U.N. - declaring dereliction of its duty in Sri Lanka's separatist war - makes case for 'Global Scrutiny' in 'tell all' report
The United Nations Secretary-General's Internal Review Panel that probed into the separatist war in Sri Lanka for seven months in its report submitted in November 2012, while 'lightly' noting the culpability of the Tamil Tiger movement for civilian deaths during the final months of the battle, has made the Government of Sri Lanka largely responsible in the deaths of civilians in the Wanni War Theater highlighting the violations of international humanitarian law (IHL).
Lessening the Tamil Tiger movement's culpability the UNSG's Internal Review Panel declares in its report: "Despite the context of worsening armed conflict, the UN did not put in place an adequate system to collect information on killings and injuries until the beginning of February 2009. When the UN began to collate information through the COG (UN Crisis Operation Group), reports pointed to the large majority of civilian killings as being the result of Government shelling and aerial bombardment, with a smaller proportion of killings resulting from the LTTE actions. UN staff in Colombo and UNHQ (in New York) had no doubt that Government attacks were killing many civilians – as demonstrated by internal correspondence and meeting minutes."
The report highlighting the violation of the international humanitarian law by the GSL says "Throughout the final stages, the UN issued many public statements and reports accusing the LTTE of committing human rights and international humanitarian law violations, and mentioning thousands of civilians killed. But, with the above exception, the UN almost completely omitted to explicitly mention Government responsibility for violations of international law."
It further states "UNHQ had no doubt that Government attacks were killing many civilians – as demonstrated by internal correspondence and meeting minutes."
Throughout the UNSG's Internal Review Panel stressed on remarks such as" killing of civilians and holding civilians hostage, were based on information verified in the same manner. Numerous UN communications said that civilians were being killed in artillery shelling, but they failed to mention that reports most often indicated the shelling in question was from Government forces."
The Panel report declaring the UN's 'dereliction of its duty' confesses "On the rare instances when UN letters to the Government (of Sri Lanka) and UN statements associated Government fire with civilian deaths they did not elaborate on the specific humanitarian law provisions that were being violated and that would have highlighted Government actions as possibly illegal, including with regard to the vital concepts of ‘distinction’, ‘proportionality’ and ‘precautionary measures’."
In the above citation from the UNSG report what the Asian Tribune endeavors to stress here is that the UN at the highest level is openly accusing and blaming the GSL for the larger proportion of the civilian deaths in the final months - January through May 2009 - of the battle with the LTTE and, in engaging in discriminate shelling and artillery attacks it has violated the IHL and IHRL while putting the LTTE culpability in the back burner. The UN is now aware at the time the UNSG Internal Review Panel report was issued for public domain in November (2012) that the only party available for scrutiny and survived the 'brutal battle' is the Government of Sri Lanka, and therefore the GSL should be held responsible for the major part of the deaths of the civilians in the Wanni War Theater.
Which is why the panel report opined: "UN action in Si Lanka. It is nevertheless clear that there can be no lasting peace and stability 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 UNSG Internal Review Panel has a way of justifying - though it does not explicitly say - but strongly indicating a global scrutiny (whatever it means such as International-level investigation for the violations of the IHL, war crimes or possibly genocide) when it declares in the report.
(Quote) According to the Panel of Experts report “From as early as 6 February 2009, the SLA [Sri Lanka Army] continuously shelled within the area that became the second NFZ, from all directions, including land, sea and air. It is estimated that there were between 300,000 and 330,000 civilians in that small area. The SLA assault employed aerial bombardment, long-range artillery, howitzers and MBRLs [unguided missile systems] as well as small mortars, RPGs [Rocket Propelled Grenades] and small arms fire ...”33 The RC told a 13 February meeting of the IAWG-SL that as many as 3,000 people may have been killed since 20 January. On 9 March, the RC and some UNCT members presented an estimate of casualties to the diplomatic corps in Colombo. However, the briefing did not explicitly address Government responsibility for the situation or for shelling. The COG had prepared a casualty sheet which showed that a large majority of the civilian casualties recorded by the UN had reportedly been caused by Government fire, but the UN did not present this data. And when describing the lack of food and medicines, the briefing did not explain that the most immediate causes for the severe shortfall had been Government obstruction to the delivery of assistance, including its artillery shelling (End Quote)
The US State Department spokesperson in Washington Victoria Nuland and assistant secretary of State for South/Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake have many a time said that if the GSL failed to undertake an accountability and transparency investigation, the investigation may move to an international level.
(RC- Resident Coordinator in Colombo UN office. IAWG-SL - Inter-Agency Working Group on Sri Lanka. UNCT - UN Country Team in Colombo. COG - UN Crisis Operation Group).
