UN failed to protect civilians during Lanka's civil war:Report

An internal review of the final months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war in 2009, set up by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, has concluded that the manner in which the world body handled the crisis in the country was "a grave failure" of the UN.

A leaked draft of the report, obtained by the New York Times, criticised the UN officials on the ground in Sri Lanka as well as at its headquarters here on the way they dealt with the crisis, particularly in the final months of the war in 2009, when as many as 40,000 civilians were killed.

The panel, led by former UN official Charles Petrie criticised what it termed as "a sustained and institutionalised reluctance" by staff members in Sri Lanka at the time "to stand up for the rights of the people they were mandated to assist".

"Many senior UN staff simply did not perceive the prevention of killing of civilians as their responsibility," the report's executive summary said.

Finding fault with the way the crisis was dealt with by senior UN officials in New York, the draft report said, "Decision-making across the UN was dominated by a culture of trade-offs –from the ground to UN headquarters".

Officials chose "not to speak up" about "broken commitments and violations of international law" by both the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels because that "was seen as the only way to increase UN humanitarian access" to victims of the conflict, a report in the New York Times said.

"The last phase of the conflict in Sri Lanka presented a major challenge" to the international body, it added.

"The UN struggled to exert influence on the (Sri Lankan) government which, with the effective acquiescence of a post-9/11 world order, was determined to defeat militarily an organisation designated as terrorist.

Some have argued that many deaths could have been averted had the Security Council and the Secretariat, backed by the UN country team, spoken out loudly early on, notably by publicising the casualty numbers.

Others say that the question is less whether the UN should assume responsibility for the tragedy, but more whether it did everything it could to assist the victims.

Ban's spokesperson Martin Nesirky did not comment on the contents of the leaked report but said in his daily press briefing that the UN Secretary-General would receive the report of his internal review panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka this week.

Ban would also meet Petrie today and the report would be made public soon.

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