UN 'failed SL civilians'-probe

13 November 2012 06:52 pm - 27     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The United Nations failed in its mandate to protect civilians in the last months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war, a leaked draft of a highly critical internal UN report says.

The United Nations failed in its mandate to protect civilians in the last months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war, a leaked draft of a highly critical internal UN report says.

"Events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN," it concludes.

The government and Tamil rebels are accused of war crimes in the brutal conflict which ended in May 2009.

The UN does not comment on leaked reports and says it will publish the final version.

The 26-year war left at least 100,000 people dead. There are still no confirmed figures for tens of thousands of civilian deaths in the last months of battle. An earlier UN investigation said it was possible up to 40,000 people had been killed in the final five months alone. Others suggest the number of deaths could be even higher.
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Former senior UN official Charles Petrie, who headed the internal review panel, told the BBC the "penultimate" draft the BBC has seen "very much reflects the findings of the panel". He is now in New York to present the report to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Sources say a brief executive summary, which sets out the panel's conclusions in stark terms, has been removed in a final report which will number about 30 pages, with additional detailed annexes.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told the BBC the UN does not comment on leaked reports. He said a final version would be published once the secretary general had received and read it.

Senior UN sources say Ban Ki-moon is determined to act on its wide-ranging recommendations in order to "learn lessons" and respond more effectively to major new crises such as Syria now confronting the international community.The UN's investigation into its own conduct during the last months of the conflict says the organisation should in future "be able to meet a much higher standard in fulfilling its protection and humanitarian responsibilities".

It points to a "systemic failure".

The panel questions decisions such as the withdrawal of UN staff from the war zone in September 2008 after the Sri Lankan government warned it could no longer guarantee their safety.

Benjamin Dix, who was part of the UN team that left, says he disagreed with the pullout.

"I believe we should have gone further north, not evacuate south, and basically abandon the civilian population with no protection or witness," Mr Dix told the BBC.

"As a humanitarian worker, questions were running through my mind 'what is this all about? Isn't this what we signed up to do?'"

Hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians remained in the war zone, exploited by both sides: forcibly recruited by Tamil Tigers or used as human shields; or under indiscriminate government fire.

"We begged them, we pleaded with them not to leave the area. They did not listen to us," said a Tamil school teacher now seeking asylum in Britain, who did not want to be named. "If they had stayed there, and listened to us, many more people would be alive today."

Despite a "catastrophic" situation on the ground, this report bluntly points out that in the capital Colombo "many senior UN staff did not perceive the prevention of killing of civilians as their responsibility - and agency and department heads at UNHQ were not instructing them otherwise".

It says there was "a sustained and institutionalised reluctance" among UN personnel in Sri Lanka "to stand up for the rights of people they were mandated to assist".

Citing detailed records of meetings and reports, the review highlights how the UN did not publish mounting civilian casualty figures even though a detailed annex makes clear there was a "rigorous methodology."

Under intense pressure from the Sri Lankan government, it also did not make public that "a large majority" of deaths were caused by government shelling. The government repeatedly denied it shelled civilian areas.

How did the UN failure happen? The report explores at length how senior staff in Colombo "had insufficient political expertise and experience in armed conflicts and in human rights... to deal with the challenge that Sri Lanka presented", and were not given "sufficient policy and political support" from headquarters. It also points to the Sri Lankan government's "stratagem of intimidation", including "control of visas to sanction staff critical of the state".

The result was a UN system dominated by "a culture of trade-offs" - UN staff chose not to speak out against the government in an effort to try to improve humanitarian access.

Edward Mortimer, a former senior UN official who now chairs the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, says UN staff left when the population needed them more than ever.

"I fear this report will show the UN has not lived up to the standards we expect of it and has not behaved as the moral conscience of the world," Mr Mortimer said.

"There was a responsibility to protect in Sri Lanka but unfortunately it didn't get publicity like in Libya. The north of Sri Lanka was destroyed field by field, street by street, hospital by hospital but we didn't get that kind of reaction - Sri Lanka doesn't have much oil and isn't situated on the Mediterranean."
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The executive summary of the draft highlights how "the UN struggled to exert influence on the government which, with the effective acquiescence of a post 9/11 world order, was determined to defeat militarily an organisation designated as terrorist". The separatist Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, are a proscribed terrorist organisation in many capitals.

There were no UN peacekeepers in Sri Lanka but this report says the UN should have told the world what was happening, and done more to try to stop it.

In New York, "engagement with member states regarding Sri Lanka was heavily influenced by what it perceived member states wanted to hear, rather than by what member states needed to know if they were to respond".

During the last months of war, there was not a single formal meeting of the Security Council or other top UN bodies.

Frances Harrison, author of the book Still Counting the Dead on the last months of the war, told the BBC "the only way now for Ban Ki-moon to restore the UN's tattered credibility on Sri Lanka is to call an independent international investigation into the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians in 2009".

"The UN chose to remain silent about potential war crimes," says the former BBC Sri Lanka correspondent.

A former UN official said the establishment of a panel, headed by Mr Petrie who is known for his outspoken views, is a sign "at least part of the UN is very serious about dealing with its failure in Sri Lanka". (BBC)

  Comments - 27

  • MAN - SEC Wednesday, 14 November 2012 08:21 AM

    I DO NOT KNOW WHOM TO BLAME, WHOM TO PRAISE AND UNLTIMATELY WHO ARE THE LOOSERS

    Yuri Wednesday, 14 November 2012 08:23 AM

    Who ever is it, crime is comited now Jail Unifor is getting ready

    Powerless Wednesday, 14 November 2012 01:39 AM

    USA and India worked behind the scene.

