Still no justice for victims of Easter Sunday massacre

People battling serious injuries or mourning the loss of loved ones feel abandoned by Sri Lanka's government
Still no justice for victims of Easter Sunday massacre

The aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings that killed 259 people in Sri Lanka. (ucanews.com photo)

ucanews.com reporter, Negombo
Sri Lanka
July 15, 2019
It is approaching three months since the Easter Sunday atrocity when 259 people were killed and more than 500 injured in a coordinated series of terrorist suicide bombings in Sri Lanka.

The Christian faithful who went out to celebrate Easter at Kochchikade, Katuwapitiya and Batticaloa on April 21 were instead caught up in unimaginable destruction and grief.

A local group of radicals affiliated with the so-called Islamic State bombed three churches and three luxury hotels, launching simultaneous attacks on six targets.

Ravindu Nirosh Fernando, who lost fellow parishioners at Katuwapitiya, says that 11 weeks after the massacre of innocent, unarmed people, the government has failed to provide justice for the victims.

People are also living in fear of further attacks after an Indian National Intelligence report warned recently that the two countries were still under threat.

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Fernando, who attended Mass that day but survived, says many of those who suffered severe injuries not only face a life without their loved ones but also feel abandoned by the authorities.

Moreover, he says, the difficulties facing those trying to recover from the psychological and physical trauma caused by the devastating attacks cannot be overstated.

They are therefore thankful for the nuns, priests, Caritas officers and volunteer groups who still visit their homes to offer their help and guidance as they try to overcome their new challenges.

There is also fear among the general population, many of whom have lost their livelihoods. Fernando has personal knowledge of this: one of his friends has become an orphan, with both his parents killed in one of the suicide blasts.

Local church support

Auxiliary Bishop J.D. Anthony Jayakody of Colombo said the Church’s commitment to helping those in need would not end within a few months or years but would last much longer.

"Disabled ones who can't gain employment will be looked after throughout their lives and until they are completely cured," said Bishop Jayakody.

"Children who have lost their parents will be taken care of until they complete their higher education and gain employment.

"Some 330 individuals who suffered injuries were granted 16.6 million rupees (US$94,500) for the purpose of medication and 354 families, who were spiritually and socially affected, have received benefit through special projects to the value of 17 million rupees.”

Affected families who do not have their own home will be considered for grants to buy properties, with 53 million rupees already allocated to buy land for them.

A sum of 25 million rupees has also been reserved for those who need further medical care, while students who need financial help for high school and university education may be granted assistance to the value of 84.6 million rupees.

The bishop said that to further raise the spirits of the victims, 8 million rupees had been earmarked for the purpose of providing psychotherapy and counseling.

"We do not intend to reveal their identity and highlight them as our beneficiaries. Instead we wish to preserve secrecy in order to uphold their dignity," said the bishop.

Catholic priests have filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka accusing the government of failing to act on warnings that could have prevented the Easter Sunday bombings.

The priests allege that 13 public officials, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, were guilty of a dereliction of duty and of violating citizens’ fundamental human rights, including Catholics' right to freely practice their religion.

The Sri Lankan government has initiated several investigations into the Easter Sunday blasts, including one by a presidential committee and another by a parliamentary select committee.

Catholic worshipers have been banned from taking bags with them to church and further warned not to gather after as groups after Mass.

Feast parades have even been reduced to simple affairs and novenas curtailed, while the army and police stand guard at every church and school entrance.

Holy Angels Sister M. Michaelin, secretary of the archdiocesan Commission for Men and Women Religious, said their immediate goal was to form groups and start visiting all the families. Members had been advised on how to give trauma counseling.

"Their houses were filled with priests, Rev. Brothers and sisters. One group was entrusted with three families," said Sister Michaelin.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said it has not yet been possible to clearly identify those responsible for the massacre.

"We do not know the truth of the bomb explosions. Who wanted this to be carried out? Who supported them behind the scene? Who is trying to hide the truth? Why did they want to do that?" said Cardinal Ranjith as he addressed Sri Lankans at a special Mass in Milan, Italy.

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