Think tank, NGO collective blast UN for failure to protect civilians in SL war

A report by Marga Institute and the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies has contradicted earlier reports by the UN and human rights groups that placed the blame for civilian deaths largely on government forces, Reuters has reported.

The new report has, according to the news agency, accused the United Nations of failing to protect Sri Lankan civilians caught up in the final phases of the conflict.

"They failed to diagnose the nature of the problem at the early stages and were incapable of designing a coordinated strategy to separate the civilians from the LTTE (rebels) and enable them to move into the government controlled areas."

Marga and CHA study holds the LTTE primarily responsible due to its strategy of holding civilians captive and using them as a shield.

Reuters says the UN office in Colombo declined to comment on the report’s findings.

The NGO study has said it is necessary to question whether the UN’s surveillance of the actions of the LTTE was adequate and whether more decisive action could have been taken to prevent civilians being used in this manner.

Despite signs of escalating violence UN staff ‘consistently preferred to err on the side of caution in responding to the crisis’, the report says, questioning various steps taken by the UN such as the almost immediate relocation of all its staff out of the war zone. It says even though the government had advised the UN to leave due to safety risks, the organisation should have negotiated to stay. "In the context of both the lack of contestation of the government’s request and the absence of any negotiation for further time to be provided, the report concludes that the UN failed in its protection mandate by relocating."

The report says the UN lacked a strategic approach to minimising the death toll and it should have encouraged civilians who were fleeing with the rebels to cross over to government controlled area and such action would have avoided people being used as human shields.

Failure on the part of the UN staff on the ground had little or no expertise in analysing military operations in terms of their humanitarian risks or in protecting civilians, the report says according to Reuters.

The report says that the UN’s complex bureaucracy and decision-making processes prevented vital information from being channelled to senior officials with expertise.

For example, during a tenth-month window of opportunity for the UN to roll out a comprehensive plan for civilian evacuation, no information on the potential risks that civilians would eventually face was transmitted to UN headquarters, the report says.

"The UN bureaucracy and parochial decision-making processes at the time prevented such a plan––a plan that could have significantly reduced the number of civilian casualties during the latter states of the war."

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