U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that the world body has failed to protect civilians in conflicts despite repeated commitments, and the killings at the end of Sri Lanka's civil war seven years ago prompted him to launch an initiative to focus early attention on human rights violations.
While Sri Lankans are engaging in a process of reckoning and reconciliation, the U.N. has engaged in "self-scrutiny," Ban said during a three-day visit to Sri Lanka.
He said had the U.N been more active during Sri Lanka's civil war, many lives could have been saved.
An experts' panel appointed by Ban had reported that up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians may have been killed largely due to shelling by government troops in the final months of the fighting, which ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the rebel Tamil Tigers.
The rebels had been fighting for an independent state for ethnic Tamil minority complaining of systematic marginalisation by successive governments controlled by majority Sinhalese.
Both sides were accused of serious human rights violations in the absence of independent witnesses after the government had evicted aid workers and the U.N.
"On the part of the United Nations, I established internal investigations into what had happened, what our people in the United Nations mission here had been doing at that time. We found serious mistakes, inactivities. Had we been more actively engaged, we could have saved many more human lives," he said.
Ban said Sri Lanka was only the latest of a series of U.N. failures, mentioning the 1994 genocide in Rwanda for which the U.N. "felt responsible."
"We committed that should never occur; never again we said repeatedly, never again, never again," said Ban.
"It happened just one year after in Srebrenica, again many people were massacred when they were not fully protected by U.N peacekeeping operations. We repeated again, never again; how many times we should repeat never, never again. We did it again in Sri Lanka," he said.
Source: Associated Press