Posted on January 7th, 2022


The UN started to take an interest in the Eelam war from Eelam War III onwards.  Eelam War III was from `1995-2002 and Eelam War IV was 2006 -2009

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (not to be confused with UNHRC) was in Sri Lanka in 1987, invited by the Sri Lankan Government help with large scale repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees from India In 1990.Thereafter, UNHCR was asked to provide assistance to those displaced by the Eelam wars.

UNHCR became the lead agency dealing with the IDPs of Eelam wars II and III. UNHCR worked mostly with NGO partners and to a lesser degree with local government authorities. In September 1999 UNHCR decentralized its programme .Field programmes were managed from UNHCR office in Vavuniya, where most of the government, non-government and UN agencies also had offices.

 UN initiated an Internal Emergency Task Force In October 1995. The task force included agencies such as WFP, FAO and WHO, which had no programmes or presence in the war-affected zone. Meetings were chaired by the Resident Representative of the UNDP.

Around 2006, UN dispatched several high ranking officers to Sri Lanka on fact finding missions. They were P. Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, ,Alan Rock who came as special representative  of Radhika Coomaraswamy ,who was UN  Under secretary for children in armed conflict, and John Holmes, UN under secretary  for Humanitarian affairs.  It is alleged that these persons were not impartial. They arrived with fixed ideas and produced biased reports based on limited surveys of doubtful validity. Also, they have had contact with the LTTE.

The media reported that there is a very close friendship between Alan Rock and the LTTE front organizations and their agents in Canada.   Rock had participated in LTTE festivities in Canada.  In Sri Lanka Rock had spent most of his time in Colombo. Sri Lanka condemned Rock’s report. The kind of evidence Rock has provided is hearsay” which any court of law would refuse to touch.

By 2007, UN was discussing Sri Lanka at its Headquarters in New York.  In New York, Sri Lanka was on the agenda not just of the Policy Committee but also of the Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA), and an Inter-Agency Working Group on Sri Lanka (IAWG-SL), said Petrie Report.

In 2007 and 2008, the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA) in New York, considered various tactics in Sri Lanka, which included a political solution to the conflict, a special envoy, establishing a human rights field presence and ensuring accountability for past human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.

Of these, UN  decided  in 2007, to focus on high-level visits by senior UNHQ officials who could present UN concerns and suggestions to the government .In 2007 alone Sri Lanka was visited by  the  USG-Humanitarian Affairs , Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,  Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons  and the Under Secretary-General -Humanitarian Affairs. USG-Humanitarian Affairs, conducted more visits to Sri Lanka than any other official, the Petrie Report   said.  However, the Government of Sri Lanka rejected most of the proposed initiatives, including the appeal by the UN for a field operation,  which meant a sort of peacekeeping mission.

UN had wanted to establish a human rights operation in Sri Lanka, but failed, said the Petrie Report. In 2008, Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, wanted to set up a UN mission to monitor human rights in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka refused to allow a field office of the OHCHR to be established in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka said it would be a Trojan horse. Rajiva Wijesinha had been warned against it by the South American countries. They said, once set up, the field office would entrench itself, never go away, and behave like an alternative government said Rajiva.

In 2007 a Consultative Committee for Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA).was set up. The international community was represented in CCHA by the ambassadors of US, UK and EU, the humanitarian sector by the UN heads of agencies and the NGOs by the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies.

CCHA was chaired by Hon. Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights. The CCHA comprises of Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Secretary/Ministry of Defence; Mr. S. B. Divaratne, Commissioner General of Essential Services , Secretaries of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Nation Building & Estate Infrastructure Development, the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, the Ministry of Health and Nutrition; a representative from the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP); the Chairman of the Co-Chairs and Ambassador to the United States of America – His Excellency Robert O. Blake; Mr. Frederick Lyons the Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator of the UN and lastly, the  heads of UN agencies,  ECHO and the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies.

 Sub-Committees of the CCHA were set up for logistics and essential services, resettlement, welfare, health, education and livelihoods. These were chaired jointly by a Sri Lanka official and the head of a UN or aid organization. Some committees worked very well such as the World Food Programme which was handled by S.B.Divaratne, who was very efficient.

CCHA   put forward a Modes of Operation, drafted by a committee, jointly chaired by head of ECHO, the EuAid agency and the Secretary, Ministry of Disaster management and Human Rights. However, the Ministry Secretary did not attend meetings, he sent the Additional Secretary  who , utterly at sea with regard to his western counterpart,    allowed ECHO head David Verboom to  run the show, said Rajiva Wijesinha . Rajiva   was Secretary-General of Peace Secretariat in 2007 and Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights in 2008. He saw what was going on.

