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UN buildingThe revelation by the Darusman Panel that the UN had networks of observers in ‘LTTE-controlled areas’ has not received the attention it requires. The propriety of the UN setting this up needs to be questioned, inasmuch as it indicates what seems to be a parallel source of authority without reference to the government of the country.

The extract that refers to this network also records how it was formed: ‘An internal “Crisis Operations Group” was formed to collect reliable information regarding civilian casualties and other humanitarian concerns. In order to calculate a total casualty figure, the Group took figures from RDHS as the baseline, using reports from national staff of the United Nations and NGOs, inside the Vanni, the ICRC, religious authorities and other sources to cross-check and verify the baseline. The methodology was quite conservative: if an incident could not be verified by three sources or could have been double-counted, it was dismissed. Figures emanating from sources that could be perceived as biased, such as Tamil Net, were dismissed, as were Government sources outside the Vanni’.

The sweeping manner in which Government sources outside the Vanni are put on par with Tamil Net requires consideration in a context in which the UN is supposed to be working together with Government. Unfortunately this type of loose talk was encouraged by a lack of precision of the part of various agencies in Government. I have written enough about the battle I had almost single handed to ensure accountability to Government, only to be criticized for this even by people in government who thought I was upsetting good helpmates of Sri Lanka. So here I will only point out the effrontery of the European Union which had prepared ‘Modes of Operation for Aid Agencies’ which asserted that such agencies held the balance between Government and the LTTE. I got rid of this nonsense the week after I took over as Secretary, after which the Europeans lost interest in the Modes of Operation.

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In considering the individuals within the UN system who have tried to undermine the Sri Lankan government, and in the process also contributed to undermining the good work that the UN in general tries to do, we should look carefully at the various examples of what might be termed pernicious excess.

Most obviously we have those who have gone out on a limb, and been found out, so that even the usually complacent UN system had to deal with them with relative if still inadequate firmness. Prominent amongst these in the last couple of years were John Campbell and Bernard Dix. The latter in fact behaved badly openly only after he had left the services of the UN in Colombo, but then he turned up in Geneva where he was escorted round to various missions by Amnesty International. He did a sort of magic lantern show with slides, which were obviously not very revealing since we did not hear of them later. What gave them, and his critical narrative, substance was his status as an employee of the United Nations, which most regrettably Amnesty was selling for all it was worth.

I told the normally scrupulous Peter Splinter, head of Amnesty in Geneva, that it was really very naughty of him to make use of an emotionally overwrought individual who was in breach of his contract. Peter however seemed to think such conduct was not reprehensible. Fortunately the UN system disagreed, and the UN head in Colombo made sure that Mr Dix stopped using his position to advance criticisms that were fraudulent and proving an embarrassment to the UN as well as to Sri Lanka. Sadly the UN did not see fit on this occasion to issue a statement making its position public, but the system seems to have worked, for that was the last we heard about Mr Dix and his tale of woe. Doubtless he will be recycled elsewhere at some stage, not least because he had been taken into the UN system after a stint with Solidar, which was at the height of its influence at the time. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2019
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