Sri Lankan lessons in terror response

Sanjana Hattotuwa
Sanjana Hattotuwa
After its own terrorism attacks, Sri Lanka could learn a great deal from New Zealand's earlier response, particularly in leadership empathy and effectiveness, a Sri Lankan researcher says.

The researcher, Sanjana Hattotuwa, is studying for a PhD at the University of Otago's National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Mr Hattotuwa said yesterday there should be a ''reckoning'' and ''accountability'', including by the Sri Lankan president, for a ''catastrophic failure'' to share security warnings with other branches of government.

The death toll has risen to 321 and more than 500 people were injured in a wave of co-ordinated suicide bombings at three Christian churches across Sri Lanka and three luxury hotels in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Easter Sunday.

Mr Hattotuwa said political accountability was ''critical'', but ''bitter experience'' suggested some of the lessons learned in New Zealand might not be applied in Sri Lanka's more divided political system.

In Sri Lanka, there was ''growing anger directed against the Government and the President in particular'', about what is perceived as a ''catastrophic loss of life'' - six times more than the Christchurch massacre - that could have been averted.

He added that what the Sri Lankan Government had revealed since the Sunday attacks was ''astonishing and borders on the incredible''.

This had not been a ''lapse in intelligence'', as some had suggested, but a ''catastrophic failure in communication, collaboration and political will to act'' on the intelligence provided, including by foreign agencies, about an imminent threat.

It had been said that President Maithripala Sirisena and the National Security Council had not kept Prime Minister Ranil Wickremishinghe informed, and that senior members of the Government were also in the dark about the intelligence warning, which the intelligence services had known about a week earlier.

Asked what New Zealand and Sri Lanka could learn from the respective terrorist attacks in each country, Mr Hattotuwa could not ''presume to know what New Zealand could learn from Sri Lanka''.

But what Sri Lanka could learn included ''political leadership that is committed and empathetic, government that works, democratic institutions that people have faith and confidence in, partisan political differences that are set aside at a moment of colossal or catastrophic national disaster'', he said.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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