Sri Lanka: Showdown Between the Cardinal and the President

March 01, 2021
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, now Prime Minister

Ulcerated by the delaying attitude of the Sri Lankan authorities who have never cleared up the terrible attacks of Easter 2019, during which many Catholics were targeted, the Archbishop of Colombo has threatened to file a complaint with the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Catholics in Sri Lanka are far from forgetting the bloody Easter that hit the island almost two years ago. It was on the morning of Sunday, April 21, 2019, that several kamikaze jihadist commandos massacred 280 people, most of the faithful who had come to attend the Mass of the Resurrection in three churches.

More than six hundred people were seriously injured in these bloody attacks. At the time, the Cardinal Archbishop of Colombo, Bishop Malcolm Ranjith, intervened to prevent acts of revenge that the families of the victims wanted to perpetrate against the Muslim community.

A balanced attitude that has attracted the sympathy of the public—mainly Buddhist—towards the Catholic minority which represents about 7% of the total population of former Ceylon.

It must be said that the Archbishop of Colombo acquired great popularity in 2019, notably by overcoming the shortcomings of the previous government, unable to provide bereaved families—whatever their faith—with material, medical, and spiritual aid they were entitled to expect. But also by pointing out the carelessness of the authorities of the time, reluctant to shed light on the terrible attacks of April 2019.

And for good reason: it now seems clear that the secret services of neighboring India had warned the Sri Lankan executive, three weeks before the deadly attacks, that large-scale attacks were brewing in the shadows.

Warnings were repeated over and over, until the morning of the fateful Easter Sunday: in vain. In July 2019, Bishop Ranjith denounced “a serious and criminal miscalculation.”

These revelations, adding to the wave of nationalism that followed the attacks, brought the Rajapaksa clan—powerful upper-caste landowners, formerly auxiliaries of the British colonists—to the top of the state.

The latest grand gesture of the high prelate dates from early February 2021: the cardinal now demands that the current head of state, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, declassify the report of the presidential commission on the attacks.

Bishop Ranjith threatens to lodge a complaint against the government with the United Nations International Criminal Court of Justice in The Hague: “if this government does not do justice to the victims of the Easter attacks, then I will go to the International Court myself and I will demand that justice be done at last,” he warned.

The current president of the Sri Lankan Republic, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected in November 2019, appointed his brother, Mahinda, who was president of the country from 2005 to 2015 as prime minister. On August 5, 2020, the legislative elections gave to their formation a very large victory, with two thirds of the seats to the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) or People’s Front of Sri Lanka,

This majority in Parliament allows them to modify the Constitution. In particular, they want to reverse changes made by their predecessor, Maithripala Sirisena, who reduced the power of the head of state, limited the number of presidential terms to two and decentralized power. This reform effectively excluded Mahinda Rajapaksa from the race for the supreme office.

These struggles for influence and power are often difficult to reconcile with the recognition of responsibility, even if, in this case, it was the previous government that was grossly negligent. There are always allies to be spared ... at the cost of the truth.