sithamuI wrote a couple of weeks back about ‘nasty personal attacks on the UN leadership in Sri Lanka during the conflict’ and noted that long ago I had ‘suggested that we should highlight the positive input of senior UN officials and question the UN as to why their reports had been ignored’. This was prompted by a report by a Britisher called Julian Vigo that used allegations by junior personnel in the UN system to claim that senior UN officials were complicit in abuses that they claimed had occurred during the conflict period.

Given the potential danger this represented, I wrote to the Secretary to the President to remind him of how we had failed to strengthen links with senior members of the UN who worked in terms of the UN mandate to assist us with humanitarian needs whilst also upholding basic principles of human rights. I added that ‘Time is running out, and no one has any sense of urgency’ but, given the time usually taken for responses within our governmental system, I suppose I should not be surprised that he has not been able to suggest remedial action.

I hope however that he realizes the need for him to act expeditiously, given that the President, obviously realizing the incapacity of the Ministry of External Affairs to which he had initially entrusted the job, finally entrusted preparation of an Action Plan for the LLRC Recommendations to his Secretary. As usual when he puts his mind to things, Mr Weeratunge turned up trumps. Since however implementation has also been entrusted to him, he must realize that a clear system of monitoring progress and improving on it is vital, and he is clearly the only person able to ensure this at this stage.

All this is the more urgent, given that those determined to undermine Sri Lanka and its President have now struck yet another blow, through a Report that is sharply critical of the UN in Sri Lanka during the conflict period. I am not sure whether the UN hierarchy here quite realized what was going to hit them, since the UN Head did not seem to think the Vigo Report, which foreshadows some of the criticism an internal UN Report has now publicized, needed to be taken seriously.

This is a pity, because clearly all these allegations, which are based on generalizations and falsehoods, are being used to create the impression that we behaved badly throughout the war. Since we failed to make a detailed official rebuttal of the various falsehoods in the Darusman Report (satisfying ourselves with lengthy narratives, which did not directly address the relevant issues), we have basically allowed the myths to be seen as proven. Thus the claim that we wanted a war without witnesses, belied by the very clear request of the Secretary of Defence, that UNHCR and WFP stay on in the Wanni along with the ICRC, when other agencies were asked to leave, is now widely believed. And the fact that there were no fatalities at all amongst either UN employees or NGO employees whom the Tigers forced to stay on, which makes it clear that there were no indiscriminate attacks on civilians, has never been highlighted.

In the old days the Peace Secretariat website dealt effectively with many allegations and, as the President has since told me, it was a mistake to close it down. But the failure to set up anything equivalent in its place is a blunder that will cost us dearly in the months ahead.