Sri Lanka ex-president Sirisena ordered to compensate 2019 Easter bombing victims


The supreme court in Sri Lanka has ordered the former president Maithripala Sirisena to pay millions in compensation to the victims of the 2019 Easter bombings, the first time the courts have acknowledged the government’s role in the attacks.

The top court found that Sirisena and several other top government, police and intelligence officials were responsible for “failing to prevent” the bombings in April 2019, “despite receiving intelligence ahead of the attack”.

The case against Sirisena and senior government officials had been filed by family members of the victims, as well as the Catholic clergy and the bar association of Sri Lanka.

The panel of seven judges ordered the former president to pay 100m rupees (£220,000) from his personal funds into a compensation fund for victims and their families, while the former police chief Pujith Jayasundara and former state intelligence services head Nilantha Jayawardene were ordered to pay 75m rupees each, and the former defence minister was ordererd to pay 50m rupees.

The suicide bombings, the worst attacks in Sri Lanka since the civil war ended in 2009, took place on Easter Sunday in 2019, targeting three churches and three luxury hotels across Sri Lanka and killing 270 people. They were carried out by eight Islamist militants, all Sri Lankan nationals associated with a homegrown extremist group. Though Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, no direct links were found.

Blame for the attacks has been directed towards the former president, after it came to light that his government ignored multiple warnings about an imminent terrorist attack weeks before it took place.

In the months before the bombings, Sirisena – who was also defence minister – had been engaged in an open row with the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, which led to a series of failures in national security. A parliamentary select committee appointed in May 2019 found that Sirisena had been “actively undermining” the government, resulting in the “serious lapses” that allowed the terrorist attacks to go ahead.

In February 2021, a presidential commission of inquiry recommended that Sirisena and his senior intelligence staff be prosecuted for their failure to prevent the incident, and in September last year Sirisena was named as a suspect in a case related to the Easter attacks. Sirisena has pleaded not guilty.

The compensation ruling by the supreme court was welcomed by activists, many who have accused the government of failing to properly investigate and deliver justice for the attacks. Last February, a court acquitted the former defence secretary and the former inspector general of police on all 855 charges of criminal negligence in relation to the attacks.

Ruki Fernando, a prominent human rights activist, said the judgment was “an acknowledgment of the pain, grief and harm to survivors, victims families and all those affected”.

He said: “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 judiciary to hold those most responsible criminally accountable.”

The Catholic community, who were among the worst targeted in the bombings, have been particularly critical of the investigation. The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, has repeatedly alleged there is a state cover-up. In March last year, he told the UN human rights council that the incident was a “grand political plot”.