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Hail and farewell with UNanswered questions

Asia-Pacific

Hail and farewell with UNanswered questions

The United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon visits Sri Lanka on Wednesday for what is a virtual farewell call as he completes his term of office at the helm of the 193- nation world body. According to unconfirmed reports he is now a possible contender for the Presidency of his native land, South Korea.

His last visit to Sri Lanka was under different circumstances. Sri Lanka had just ended a military campaign for a separate state; bloody and bruising, it also hurt the pride of Western powers that had wanted the fighting to stop, a call the then Government had refused to heed. The UNSG’s visit came in the backdrop of those harrowing days of 2009 and to say the least, due to pressure from those Western countries. Today, those very countries are grappling with home-grown terrorism, and Sri Lanka seems one of the few safe havens in the world.

The UNSG’s visit in 2009 was to have after-shocks for Sri Lanka in the form of a joint communiqué issued at the time. The then Government of Sri Lanka agreed to set in motion an accountability process for the way its Armed Forces defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organisation. This was to set the stage later for a Resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva formalizing a virtual war crimes tribunal – by whatever name one calls it.

The then President was ill-advised that the Western powers would not pursue such a Resolution against Sri Lanka. The setting up of a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as an alternative to a ‘war crimes tribunal’ fell short of expectations in Geneva because the then Government did not follow the Commission’s recommendations. It was also too little too late to pacify the West.

In-between, Ban-Ki moon muddied the waters further by appointing a committee, later to be dubbed the Darusman Committee after its chairman, to do its own investigation into what happened during the last stages of the armed insurgency against the state of Sri Lanka. He was up for re-election as UNSG and needed the backing of the Western powers. A UNSG has to ‘play ball’ with the Western powers if he wants to sit on that seat; ask one of his predecessor’s Boutros BoutrosGhali, the Egyptian UNSG who did not get a second term.

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