Government says UN failed during war

In the wake of the release of the UN internal review report, the government last week conceded that the UN had “failed” in its actions during the war.

External Affairs Ministry Secretary Karunatilaka Amunugama said that the government will not officially respond to the report as it was an internal review document of the UN.

However he said the UN had failed to take action when the LTTE used civilians as human shields during the war and so in that sense the UN had not done enough.

“The UN did not carry out its role properly. However we do not agree with the conclusion that the government had put pressure on the UN during the war,” he told The Sunday Leader.

The report handed over to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week by the panel tasked to review the UN’s role during the war in Sri Lanka, said that there can be no lasting peace and stability in Sri Lanka without dealing with the most serious past violations and without a political response to the aspirations of Sri Lanka’s communities.

“The UN cannot fulfill its post-conflict and development responsibilities in Sri Lanka without addressing these fundamental concerns, and the UN should continue to support implementation of the recommendations of the Panel of Experts on Accountability,” the report said.

The report also said the UN had a generally difficult relationship with the Government, which used its control of visas, as well as harsh and even defamatory articles in the domestic media, as a means to pressure and intimidate any staff perceived as critical of the State.

Several Resident Coordinators (RCs) were declared persona non grata (PNG) and a number of senior staff were withdrawn by the UN before they suffered the same fate. Candidates proposed to replace them were apparently rejected because of past experience in conflict situations.

“Many international staff felt intimidated by the Government. National staff were sometimes arrested and detained by the authorities and later, in 2009, two staff were abducted and tortured by Government agents,” the report said.

The report also said that while national staff were reportedly abused by LTTE cadres, the Government’s treatment of staff affected UN policy decisions and discouraged the UN from responding publicly or more firmly to reports of Government violations.

At least 19 high-level visits were conducted from January 2007 to December 2009, including by the Secretary-General, Chef de Cabinet (2 times), USG-Humanitarian Affairs (5 times), USG-Political Affairs (3 times), USG-Human Rights, the RSG-IDPs (4 times), the USGUNHCR, two special envoys of the SRSG-CAAC, and an ASG-DPA. Each visit was oriented towards a particular mandate – humanitarian, political, human rights, IDPs, children, etc.

However the report said that by the end of the conflict it would be apparent that commitments made by the Government and the LTTE to the UN, including during the high-level visits, were repeatedly broken. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)