Friday, December 07, 2012

Not ethically defensible

Australia's policy position in relation to Sri Lanka has not been tenable for many years; in public policy terms it is a classic systemic failure.  More recently it has become a farce.   I am in agreement with Bruce Haigh: it's just not cricket playing with oppressive Sri Lanka writing in the most recent edition of Crikey when he says:

"Who would have thought that in the space of 17 years, Australia could have gone from being a leading champion in the worldwide fight to end the racial discrimination of apartheid to siding with the corrupt and venal government of Sri Lanka in the genocide of Tamils.

Australia has former prime minister John Howard to thank, with the raw racism and political expediency embodied in "we will decide who comes here", the policy of turning back the boats, mandatory detention and temporary protection visas -- all directed against asylum seekers. Unfortunately Labor prime ministers Rudd and Gillard embraced at first the essence, and now the substance of his policies."

The mainstream media and public in general are also lacking, seemingly, in awareness and discernment and thus responsible action.  Australia, and the rest of the world for that matter, should not be engaged in sporting ties of any sort with Sri Lanka; all future cricket matches should be cancelled until such time as responsible and ethical government returns.  

This article by Lyse Doucet Chief International Correspondent, BBC News says  it all:

"Hundreds of thousands of Tamils ended up trapped in a tiny strip of land.  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 to adequately respond to early warnings... during the final stages of conflict," it concludes.

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

The war killed at least 100,000 people.

There are still no confirmed figures for civilian deaths in the last months of battle. A UN investigation said it was possible up to 40,000 people were killed in the final five months alone. Others suggest the number of deaths could be even higher. 

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 an 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.

There was no immediate response from the UN, which does not comment on leaked reports. But senior UN sources say the secretary general plans to publish the hard hitting review, and 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. 

'Systemic failure'

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".

It identifies "systemic failure" in a number of areas, and describes the internal UN crisis-management structure as "incoherent".

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.

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, or at risk of arrest.
"We begged them, we pleaded with them not to leave the area. They did not listen to us," said a Tamil school teacher now seeking asylum in Britain, who did not want to be named. "If they had stayed there, and listened to us, many more people would be alive today." 

Despite a "catastrophic" situation on the ground, this report bluntly explains that in the capital Colombo "many senior UN 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".

It says there was "a sustained and institutionalised reluctance" among UN personnel in Sri Lanka "to stand up for the rights of people they were mandated to assist". 

'Culture of trade-offs'

Citing detailed records of meetings and reports, the review highlights how the UN did not publish mounting civilian casualty figures even though they had "been verified to a good standard". Under severe pressure from the Sri Lankan government, it also did not make clear most deaths were caused by government shelling of "no fire zones" designated as havens for civilians.
The government repeatedly denied it shelled civilian areas. 

How did the UN failure happen? The report explores at length how senior staff in Colombo "had insufficient political expertise and experience in armed conflicts and in human rights... to deal with the challenge that Sri Lanka presented", and were not given "sufficient policy and political support" from headquarters. It also points to the Sri Lankan government's "stratagem of intimidation", including "control of visas to sanction staff critical of the state".

The result was a UN system dominated by "a culture of trade-offs" - UN staff chose not to speak out against the government in an effort to try to improve humanitarian access. 

Edward Mortimer, a former senior UN official who now chairs the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, says UN staff left when the population needed them more than ever.

"I fear this report will show the UN has not lived up to the standards we expect of it and has not behaved as the moral conscience of the world," Mr Mortimer said.

"There was a responsibility to protect in Sri Lanka but unfortunately it didn't get publicity like in Libya. The north of Sri Lanka was destroyed field by field, street by street, hospital by hospital but we didn't get that kind of reaction - Sri Lanka doesn't have much oil and isn't situated on the Mediterranean."

There were no UN peacekeepers in Sri Lanka but this report says the UN should have told the world what was happening, and done more to try to stop it. 

In New York, "engagement with member states regarding Sri Lanka was heavily influenced by what it perceived member states wanted to hear, rather than by what member states needed to know if they were to respond".
During the last months of war, there was not a single formal meeting of the UN's top bodies.

The executive summary of the draft report highlights how "the UN 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 organisation designated as terrorist". The Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, are a proscribed terrorist organisation in many capitals.
Frances Harrison, who has just written a book "Still Counting the Dead" on the last months of the war, told the BBC "the only way now for Ban Ki-moon to restore the UN's tattered credibility on Sri Lanka is to call an independent international investigation into the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians in 2009". 

"What haunts me is the outcome of this dreadful conflict might - just might - have been different if the UN had at the time publicised the independent eyewitness testimony and casualty data its staff meticulously collected that indicated the bulk of killing was the result of government shelling," says the former BBC Sri Lanka correspondent.

No comments: