Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday reiterated his strong concerns over “unacceptably high” civilian casualties in the conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and Tamil rebels, while rejecting in the strongest terms any figure attributed to the United Nations.
Briefing the General Assembly yesterday on his recent visit to Sri Lanka and other travels, Mr. Ban said media reports alleging that some 20,000 civilians may have been killed during the last phase of the conflict “do not emanate from the UN and most are not consistent with the information at our disposal.”
Last month, Sri Lanka’s Government declared that its military operation against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was over, ending more than two decades of fighting.
“I categorically reject – repeat, categorically – any suggestion that the United Nations has deliberately underestimated any figures,” the Secretary-General underscored.
“Let me also say, whatever the total, the casualties in the conflict were unacceptably high – as I have also said repeatedly,” he added.
Mr. Ban told the Assembly that during his May 22 – 23 visit to the South Asian island nation, he pressed the Government to heed international calls for an inquiry into alleged abuses and underscored the need for full accountability and transparency.
“Any inquiry conducted by the international community would require, first, the full cooperation of the host government, or, second, the support of the UN Member States, expressed through the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly or the Security Council,” he said.
At the Human Rights Council’s special session on Sri Lanka last week, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that investigating abuses allegedly committed against civilians by both the Government and LTTE will help the country transition into a new future.
“There are strong reasons to believe that both sides have grossly disregarded the fundamental principle of the inviolability of civilians,” Ms. Pillay had stated, with the LTTE being accused of using civilians as human shields and the Government reportedly using heavy weapons on the small and densely-populated area of conflict in northern Sri Lanka.
An “independent and credible international investigation into recent events should be dispatched to ascertain the occurrence, nature and scale of violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as specific responsibilities,” she said.
The Secretary-General yesterday voiced hope that the authorities will follow through with a statement issued jointly with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the end of his trip, in which they stressed that addressing the aspirations and grievances of all communities, as well as finding a lasting political solution, is essential for long-term development following the long-running conflict’s end.
Both leaders also agreed that with the conclusion of military operations, Sri Lanka has entered a new post-conflict phase and faces many obstacles relating to relief, rehabilitation, resettlement and reconciliation.
“I stand ready to do whatever we can in the interests of justice, human rights and Sri Lanka’s political future,” the Secretary-General said in his address to the Assembly yesterday.
His recent travels have also taken him to Bahrain and Geneva, where he addressed the Conference on Disarmament which adopted a programme of work last Friday, breaking an impasse that had last more than a decade.
Mr. Ban today also expressed his deep concern over the crisis in Pakistan, where two million people having been driven from their homes by clashes between the Government and militants in the past month. Some 400,000 people were uprooted in fighting last year, bringing the total number of displaced in the area to 2.4 million.
“The human suffering is immense,” he said, emphasizing the need for international support to scale up the response of the international community and the Pakistani Government to the situation.
The UN and its partners launched an appeal for $543 million on May 22, of which just over one-fifth has been funded to date. “If we do not get the rest of the funds, we will have to start cutting services,” the Secretary-General warned, adding that there is a risk of a destabilizing secondary crisis.