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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.

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sithamuMy attention was drawn to a most extraordinary report written by someone called Julian Vigo. It called itself an ‘Independent Report on Sri Lanka and United Nations Human Rights violations’ and contained nasty personal attacks on the UN leadership in Sri Lanka during the conflict, in particular on the Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne, and Amin Awad and Philippe Duamelle, the heads of UNHCR and UNICEF.

The argument is that these people either did not know their jobs or were frightened to speak out because they were having a cushy time. This is intermixed with what seems rank racism, the idea that people from a different background were more likely to conform: ‘The UN wants staff who will tow the line. For instance, it is harder for a Nigerian who is supporting seven families to denounce wrongdoings of the UN. I recognise that. If you are a father of five kids and supporting eight other families, it is hard to denounce. UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sri Lanka, Neil Buhne, had to be approved by the Sri Lankan government. Why the Sri Lankan government would agree to have him there, but he didn’t have the skills required for the job and had never worked in a conflict zone before.’

This was said from someone called Natalie Grove, and a measure of the shoddy nature of the report is that she is said to have worked for UNICEF, but also to have resigned from IOM – which comes in for flak for having ‘broken from the position of the UN as it was more supportive of the government’s position and of the integration of IDPs.’ This bears out what I have been told, that Cynthia Veliko, the representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been vindictive about IOM for having supported the Government’s Rehabilitation programme, since clearly in terms of her mandate it was better for people to suffer and continue with a separatist agenda rather than to be rehabilitated and integrated.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

February 2020
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