Sri Lanka: need stronger action by U.N.

June 6, 2009

I have to say I’m disappointed.  Today, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed members of the Security Council in an informal session about his May 22 visit to Sri Lanka.  The members of the Council took no action as the session reportedly was just a briefing.  Afterwards, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters. 

Secretary-General Ban told reporters that he’d been informed by the Sri Lankan government that restrictions on access by aid agencies to the internment camps holding displaced civilians had been eased since his visit.  Nearly 300,000 civilians displaced by the recent fighting between the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Tamil Tigers are being held in overcrowded camps which they can’t leave.  Amnesty International has called for the Sri Lankan government to provide unimpeded access to the camps for aid agencies.  Today, the U.N. World Food Programme said that access to the camps had improved somewhat over the last few days, but also that they hoped there’d be more improvement in access soon.  Other U.N. agencies today said that continuing restrictions on access to the displaced civilians were preventing them from meeting the needs of the civilians, especially some 10,000 children in the camps suffering from acute malnutrition.

The Secretary-General also said today there should be a “proper investigation” into allegations of violations of humanitarian law.  But he clarified in response to a question that he was looking for an investigation by the Sri Lankan government, not an international inquiry.  He referred to the joint statement issued by the U.N. and the Sri Lankan government at the conclusion of his May 22 visit to Sri Lanka, in which the Sri Lankan government promised to establish an investigation into those violations.  Amnesty International has been calling for an international investigation, not one simply conducted by the Sri Lankan government. 

I don’t know if we can expect action by the Security Council anytime soon on Sri Lanka.  I hope the Secretary-General changes his position and pushes harder for immediate, unimpeded access to the camps for the aid agencies.  Further, if the Security Council doesn’t soon establish an international investigation into the human rights violations and war crimes committed by both sides during the fighting, the Secretary-General take steps to set one up himself.  That’s the leadership that the international community, and especially the displaced civilians in Sri Lanka, need from the U.N.