ASIA/SRI LANKA - A parliamentary commission to bring truth and justice to the victims of the Easter attacks, while they suffer from the economic crisis

Thursday, 7 September 2023 human rights   poverty   justice   violence  

Caritas Sri Lanka

Colombo (Agenzia Fides) - "The victims of the 2019 attacks have the right to truth and justice. This is a call that we cannot abandon and in which we involve civil authorities and international institutions", says Father Nicholas Subasinghe, a Sri Lankan priest who accompanies the path of recovery of the families victims of these attacks, while the Sri Lankan government has announced the creation of a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry: the body should investigate the allegations according to which Sri Lankan intelligence officials were allegedly complicit in the attacks on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019. These attacks, which killed 269 people, including 42 foreigners from 14 countries, and were carried out by simultaneous suicide attacks, targeted three churches - two Catholic and one Protestant - and three tourist hotels during the Easter celebrations. Undersecretary of State for Defense Pramitha Tennakoon reported in parliament that the government had decided to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to look into allegations contained in a documentary broadcast by British television channel 'Channel 4 ". In the documentary, a man claims to have organized a meeting between a local group inspired by the Islamic State (the National Thowheed Jamath) and a senior state intelligence official: the purpose was allegedly to devise a plan to to create insecurity in Sri Lanka and thus enable Gotabaya Rajapaksa to win the presidential elections of that year. The man interviewed, Hanzeer Azad Maulana (who emigrated to Europe), was the spokesman for a group that broke away from the "Tamil Tigers" rebels, who fought the civil war until 2009. Maulana reports that in 2018 he organized a meeting between ISIS-inspired extremists and a senior intelligence officer, on the instructions of his boss at the time, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan. At the time, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was a senior defense official and his older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was defeated in the 2015 elections after ten years in power. After the social and political chaos created by the 2019 attacks, Gotabaya Rajapaksa effectively rose to power until he was forced to step down in mid-2022 following massive social protests caused by the severe economic crisis that the country was going through.
According to Maulana, Chandrakanthan agreed to "use" the Islamic extremists of the National Thowheed Jamath, in collaboration with certain intelligence sectors, because, according to the latter, "creating insecurity and destabilizing the nation was the only way to bring the Rajapaksa family back in power".
Channel 4 reported that Maulana had also been heard by UN investigators and European intelligence services about his allegations. Pro-Rajapaksa parliamentarians, meanwhile, have denied the allegations in the documentary, while there are voices within the Sri Lankan Catholic Church - albeit with some skepticism - calling for the allegations to be verified and the investigation under way to be pursued. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, recalled that the civil authorities have so far failed to follow up and adequately support the previous parliamentary and presidential commissions set up to investigate the attacks. The Sri Lankan Catholic Church, which was badly hit by these attacks, "sincerely hopes that the President and Government of Sri Lanka will comply with all calls for justice" because "unless a transparent and honest investigation is launched, there will be no truth and justice for the victims". While the truth about the events of 2019 is one of the issues that has never disappeared from the social and political agenda, the main issue occupying public life today is the slow process of overcoming the economic crisis in Sri Lanka over the past year. According to a recent study by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), more than half of the population is "at risk in many ways". The study for the period 2022-2023 found that 55.7 percent of Sri Lanka's population, or more than 12 million people, are in extremely fragile and vulnerable conditions, with peaks of real deprivation. UNDP, which surveyed 25,000 households across the country, found deficiencies in areas - education, health, standard of living - affecting half of the population, examining 12 indicators including school attendance, health status, illness, unemployment and debt. More than 12.34 million of Sri Lanka's 22.16 million people have been hit hard by the crisis and remain vulnerable, although there are signs of an economic "recovery". Many families have reduced their food consumption and taken their children out of school to cope with the high cost of living. The UNDP report finds that 82 per cent of households at risk live in rural areas and calls for more political attention to the people living in these areas. In addition, the study finds that a third of the population has gone into debt to meet basic needs such as food, medical care and education. Earlier, a UNICEF report lamented high levels of malnutrition among Sri Lankan children in 2022.
In March 2023, the government of Colombo obtained the support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) through a package of 3 billion USD to be disbursed over four years, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe pledged to restore the economy country on the road to recovery. Central Bank figures show a slowdown in the inflation rate in August, which fell to 4% (compared to 6.3% the previous month). However, these numbers have yet to translate into concrete relief for most citizens. In line with the International Monetary Fund program, the government has started providing economic grants to 1.5 million families identified as needy and eligible. According to some civil society organizations, this social assistance program is totally inadequate to combat the serious economic situation which affects many more families than those who benefit from these subsidies. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 7/9/2023)