How the Legacy of Its Failure in Sri Lanka Still Haunts the U.N. Today

How the Legacy of Its Failure in Sri Lanka Still Haunts the U.N. Today
Syrian authorities distribute bread, vegetables and pasta to residents of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, April 16, 2018 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

Ten years ago, the Sri Lankan military carried out a violent final offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a rebel group with a long history of atrocities. The offensive, which ultimately resulted in the end of the war, involved the brutal killings of thousands of civilians—acts that were documented in real time by journalists and United Nations officials.

Back in New York, however, the U.N.’s leaders failed to muster a meaningful response to mitigate the bloodshed, and Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general at the time, soon came under heavy criticism. As Richard Gowan writes in this week’s in-depth report, the Sri Lanka debacle “became a touchstone for debates about the body’s moral and political purpose.”

Over the past decade, the U.N. has tried to change how it responds to crisis situations so as to promote human rights and the protection of civilians. For this week’s Report episode of the podcast, Richard Gowan talks with Robbie Corey-Boulet about the successes and failures of that reform effort, and why the U.N. has failed to stop new outbreaks of violence from Syria to Myanmar and beyond.

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Relevant Articles on WPR:
A Decade After Failing to Stop Massacres in Sri Lanka, What Has the U.N. Learned?

Trend Lines is produced and edited by Peter Dörrie, a freelance journalist and analyst focusing on security and resource politics in Africa. You can follow him on Twitter at @peterdoerrie.

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