The September 2012 report did not fail to quote the previous UNSG Panel of Expert: (Quote) According to the Panel of Experts report “From as early as 6 February 2009, the SLA [Sri Lanka Army] continuously shelled within the area that became the second NFZ, from all directions, including land, sea and air. It is estimated that there were between 300,000 and 330,000 civilians in that small area. The SLA assault employed aerial bombardment, long-range artillery, howitzers and MBRLs [unguided missile systems] as well as small mortars, RPGs [Rocket Propelled Grenades] and small arms fire ...”33 The RC told a 13 February meeting of the IAWG SL that as many as 3,000 people may have been killed since 20 January. (End Quote)
In the light of its investigative findings, UN Secretary General's Internal Review Panel gives this strong recommendation:
(Quote) Coming at the beginning of his second term, the Secretary-General’s decision to commission an internal review is a courageous step. The Panel believes that the report’s findings and recommendations provide an urgent and compelling platform for action. The UN’s failure to adequately respond to events like those that occurred in Sri Lanka should not happen again. When confronted by similar situations, the UN must be able to meet a much higher standard in fulfilling its protection and humanitarian responsibilities. (End Quote)
The issue related to the combat of LTTE terrorism, the actions of the Sri Lanka government military and the decisions at the highest level during the final January through May 2009 operation in the Wanni region is the civilian casualties and the culpability in many international forums. At the highest level in the US State Department, the Samantha Power-headed Genocide Accountability Unit at Obama White house, the European Union and nor forgetting the somewhat influential Sri Lankan expatriate Tamil lobby in major Western cities this issue had, and is, more focus to draw Sri Lanka's attention to the vitality of accountability and transparency.
The UNSG's Internal Review Panel has extensively deliberated this issue that has gone global, and providing data and facts of its own investigation during a seven-month period then linking it to another vital issue, in dealing with civilian deaths, " the population in the Wanni Region that existed during the January-May 2009 critical period of the military battle between the GSL military and the LTTE fighting cadre."
Refuting GSL Population Statistics in Wanni
This Online Daily Newspaper presents the relevant extracts from the report.
(Quote) Determination of the numbers of people in the Wanni was central to all of this humanitarian action. A Wanni local government official testified to the LLRC that during the final stages there had been 360,000 IDPs in her district alone. Others who submitted testimony to the Commission quoted estimates of local Government authorities that placed the total population number in October 2008 at 429,000. Yet national Government authorities in Colombo insisted that there were no more than about 70,000 people. The UN believed there were up to 350,000 civilians, but in its internal and public statements made references which oscillated between 150,000 and 350,000, and used an assistance-planning figure of 200,000. The reception and registration of almost 280,000 people in IDP internment camps when they left the Wanni is an indication of the scale of inaccuracy in the national Government’s figures. The Government’s denial of the real numbers buttressed arguments against increasing humanitarian convoys andwas later used to rebut reports of high civilian casualties.(End Quote)
Then the report gives details of GSL obstruction to the supply of humanitarian assistance.
(Quote) From September 2008 to May 2009 UN food assistance dropped from an estimated 20 per cent of requirements to almost zero. Land convoys stopped in January 2009, primarily because of Government forces’ shelling, and the unwillingness of the parties to issue temporary ceasefires. Efforts to deliver assistance by sea were also adversely affected by shelling and Government restrictions. Local Government officials in the Wanni informed the UN that the Ministry of Defence was preventing essential medicines being transported into the area. Moreover, since the Government refused to allow UN staff to monitor distribution in the Wanni, it was impossible to know how much assistance was actually reaching the trapped populations. The RC’s request to accompany a boat sailing with humanitarian assistance to the Wanni coast was refused by the Government. By the spring of 2009, doctors in the Wanni reported people dying in their thousands from the effects of malnutrition and lack of antibiotics (End Quote)
Does the panel implicitly connect these two issues to civilian deaths?
(Quote) The Internal Review Panel connects its determinations to civilian deaths in this manner: Making an accurate determination of the number of civilians in the Wanni during the final stages of the conflict was vital for assessments of the humanitarian assistance required, and would also become central to assessments of the number of civilian casualties. Major differences in population numbers were given during the final stages of the conflict by various actors, with the Government citing very low numbers in comparison with those cited by the UN and some other actors. Low population numbers were used to argue that the quantities of food and other humanitarian assistance being delivered were adequate; low numbers were also used during the conflict, and subsequently, to rebut allegations of civilian deaths. (End Quote)
The Panel report further states: "Statements given to the Panel show that the UNCT was sensitive to the fact that the largest population estimates were very much higher than the national Government estimates and that the UN continued quoting the Government estimates reaching a ‘compromise’ by lowering its own estimates. In fact, the rise in the number of people reaching camps outside the Wanni shows that even the UN’s estimates of numbers of people were well below the actual number."
