Sri Lanka remains a damaged nation and the UN is part of the problem

What happened in 2009 was nothing short of killing on a mass scale. The BBC has received a leaked document that offers damning evidence:

The United Nations failed in its mandate to protect civilians in the last months of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, a leaked draft of a highly critical internal UN report says.

“Events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN,” it concludes.

The government and Tamil rebels are accused of war crimes in the brutal conflict which ended in May 2009.

The UN’s former humanitarian chief, John Holmes, has criticised the report.

Mr Holmes said the UN faced “some very difficult dilemmas” at the time and could be criticised for the decisions it had taken.

“But the idea that if we behaved differently, the Sri Lankan government would have behaved differently I think is not one that is easy to reconcile with the reality at the time,” he told the BBC’s Newshour programme.

The UN does not comment on leaked reports and says it will publish the final version.

The 26-year war left at least 100,000 people dead. There are still no confirmed figures for tens of thousands of civilian deaths in the last months of battle. An earlier UN investigation said it was possible up to 40,000 people had been killed in the final five months alone. Others suggest the number of deaths could be even higher.

Events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond… during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians ”

UN internal review panel

Former senior UN official Charles Petrie, who headed the internal review panel, told the BBC the “penultimate” draft the BBC has seen “very much reflects the findings of the panel”. He is now in New York to present the report to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Sources say a brief executive summary, which sets out the panel’s conclusions in stark terms, has been removed in a final report which will number about 30 pages, with additional detailed annexes.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told the BBC the UN does not comment on leaked reports. He said a final version would be published once the secretary general had received and read it.

Senior UN sources say Ban Ki-moon is determined to act on its wide-ranging recommendations in order to “learn lessons” and respond more effectively to major new crises, such as Syria, now confronting the international community.

The UN’s investigation into its own conduct during the last months of the conflict says the organisation should in future “be able to meet a much higher standard in fulfilling its protection and humanitarian responsibilities”.

The report does highlight the positive role played by some UN staff on the ground and the secretary general, but it points to a “systemic failure”.

The panel questions decisions such as the withdrawal of UN staff from the war zone in September 2008 after the Sri Lankan government warned it could no longer guarantee their safety.

Benjamin Dix, who was part of the UN team that left, says he disagreed with the pullout.

“I believe we should have gone further north, not evacuate south, and basically abandon the civilian population with no protection or witness,” Mr Dix told the BBC.

“As a humanitarian worker, questions were running through my mind ‘what is this all about? Isn’t this what we signed up to do?'”

Hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians remained in the war zone, exploited by both sides: forcibly recruited by Tamil Tigers or used as human shields; or under indiscriminate government fire.

Today, like in so many developing countries, a repressive state works along disaster capitalists in the West to “develop” the people (via the Financial Times):

Hundreds of former Tamil Tigers, the defeated Sri Lankan rebel army, are moving into a peaceful trade, swapping a history of bombs and guns for bras and football shirts.

In a sign of long-awaited economic reconstruction following the… brutal conclusion in 2009 of the nation’s 23-year civil war,… one of the biggest suppliers to Victoria’s Secret is training the former Tigers to work in the first big garment factories to open in the battle-scarred north of the island.

MAS Holdings – a Sri Lankan company which also makes clothes for… Gap… and… Marks and Spencer… – is building two factories in Killinochi, the one-time political capital of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels.The area was recaptured by Sri Lanka’s army after months of fierce fighting in early 2009, a crucial turning point in the struggle that led to a decisive but bloody victory a few months later, in which nearly all of the Tiger’s leadership were killed.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has since pledged to bring new infrastructure and jobs to the country’s Hindu minority Tamils, as part of… a promised “peace dividend”… after the end of their struggle against the Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

But critics say Mr Rajapaksa has moved slowly on redevelopment and showed increasingly authoritarian traits, charges made again recently during a heated meeting on Sri Lanka’s record at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Almost destroyed in the fighting, Killinochi’s newly constructed main road, where one of facilities will be located, remains dotted with bombed-out buildings. Many local people are also displaced, unable to return to homes that have been destroyed or occupied by the army.

Training centres for the factories, which will make undergarments and sportswear, are already operating in the town. MAS wants to hire some of the more than 2,000 locals for the manufacturing facilities when they become fully operational by 2015.

The owners admit there will be challenges in hiring former LTTE members. Medical experts say, for example, that many are suffering trauma from their experiences in the war’s final months, in which as many 40,000 civilians were killed.

“We believe the workforce will comprise people who will have been a part of that organisation,” says Mahesh Amalean, chairman of MAS. “We may not have all the competency to deal with all the possible psychological issues they have, and we may need to bring people in for this.”

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