Deaths and UN stats
Posted on September 30th, 2017

Editorial Courtesy The Island

The UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Colombo has issued a clarification as regards its reference to suicides in a previous statement on the prevailing drought here. It says that though it in the first media release attributed two suicides to the drought, now it has learnt that they cannot be linked directly to the adverse weather conditions.

What the aforesaid clarification, published in The Island yesterday, signifies is that the UN is prone to mistakes. The minor mistake it has promptly corrected also shows how error-prone and tricky the process of gathering information even in peacetime can be. The UN’s efforts to provide accurate information and its readiness to own up to its errors and correct them deserve to be commended.

But, this commitment is sadly lacking on the part of the UN in some other situations. There are times when the world body chooses to go by data whose accuracy cannot be established and even makes vital decisions based thereon. Its statistics related to Sri Lanka’s war dead are a case in point.

A UN panel of experts appointed by the then UNSG Ban Ki-moon, claimed that as many as 40,000 civilians had been killed during the final phase of the war in 2009. Strangely, the identities of those whose evidence constituted the basis of the panel’s conclusion won’t be divulged for a period of 20 years. That wall of secrecy has made a mockery of the UN’s commitment to the principles of transparency, justice and fair play in that nobody can challenge the figures the panel has announced thus facilitating the use of circular logic, which colours the UNHRC decisions as regards this country. There is no need for protecting the identity of the witnesses who furnished information to the UN panel any longer because, today, there is no danger to them; calls are being publicly made for a war crimes probe here and even the dead LTTE leaders are commemorated openly in some parts of the former war zone.

The statistical claims made by the UN panel of experts should be viewed against the UN’s official report on the war dead. The UN stated that 7,721 combatants and civilians had perished in the war from August 2008 to May 13, 2009. Moreover, Amnesty International, using information it had gathered independently, said 10,000 civilians had been killed during the closing stages of the Vanni war

One may try to argue, in defence of the UN panel of experts, that they were not allowed to visit this country and, therefore, some flaws were to be expected in their findings. This argument does not hold water in that they insisted they had access to reliable information. Compared to the official UN figures those provided by the panel of experts seem to have been plucked out of the air.

What were lost during the war were human lives and, therefore, the need for accurate information cannot be overemphasised. The glaring discrepancies between the official UN figures and those publicised by the panel of experts are an insult to human intelligence. (The British parliament has been told that 40,000 civilians and 60,000 LTTE cadres got killed between January and May, 2009. What transpires in the House of Commons as regards Sri Lanka is not to be taken seriously because some of its lawmakers are mouthpieces of lobbying groups.) Intriguingly, the UN has not made any effort to explain the statistical mismatch at issue.

Now, that the UN office in Colombo has rightly rectified an error about two suicides in the drought-stricken parts of Sri Lanka, perhaps it ought to provide an explanation anent the serious discrepancies as regards the war dead. For, the unofficial figures which are much higher than the official ones released by the UN are being bandied about in Geneva by some groups to advance their agendas. Regrettably, not even the present-day Sri Lankan leaders and their well paid advisors have cared to take up this issue at the UNHRC and call for an explanation.

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