The report notes: "There was a continued reluctance among UNCT institutions to stand up for the rights of the people they were mandated to assist. In Colombo, some senior 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. Seen together, the failure of the UN to adequately counter the Government’s under-estimation of population numbers in the Wanni, the failure to adequately confront the Government on its obstructions to humanitarian assistance, the unwillingness of the UN in UNHQ and Colombo to address Government responsibility for attacks that were killing civilians, and the tone and content of UN Government on these issues, collectively amounted to a failure by the UN to act within the scope
of institutional mandates to meet protection responsibilities."
What Panel says through self confession is interesting
"The UN’s political engagement in Sri Lanka during the period from 2007 to the end of the conflict in May 2009 remained secondary to the efforts of other external actor."
"The UN’s relationships with the Government were difficult – not least because of a Government stratagem of UN intimidation."
"The conflict and its aftermath saw UN staff suffer abuses in contravention of their UN privileges and immunities, and of international human rights and humanitarian law."
"Throughout these events, the UN repeatedly lobbied the Government and the LTTE for improved humanitarian access, for freedom of movement that would allow people to reach
assistance, and for convoys. But the UN did not confront the Government directly with the fact
that obstructing assistance was counter to its responsibilities under international law."
Above are four quotes from the UN Secretary general's panel report.
It further states: "In 2007 the Government formally launched its military campaign in the Wanni against the last remaining area of Sri Lanka under LTTE control. Over the following 18 months, the fighting gradually intensified and in September 2008, as the conflict entered its final stages, the Government officially informed the UN it could no longer guarantee the safety of staff in the Wanni. The Government’s security warning came after many months during which the UN perceived the Government to be trying to restrict the access of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the area. Within three weeks, the UN withdrew all international staff, effectively ending UN assistance operations from within the Wanni. The UN also tried to withdraw all its national staff, but the LTTE prevented staff dependents from leaving, and many national staff consequently chose to remain behind."
The Panel further notes: "In September 2008 the UN relocated all international and some national staff out of the Wanni leaving behind other national staff who opted to remain in order to be with their families, whom the LTTE prevented from departing. The relocation was prompted by repeated shelling and bombardment adjacent to UN compounds and by the Government’s announcement that it could no longer guarantee the safety of staff. Most UN staff perceived the Government’s withdrawal of security assurances as a stratagem to remove international observers from the Wanni. The LTTE wanted the UN and international NGOs to remain. Much of the most immediate security threat, including the recent incidents of shelling, reportedly came from fire by Government forces. Faced with the Government statement on security and the accompanying attacks, the UNCT thought it had no choice but to begin preparations to relocate.
"However, the logic of relocating staff because of a Government safety warning when Government forces themselves represented the dominant threat to staff seems never to have been questioned. In contrast, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) chose to remain in the Wanni. Despite major concerns expressed by some UN staff outside Sri Lanka, the UN never presented the full circumstances of the relocation to Member States or the general public and the Government did not face any significant criticism for its actions. The expectation that the UN would not confront it on the issue may, in turn, have influenced Government action.
The relocation had a severe impact on the delivery of humanitarian assistance and reduced the
potential for monitoring the protection of civilians. It removed the most significant protection
layers, even as thousands of civilians sought protection by remaining close to UN premises. The
reaction of the UN system as a whole to the Government’s withdrawal of security assurances
represented a serious failure."
UN Engagement Inadequate: "Overall the Secretariat approach to engaging with Member States showed a lack of purpose – failing to acknowledge its responsibilities and those of Member States. The Secretariat’s presentations at the Security Council informal interactive dialogues, while touching upon human rights and political aspects, focused primarily on the humanitarian situation. Presentations were delivered by the USG-Humanitarian Affairs and on two occasions by the Chef de Cabinet. By not providing the Security Council with details of the failure of the Government and the LTTE to meet their responsibilities, UNHQ did not offer Member States the clear analysis and options for action that the situation required."
On Accountability Issue
Progress on accountability was slow, but the UN would continue to pursue the issue. In
June 2009 the Policy Committee discussed the possibility of UN action to establish a mechanism
for an international investigation, an option presented by OHCHR.
