The United Nations was today accused by human rights groups of failing to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for alleged abuses against civilians during the suppression of the Tamil Tiger insurgency.
The accusations followed a resolution in the UN human rights council welcoming the Sri Lankan government victory, with no reference to human rights concerns over civilian casualties and the 300,000 Tamils made homeless, many of whom are interned in government camps.
But criticism was also aimed at the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who visited the biggest camp over the weekend and complimented the Sri Lankan government on its humanitarian role, and the security council for not speaking out officially about the human cost of the military victory.
“The human rights council performed abysmally,” said Tom Porteous, London director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s there to monitor human rights and the laws of war, and it completely failed – and failed to register any concern over the situation.”
The Sri Lankan government took the unusual step of submitting its own resolution to a council session in Geneva convened to examine its conduct in the conflict. Colombo won substantial support from friendly governments, derailing an attempt to launch an inquiry into war crimes allegations.
“It was a deplorable result, a self-congratulatory resolution that Sri Lanka imposed on the council,” said Peter Splinter, Amnesty International’s representative in Geneva.
Sen Kandiah, a Tamil community leader in Britain, said: “The Tamil diaspora feel the system is not working. We feel justice is not going to be done.”
The Geneva resolution hailed “the liberation by the government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of its citizens that were kept by the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] against their will as hostages”. It won 29 votes, with six abstentions. Britain’s was one of 12 votes against it. A European diplomat admitted that if EU states had been more organised they might have put forward a more critical resolution that could have been accepted by the council.
Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, todaysaid the government had been able to defeat countries that were “trying to undermine Sri Lanka’s efforts in countering terrorism”.
Colombo was also buoyed by the remarks of Ban Ki-moon after his visit to Menik Farm internment camp, noting the government’s “tremendous efforts”. The comments infuriated aid workers. “It seems to me Ban … didn’t raise the really hard questions about human rights,” Porteous said.