UN’s ‘systemic failure’ exposed in Sri Lanka

Since early 2009 Tamil Solidarity has been exposing the horrendous and brutal attacks on the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka and the United Nation’s complicity through its failure to counter the genocidal slaughter in any way. Now a report by the UN itself confirms this analysis (1).

For Tamil people and supporters of the rights of the oppressed Tamils in Sri Lankathis is not news. Far from it. For example Gordon Weiss, a spokesperson for the UN in Sri Lanka during the war who resigned in December 2009, outlined the UN’s failure in detail in his book The Cage, published in May 2011 (2), also read Tamil Solidarity’s analysis of the interim UN report( 1, 2, 3).

“Systemic failure” is how the gross failure of the UN is described in the media. The UN now stands accused as a collaborator in the massacre. In the last few months of the war that ended in May 2009, over 146 000 Tamil-speaking people were massacred by the Sri Lankan military and many, many more were injured. 300,000 civilians were surrounded by the army and forced into detention camps. The UN and the world powers were without doubt aware of this but kept their silence while these horrendous killings took place. They competed among themselves to collaborate with the Sri Lankan regime. They consciously sought to cover up or downplay the killings.

The UN is accused of systematically preventing its staff from speaking out or publishing any details of the slaughter that took place. Even after a UN convoy was attacked by the Sri Lankan army it decided to keep its silence – apparently as a ‘trade-off’ to continue its operation. This however is not new for organisations such as the UN or the Red Cross.

In desperation the Tamil-speaking people ran to the hospitals, schools and the UN-marked buildings in the hope that the military might refrain from firing there. People tried desperately to prevent the UN from leaving. Some even went on hunger strike at the gates of the UN building in an attempt to convince them to stay. In an attempt to stop them firing at these places UN staff gave their co-ordinates to the Sri Lankan military high commanders. However, when they emerged from their bunkers the following morning they could not find any living thing around them. In reality this was a massacre aided by the UN and later hidden by it.

The UN staff were forced to comply with the extreme bullying tactics employed by the Sri Lankan regime. According to Weiss the UN secretary-general relied on his personal friendship with Sri Lankan president and warmonger in chief Mahinda Rajapaksa and forced the staff into silence. Ban Ki-moon travelled to Sri Lankaand visited the horrible detention camps. One of the detainees held at the time was a young woman from Britain, Damilvani Gnanakumar. Damilvani witnessed this visit by Ban Ki-moon and described the secretary-general’s disinterest in a serious and concerned inspection. (See Damilvani’s statement at the European Parliament hearing organised by Tamil Solidarity 4)

What took place in the final phase was also a direct violation of the so-called “international law”, but the ruling classes of the great powers ignore such niceties when it comes to their own interests. The final phase surrender negotiations included the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Norwegian government, along with members of the Tamil National Alliance, a Tamil political party. They had spoken directly to government ministers, Basil Rajapaksa and Palitha Kohona. The Sri Lankan regime then ordered the mass killing of all those who surrendered. This not only included leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) but also journalists, children and others.

Three years after the so-called end of the war the genocidal policies of the Sri Lankan regime continue. Tens of thousands are still held in detention camps, and secret camps. So-called resettlement forced tens of thousands onto the streets and into penury. Land has been confiscated by the government and illegally sold to Indian and Chinese big business. In effect, the north and east of the country still remain as an open prison camp. All the remaining democratic rights of all the people living inSri Lanka, including media freedom and hard-won public services are under attack by the regime. Despite these reports the UN has made no change in its approach to the Sri Lankan regime.

The UN may pass another resolution which will ‘urge’ or ‘ask’ the very regime that committed the war crimes to act – in effect a request for a ‘clean-up’. More leaks and reports may be permitted to emerge. These can have no meaning for us. We know the UN has plentiful evidence of war crimes. It is still withholding that information. Despite this they carried on with their game with the regime. The UN and secretary-general must take direct responsibility. Ban Ki-moon should resign immediately and the UN must publish all the evidence it is holding back immediately.

The UN exposed – Déjà vu

The UN’s role inSri Lankahas exposed the UN for what it really is – an institution of the oppressing classes that fails to defend ordinary working and poor people…even refugees! The current systemic crisis of capitalism has exposed all its organisations and institutions. In the wake of the worst capitalist crisis in over 80 years a crisis of legitimacy has beset all the institutions of capitalism – including the media, scandals surrounding politicians, the Occupy idea of the 1% elite, and the EU to name but a few. This exposure of the real role of the UN will add to that list.

“Ban Ki-moon, Ban Ki-moon – Save the Tamils!” was one of the slogans shouted by thousands of Tamil protesters in many countries in 2009. On Saturday 31 January 2009 Tamil-speaking people participated in a historic protest. This was probably the first time over 90% of this ethnic minority took to the streets inLondon. The slogans, demands and actions of over 100,000 on the street that day were grossly ignored by the so-called free media, governments and the UN.

What we witnessed has not been merely an incredible, unforgivable silence on the part of the UN. On 27 May 2009, only days after the massacre, the UN passed a resolution welcoming the “liberation by the government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of citizens that were kept by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) against their will as hostages”! In effect the UN agreed the Sri Lankan government’s line of a “zero civilian causality war”, the “largest hostage rescue operation in the world”. There is of course no mention of killings or the number of people who died. As Professor Noam Chomsky pointed out, the hypocrisy of the UN “was so profound, it was suffocating”.

Then came the devastating report from the UN advisory panel, published on 25 April 2011. This report reluctantly accepted that the number of people who died could have been around 40,000. Yasmin Sooka, a contributor to this report, revealed in a meeting in London on 5 October 2012 that this estimation was a gross underestimation. The actual number, according to her, was over 75,000. A number of journalists and experts now believe that it could be close to 150,000 matching the figure revealed by Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar, during his statement to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

The LLRC was set up by the Sri Lankan government as part of the covering up process and as a method of dealing with the UN and the west to give an impression that something is being done. The UN panel recommendation, not so surprisingly, was ignored by the UN and the Sri Lankan regime. Instead the regime launched a vicious attack on the UN officials and did everything to discredit the report.

On 22 March 2012 the UN passed another US-backed resolution. This did not go beyond the LLRC recommendation and urged the Rajapaksa regime to implement it. But the LLRC not only ignored the statements, such as that of the Mannar Bishop’s, but there was also an utter failure in initiating any sort of real investigation into the gross war crimes that took place. Even the LLRC’s puny recommendations were dismissed by the executive president Rajapaksa. The UN resolution had no effect on the regime.

History of failure

The UN passed over 50 resolutions against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories (5). The resolution passed in February 2011, supported by at least 130 countries, even declared the “Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories were illegal and a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace” (6). None of these resolutions had any effect. This week over 100 people were killed in Gaza by Israeli state bombings. Despite the protests in London and everywhere, none of the western powers are prepared to condemn the Israeli state or to take any action. In 1948 a UN resolution was passed demanding that the Indian government reduces the military presence in Kashmir and hold a referendum on independence. 64 years after this resolution the young people and masses in Kashmir are still waiting for this resolution to be implemented (7)!

The UN has a long history of abject failures when it comes to defending the oppressed and downtrodden. The UN’s so-called peace-keeping troops stood by while massacres took place inRwanda,Yugoslavia, and Somalia, to only name a few. And When they do act they accept to ensure that a capitalist, pro-imperialist regime is maintained or installed.

But there are those who have benefited from the UN’s actions. Disgraceful corruption scandals surrounding UN bureaucrats have been buried under the term of mere ‘mismanagement’. Nobel peace prize winner Kofi Anann, former UN secretary-general, and his son were linked to a major scandal unearthed during the UN operation in Iraqand the so-called oil-for-food programme (8).

The UN claims that its role is to promote human rights, eradicate poverty, run humanitarian relief, maintain peace, etc. But the UN has failed to prevent war and destruction or improve living conditions in any country. One in five – over 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty (9). There are 42 million forcefully displaced people around the world (10). Added to this is the utter failure to deal with increasing natural disasters, or even any global agreement on controlling climate change. Tens of thousands die and millions become victims of natural disasters each year, much of which is preventable if an adequate system is put in place (11).

How can we defend human rights?

The UN is a body of 191 states, almost all of which are responsible for human rights abuses. TheUSgovernment and the west are responsible for millions of deaths inIraqandAfghanistan. Conflicts between states’ economic interests are reflected in its affairs in the UN. Capitalist interests inevitably mean the exploitation of billions for the profits of the few. The breakdown of ‘friendly relations’ and their replacement by trade wars or real wars is equally inevitable in the pursuit of profit, power and prestige.

Some argue that the conflict between theUSandChinaregimes for control over the Pacific has led theUSto maybe take decisive action against the Sri Lankan regime. But this is a very simplistic argument which ignores a number of key factors. The Sri Lankan economy is still hugely dependent on exports to Europe and theUS. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescued the Lankan economy after the war and is still dictating budget policies.

The Indian government, on the other hand, is trying to corner a market for itself in the north and east ofSri Lanka. Weakened by the crisis, human rights will continue to be used as a “trade off” by these states. It will be ridiculous to expect a genuine attempt on war crime investigation. However they may promote LLRC or a similar sham mechanism to ‘reconcile’ the Tamil discontent. From this point of view regime change and the coming to power of the UNP – the traditional party of the capitalists – could be seen as a better outcome. This will not change anything for the oppressed Tamils. So-called development projects, while giving a certain illusion of a changing situation, will only intensify the exploitation. In addition none of the states will agree to any sort of political solution, let alone respecting the demand for the right to self determination.

Tamil-speaking people should give up the false hope of relying on capitalist state powers to deliver. The democratic rights enjoyed in the west, relatively better than in the neo-colonial world, were won through major battles and mass movements against the state and oppressing classes.

Today the world economic crisis is delivering an unprecedented erosion of rights – the right to education, health, housing, for example. In theUS3.6 million homes have been repossessed between August 2007 and November 2011, contributing to a situation where, in the richest country on the planet, “More than 700,000 people are currently homeless … and the number has grown 20% from 2007 to 2010.(12)”

Without building resistance from all the working people and poor against the Sri Lankan regime and linking it up with the struggle of the masses that is taking place across the world, we have no real chance of achieving meaningful victory.



1. http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/The_Internal_Review_Panel_report_on_Sri_Lanka.pdf

2. http://tamilsolidarity.org/?p=1365 , http://tamilsolidarity.org/?p=1377 , http://tamilsolidarity.org/?p=1381

3. http://tamilsolidarity.org/?p=1879

4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQ3TuNPmTLk&feature=player_embedded

5. http://www.uscrusade.com/forum/config.pl/noframes/read/1372 , http://www.darkpolitricks.com/un-resolutions-against-israel/

6. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12512732

7. http://www.kashmiri-cc.ca/un/

8. http://www.iic-offp.org/documents.htm

9. http://www.teamstoendpoverty.org/wq_pages/en/visages/chiffres.php

10. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jun/15/refugee-statistics-unhcr

11. http://reliefweb.int/report/world/annual-disaster-statistical-review-2011-numbers-and-trends