In 2008 CCHA had prepared a draft Modes of Operation agreement which Rajiva Wijesinha found quite patronizing and unacceptable. The draft had a clause which implied that LTTE and government were equal partners. Rajiva Wijesinha objected. He said it was absurd to allow foreigners to sit in judgment over the GOSL   while supporting the LTTE .It was agreed that the draft should be reviewed. Eventually, the Modes of Operation document was allowed to lapse.

In New York, UN had an Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).There was an OCHA representative in Sri Lanka.  OCHA head in Sri Lanka, Zola Dowell told Rajiva   that he had ‘won’, when discussing some issue. This indicated the combative mind set of this agency, observed Rajiva.

Steve Ray, Deputy Representative of OCHA, Colombo had told Rajiva the UN had ‘got this wrong.’ Most of the UN staff had worked in countries which did not have stable government and no regular provision of basic social services.  Many of the staff had come from African countries where the government was not functioning in conflict areas and the UN staff made the decisions. They did not know how to negotiate with a strong government, as in Sri Lanka.

UN also had a policy of launching a Common Humanitarian action plan (CHAP) for countries that needed it.  CHAP was collaboration between UNHQ, UN field offices, UN agencies and OCHA. Every year there was a Common Humanitarian action plan for Sri Lanka.

 CHAP donors were expected to give what the country wanted. But, as Rajiva noted, in this CHAP the government was left out of the planning process.    OCHA prepared the plan together with other donor agencies and then presented it to the government.  We were expected to rubber stamp it, said Rajiva

As Eelam war IV escalated, a Crisis Management Group was established by the UN agencies in Sri Lanka. Its members were Resident Coordinator, UNDP, the country heads of UNICEF, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs, (OCHA). The group’s initial focus was on the logistical and operational aspects of UN action in the war area.

The international agencies also set up an Inter Agency Service Committee, (IASC). IASC was a self-selected coalition of UN agencies and NGOs. Its objectives were to monitor the condition of the displaced and inform the government and diplomatic community. It had no formal structure.

The original plan was that IASC should consist mainly of government officers with one representative from a national NGO and one from international NGO. Instead, all the major international NGOs sat on the committee and dominated the decision making. There were no government officials in it. Ministry of DefEnece and the Joint Operational Command also did not attend these meetings.

The IASC usurped the authority of government. We were expected to rubber stamp their decisions, said Rajiva. Treasury was presented with IASC decisions that they thought were made by the UN. Actually they were made by the NGOs, observed Rajiva.

Rajiva Wijesinha found that the IASC had no status. It was not a body authorized by the UN. Matters came to a head when IASC told Rajiva that they had prepared the CHAP for 2009.  The meeting was to be held in Vavuniya. SCOPP could be present, also the Foreign Ministry   but other government ministries were not invited.Line ministries were ignored.

When the IASC collapsed, the NGO group set up an informal consultation mechanism termed the Coffee Club which also developed policies which they then attempted to impose on both the UN and the government.

There were two other UN agencies that need mention. There was   UNOP. This was a new breed of UN agencies funded through project contracts. OCHA had given them a massive sum.

Sri Lanka was also had a UN Security Team. Rajiva Wijesinha called it a shadowy outfit. It was not under the control of the UN Resident Coordinator. It was under UN Head of Security Chris Du Toit who had been with Savimbi, in Angola.  The head of the   local Security Team, Guy Rhodes, Rajiva thought was engaged in intelligence work.  There were others like Rhodes working to a western agenda which did not want to see the LTTE destroyed, Rajiva said.

In Sri Lanka UN was having a covert relationship with LTTE, said analysts. Neil Bhune who was UN Resident Coordinator 2007- 2009 had worked closely with LTTE. He had held secret negotiations with LTTE to get the release of some Tamil UN workers accused of helping civilians. The Resident Coordinator headed the UN office in Sri Lanka, and reported to the Secretary-General through the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

UN agencies based in Sri Lanka were supporting the LTTE in the Eelam war. This fact was hidden from the public, but was known to those working in the field. UNDP provided funds to LTTE for its website.

UNHCR assistants in Colombo behaved haughtily and engaged in constants sniping against the government, said Rajiva Wijesinha. A couple of them were Australians with connections to Tiger groups. Shelter Cell consultants, who were in fact UNHCR staff were getting USD 11,000 per month.

UNICEF was expected to work in conflict areas through the government. UNICEF had no field presence in the north. Instead UNICEF had direct links with LTTE. UNICEF gave direct 1 million, to the LTTE through Save the Children Fund. In     2007 UNICEF had imported 6000 ready to eat meal packs and it was suspected that this was for the LTTE. UNICEF   had contact with the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization. UNICEF staffers were working with the LTTE. Penny Brune, head of   UNICEF at Kilinochchi was helping the LTTE. She was moved out of Sri Lanka.

The LLRC report wanted the government to consider the accountability of UN and international organizations in the Eelam war. Government should scrutinize UN activity in the war, LLRC said. (Continued)

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