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UN failed gravely in Sri Lanka

An internal review panel says the UN failed to pay proper attention to the war torn country.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon speaking at the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil. Picture: The United Nations.

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations failed to call proper attention to the plight of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan civilians during the bloody final stage of the government's war against Tamil Tiger rebels, according to a UN report released on Wednesday.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon responded to the report by a review panel he set up to evaluate the UN response during the final phase of the Sri Lanka war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by saying that the world body needed to take lessons from its findings.

"The report concludes that the United Nations system failed to meet its responsibilities - highlighting, in particular, the roles played by the Secretariat, the agencies and programs of the UN Country Team, and the members of the Security Council and Human Rights Council," Ban said in a statement.

"This finding has profound implications for our work across the world, and I am determined that the United Nations draws the appropriate lessons and does its utmost to earn the confidence of the world's people, especially those caught in conflict who look to the organization for help," he said.

A previous UN report on the war, which ended with the LTTE's defeat in May 2009, said that as many as 40,000 civilians were killed in the last months of the conflict after they were trapped on a narrow strip of coast in north-eastern Sri Lanka, caught up in the crossfire between the LTTE and the army.

The 128-page report, which focuses on the United Nations' performance during the war, cited the earlier report's casualty estimate and government statements that fewer than 10,000 civilians died. It added that some sources cited credible information that over 70,000 were "unaccounted for."

"The panel's report concludes that events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings, and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN," the report said.

"The tone, content and objectives of UNHQ's (headquarters) engagement with member states regarding Sri Lanka were heavily influenced by what it perceived member states wanted to hear, rather than by what member states needed to know if they were to respond," the report said.