The UN Office of Legal Affairs advised the Secretary-General that he had the authority, under
Article 99 of the UN Charter, to establish Commissions of Inquiry. In July 2009, the Policy
Committee held a meeting exclusively on accountability in Sri Lanka during which the Secretary-General decided to give the Government of Sri Lanka some time to meet its responsibilities on accountability, but to establish an international initiative of some sort if it did not do so. From July 2009 to the beginning of 2010 the Secretary-General and senior UN officials repeatedly urged the Government to take action to ensure accountability. In a 14 September 2009 letter to the President of Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General said he was “considering the appointment of a Commission of Experts to advise me further and to be available to you for assistance” on accountability. In March 2010, in the absence of Government initiative on the issue, the UN informed the Government and Member States of plans to establish a UN Panel of Experts on accountability in Sri Lanka. By May 2010, several NGO reports had been published on alleged violations, including a report by the International Crisis Group that called for an international accountability mechanism. On 6 May 2010 the Government established a domestic mechanism, the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). Despite some positive characteristics, the LLRC was fundamentally constrained by a mandate that did not focus on actual accountability and by the lack of an enabling environment for judicial follow-up.
In June 2010, the Secretary-General established the Panel of Experts. With a mandate to
advise the Secretary-General on steps that needed to be taken regarding accountability in Sri
On 22 March 2012, in a significant evolution of its position, the Human Rights Council
adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka that focused on accountability
The Panel's Recommendations & Conclusion
Previously, we gave extensive coverage to the UN Secretary General's Internal Review Panel self-criticism, declaring dereliction of its duty in Sri Lanka's separatist war, the lack of whole-hearted cooperation and support from the UN Security Council that made the UN Secretary General's office somewhat disabled in handling the Sri Lanka crisis. In selecting some of the observations, comments and deliberations, the Asian Tribune endeavored to bring out 'any future action' that the United Nations have in mind regarding accountability and transparency in the Sri Lanka issue.
We now give you the Panel's recommendations and conclusion. Here are some:
The Secretary-General should use the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) as a ‘convening’ initiative to invite Member States to receive and consider information on the human rights aspects of a relevant crisis situation; and in this regard, DPA and OHCHR should be jointly tasked with managing its use and fulfilling the Secretariat’s own responsibilities under the concept.
The Secretariat should make use of updated methods of briefing Member States on crises, including video and other digital media and briefings from field-based staff.
Better address violations of privileges and immunities: The Secretary-General should
review options for inviting Member States to consider what actions they could take in response to situations where one Member State engages in sustained actions against UN personnel and institutions, including violations of UN privileges and immunities, and which are having a serious impact on the UN’s ability to meet its responsibilities. Further consideration should also be given to the UN’s support to staff under threat.
Follow-up: the Panel strongly urges that: (i) its report be made public; (ii) follow-up be
given to the report’s recommendations, that the process be led by an official within the
consideration in other related processes, such as development of the UNOCC, programme criticality, special circumstances and change management; and (v) the UN offer to engage
with the Government of Sri Lanka regarding those elements of the report that are applicable
to ongoing UN action in Sri Lanka.
Coming at the beginning of his second term, the Secretary-General’s decision to commission an internal review is a courageous step. The Panel believes that the report’s findings and recommendations provide an urgent and compelling platform for action. The UN’s failure to adequately respond to events like those that occurred in Sri Lanka should not happen again.
When confronted by similar situations, the UN must be able to meet a much higher standard in
fulfilling its protection and humanitarian responsibilities.
Asian Tribune Comments
Please note in the conclusion what the Panel say: "The Panel believes that the report’s findings and recommendations provide an urgent and compelling platform for action." And it notes: "UN must be able to meet a much higher standard in fulfilling its protection and humanitarian responsibilities."
This report has made a series of insinuations, insinuations that anyone interested need to unearth. And those insinuations and innuendos are well connected to what action the UN should take at the Secretary General's level. It has made a self confession or declared dereliction of its duty in Sri Lanka's separatist war. Through that self criticism the Panel has made a broad observation, disclosed findings, made its own investigative data available for public domain, and has given enough fodder for those who seek 'accountability and transparency' from Sri Lanka to make more serious lobbying in the halls of power centers in Western Capitals to what the Panel in its conclusion said "The Panel believes that the report’s findings and recommendations provide an urgent and compelling platform for action."
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after receiving the United Nations report on the world body’s actions during the final months of the 2009 war in Sri Lanka and its aftermath said that, as an immediate first step, he would organize a senior-level team to give “careful consideration” to the report’s recommendations and advise him on the way forward.
“Other action will follow in short order,” he said.
Mr. Ban, in a statement, voiced his resolve for the world body to learn from its findings in order to better serve humanity, especially people caught in conflict.
“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 Organization for help,” he added.
Full Text of the Report:
- Asian Tribune -