The U.N. censored an internal memo showing how top officials recognized the failure of the world body’s Human Rights Council when it came to seeking accountability for Sri Lanka’s killing of an estimated 40,000 civilians in 2009.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had established a Panel of Experts to look into the conflict and its aftermath. One of the recommendations of its 2011 report was for the Human Rights Council “to reconsider its May 2009 Special Session resolution regarding Sri Lanka, in light of this report.”
That session, called by the European Union, had been hijacked by Sri Lanka’s allies, and ended up praising the Sri Lankan government, rather than condemning its atrocities.
A second recommendation asked for the U.N. to conduct “a comprehensive review of action by the United Nations system during the war in Sri Lanka and the aftermath, regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates.” Ban Ki-moon established a follow-up panel to do just that.
The second panel’s conclusions were released on 14 November 2012. The panel found that “the United Nations system failed to meet its responsibilities, highlighting, in particular, the roles played by the Secretariat, the agencies and programmes of the United Nations country team, and the members of the Security Council and Human Rights Council.”
The second blacked-out part shows the deep mistrust of senior U.N. staff towards their own Human Rights Council. Indeed, they preferred to bypass it and opt for a Sri Lankan domestic mechanism, notwithstanding its known limitations:
In June 2009 the Policy Committee discussed the possibility of UN action to establish a mechanism for an international investigation, an option presented by OHCHR. Several participants noted the limited support from Member States at the Human Rights Council and suggested the UN advocate instead for a domestic mechanism, although it was recognized that past domestic mechanisms in Sri Lanka had not led to genuine accountability.