to face a number of social and economic consequences that have seriously affected many communities," said Father Iddamalgoda, a human rights defender.
The petitioners also stated that, to the best of their knowledge, the Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical churches were not warned of any impending attack or asked to take any precautions. They made the same claim for the tourist hotels that were hit.
According to their petition, which followed media reports making the same allegations, New Delhi warned Sri Lanka's intelligence agencies on April 4 and April 11 that an attack was imminent.
Sri Lanka's police inspector general also reportedly said in a letter dated April 9 — 12 days before the bombings — that local security agencies had been forewarned of such a security threat.
Citing Article 4(b) of the charter, the petition stated: "It is a fundamental proposition that the state is bound to secure the security and safety of the public as a paramount duty. The protection of its citizens is part of the public trust vested in those governing the people of Sri Lanka."
This includes warning the public of any serious threat to their safety or wellbeing, it noted.
It accused at least one of the 13 officials of dereliction of duty and said the government's failure to take the appropriate safety precautions made it subject to criminal liability and negligence for the deaths that resulted.
Father Iddamalgoda, citing Article 126(4) of the constitution, said the state was not only morally but also legally bound to compensate the victims and their families as well as pay reparations for damaged properties.