    Yuri Wednesday, 14 November 2012 08:24 AM

    I said that Year Ago

    The Goblin Wednesday, 14 November 2012 02:05 AM

    The world is becoming a small place with technology. The trip to the Hague is getting closer.

    kumar Wednesday, 14 November 2012 09:45 AM

    If Sri Lanka feels that UN is incapable and insufficient to Sri Lankan standards, Sri Lanka can leave UN by canceling it's membership.

    I.O.Sull-Lee Wednesday, 14 November 2012 10:20 AM

    nowadays the 'typical' comment is the kind of one you have posted.

    Silva de Mervin Wednesday, 14 November 2012 10:25 AM

    High publicity is the western media will result in China and Russia will find it morally difficult to oppose any decision that the UN's Security Council is to take on Sri Lanka sooner than later.

    For some the net is closing in.....

    I.O.Sull-Lee Wednesday, 14 November 2012 10:30 AM

    maybe but i dont see that improving the situation in our country at least one little bit

    lankalion Wednesday, 14 November 2012 10:46 AM

    actually the UN is blaming itself for its failures in Sri Lanka. Not typical Sri Lankan government - but typical of most civilised institutions and governments across the world.

    lankalion Wednesday, 14 November 2012 10:47 AM

    Very well said Kumar. If you play the game, you play by the rules. You can't have the cake and eat it too!!

    lankalion Wednesday, 14 November 2012 10:48 AM

    Are you really living peacefully? My experience is that one terrorist has just been replaced by another worse one!

    Hemantha Wednesday, 14 November 2012 04:27 AM

    UN is incapable of doing any thing. It is a very inefficient mechanism. Sri Lanka is an independent nation.

    honestly Wednesday, 14 November 2012 05:01 AM

    Just blame everybody else for everything! - the typical Sri Lanakn comment.

    Rahu Wednesday, 14 November 2012 05:08 AM

    Any have still human rights being not well treated to citizen in Srilanka. You may look at police action in the road or station (high speeding of government logo vehicles, non permits busses in the road , kahawatta continues murder, army officer case and etc hospital sectors (how,many pregnant ladies on que under raining to get numbers). Pls help tour generation to keep the value of human feelings and action

    Mason Wednesday, 14 November 2012 05:28 AM

    The UN in the North was in a manner for the protection of the people. However, when the government denied the UN protection, they abandoned the civilians to the mercies of the Army and LTTE. This in spite of the civilians pleading them to stay.
    What good is this failed UN as a World Body ? Do they look after the interests of the Civilians or support the offending government ?

    Yehiya Wednesday, 14 November 2012 05:30 AM

    Still not add the welikada prison.This is totally lack of professional administrators in top & one fool in top with the weak mind.

    Vithanage Wednesday, 14 November 2012 05:43 AM

    Mr. Ban Ki-moon is going to lose again.

    fanam Wednesday, 14 November 2012 05:57 AM

    You failed for more than 30 years to protect any civillians in Sri Lanka and you did nothing to bring peace. We found a solution and living peacefully now. Leave us alone and let us live now.

    Kris Wednesday, 14 November 2012 06:28 AM

    UN is sleeping as always did, then and now. Ministry of defence has now declared war in south against all peace loving citizens and probably they are not even aware of what is happening. Where is Human rights in Sri lanka, people cannot even open their mouth. Shooting at rallies, Walikada prison etc etc, UN is just keeping their mouths shut until another 500,000 killed in south.

    Kondebandapuchhena Wednesday, 14 November 2012 06:29 AM

    From yesterday around 16H00 GMT BBC world news telecasting old visuals till this morning News Head Lines,,,,,,,,,is SRILANKA ,Srilanka,Diaspora preparing for Geneva I suppose

    Dharma Wednesday, 14 November 2012 06:36 AM

    How is it possible , Ban KI-Moon still in that post after this Report..If He and the UN heads have the Honesty , they should go out...

    Astrologer Wednesday, 14 November 2012 07:22 AM

    It was disgusting to hear the manner in which Palitha Khohana replied to an BBC interview last night.
    What ever the facts or friction maybe, a dimplomat should be more tactful in public relations rather than sending out a clear signal of arrogance .

    patana Wednesday, 14 November 2012 07:27 AM

    The Sri Lankan state failed the Sri lankan people. Period.

    Hussain Wednesday, 14 November 2012 07:48 AM

    Why bring this up over and over again. This is history now. For 30 years, while innocent civilians were bering butchered by the LTTE what the heck did he UN do? Absolutely nothing. Once the terrorists were beaten every one seems to be shedding crocodile tears. Sri Lanka is peaceful now, so leave us alone without trying to dig up dirt. The war is long past and we are rebuilding so please leave Sri Lanka alone.

    Edward Wednesday, 14 November 2012 07:49 AM

    This what UN do now See whats going on Sri Lanka its better put our heads together and avoid any failures to point any fingers against us

    unchikun Wednesday, 14 November 2012 08:02 AM

    Dishonest must. go. Will be any leftmin the Sri Lana government .


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