Friday, November 16, 2012

UN stung by failure to protect Sri Lanka war victims

UNITED NATIONS - A United Nations (UN) report just released said inadequate efforts by the world body to protect civilians during the bloody final months of Sri Lanka's civil war marked a "grave failure" that led to suffering for hundreds of thousands of people.

Sri Lanka denied it had intimidated UN staff as a Tamil party on the island called for an international inquiry into the report which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said would have "profound implications" for the global body.
The internal report, leaked to the BBC earlier this week, said the UN - under intense pressure from the Sri Lankan authorities - did not make public that "a large majority" of deaths in the closing months of the war in 2009 were caused by government shelling. It also said the government's "stratagem of intimidation" - including controlling visas for critical UN staff - prevented the UN from protecting civilians in the conflict zone.
Sri Lanka's main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance, yesterday demanded an international probe.
"Now that the UN has come out with this report, we want action," said party spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran. "There should be an international inquiry. The government as the main accused party cannot be involved in the investigation."
The report, commissioned by Mr Ban to look into the UN's own role in Sri Lanka, reinforced claims by international rights groups that up to 40,000 civilians could have been killed by government forces.
"Other sources have referred to credible information indicating that over 70,000 people are unaccounted for," the report noted, while placing the death toll at about 40,000.
The report said various UN agencies, including the Security Council and Human Rights Council, had failed at every level to meet their responsibilities in the last months of the civil war in Sri Lanka.
UN officials were afraid to publicise widespread killings, top UN leaders did not intervene and the 15-member Security Council did not give "clear" orders to protect civilians, said the report.
Mr Ban warned that the findings, which were made public on Wednesday, would have "profound implications" for the global body.
"This finding has profound implications for our work across the world, and I am determined that the United Nations draws the appropriate lessons and does its utmost to earn the confidence of the world's people, especially those caught in conflict who look to the organisation for help," he said in a statement.
He said he would set up a "senior-level team" to consider the panel's recommendations and advise him on future action. He added that events in Syria were the latest reminder that the UN's core mission to protect civilians was crucial.
It is not the first time the world body has criticised itself for failing to protect civilians during a conflict.
The UN reached similar conclusions after it failed to act during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the 1995 massacre of thousands of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, Bosnia.