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The New York Times on Sri Lanka: Leaked Report on Sri Lanka Critical of U.N.

Published On Wednesday, November 14, 2012
An internal review of how the United Nations handled the bloody final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009, when as many as 40,000 civilians were killed, has concluded that the response was “a grave failure of the U.N.,” according to a leaked draft of the report.

The investigative panel, led by Charles Petrie, a former United Nations official, criticized what it called “a sustained and institutionalized reluctance” by staff members in Sri Lanka at the time “to stand up for the rights of the people they were mandated to assist.” In blunt language, the report’s executive summary states that “many senior U.N. staff simply did not perceive the prevention of killing of civilians as their responsibility.”

The report, copies of which were given to the BBC and The New York Times, also found fault with the way the crisis was dealt with by senior United Nations officials in New York. “Decision-making across the U.N. was dominated by a culture of trade-offs – from the ground to U.N. headquarters,” the draft report states. 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 U.N. humanitarian access” to victims of the conflict.

The report does note that “the last phase of the conflict in Sri Lanka presented a major challenge” to the international body.

The U.N. 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 organization designated as terrorist. Some have argued that many deaths could have been averted had the Security Council and the Secretariat, backed by the U.N. country team, spoken out loudly early on, notably by publicizing the casualty numbers. Others say that the question is less whether the U.N. should assume responsibility for the tragedy, but more whether it did everything it could to assist the victims.
The internal review panel was established by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general. A spokesman for Mr. Ban refused to comment on the leaked draft on Tuesday, but told reporters that the secretary general planned to meet Mr. Petrie on Wednesday morning and that the final version of the report would be made public soon.

Lyse Doucet, the chief international correspondent for BBC News who obtained the leaked draft, reported on Tuesday that United Nations sources said that the “brief executive summary, which sets out the panel’s conclusions in stark terms, has been removed,” from the final report.
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