The UN-led report on the country’s civil war is clear. Death and destruction on a massive scale. Former UN spokesman Gordon Weiss in Colombo says that the UN kept quiet during the last months of the war instead of speaking honestly about what they knew was happening in the north of the country:
ALI MOORE: This report criticises the UN for failing to take action, especially by not publicly talking about casualty figures, which the report and the authors say could have strengthened the call for the protection of civilians. You were the UN spokesman. Why didn’t that happen?
GORDON WEISS: Yeah, well, I was the UN spokesman and I was making statements about numbers, but there was obviously a decision taken not to use the specific figures that we were gathering. I was also part of that particular cell that’s mentioned inside the report who were trying to calculate casualty figures on a daily basis. But there was a decision taken up the chain not to use those figures.
ALI MOORE: Was that a decision you believe that was taken under pressure from the Sri Lankan Government? Was it a calculated decision to ensure the UN could stay in the country?
GORDON WEISS: I think the broader view was that if the UN used those figures it would make the UN’s position in the country untenable, and the UN mission was not a political mission or a peace-keeping mission or an observer mission, it was a humanitarian mission. So you had a lot of humanitarian agencies who were there trying to deliver the basics to those who were caught up in the siege.
ALI MOORE: So was that in essence a judgement that it was better to be there and be silent than not be there at all?
GORDON WEISS: I think it was, yes.
ALI MOORE: Was that right, do you think, in hindsight?
GORDON WEISS: No. I didn’t believe that it was right, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to change that.
ALI MOORE: In your view, though, clearly the UN could have done more?
GORDON WEISS: Yes, but in my view the UN can always do more. I mean, I don’t think the UN is ever in situations where it just gets things right. You know, this was a very, very tough theatre. It was the cutting edge of humanitarian action. It was always going to be tough. So that the UN got something wrong is no surprise; the question really is the degree to which it got it wrong.
The international community now has an obvious decision to make. Take action against Sri Lanka or remain silent, therefore guaranteeing other states will behave similarly (Israel, the US, China etc). The UN report is very clear on what both Colombo and the Tamil Tigers did to civilians. Tragically, in yet another example of UN gutlessness, it appears that directions were given to local staff to remain silent during the war. Shameful:
After the Sri Lanka war crimes report by the UN Panel of Experts was quietly presented to the UN Security Council by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Inner City Press asked Ban two questions about the report.
Among his answers on Sri Lanka, Ban implicitly acknowledged the report’s charge that the UN withheld casualty figures during the conflict.
Asked to “respond to the criticisms in the report that the UN failed in those last months to do what it could to help protect civilians, including keeping statistics of the actual casualty figures back,” Ban said that the Sri Lankan authorities said that they couldn’t guarantee the safety of UN staff:
“the security situation was very precarious, at the last stage of the crisis. And we were told by the Sri Lankan Government, as I understand and remember, that the Sri Lankan Government would not be able to ensure the safety and security of United Nations missions there. Then we were compelled to take the necessary action according to their advice.”