This is bad news.  The United Nations is shuttering its offices in Sri Lanka amid days of protests against UN attempts to take preliminary steps to investigate alleged atrocities committed last year during the waning days of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

The sad fact is, it is pretty easy to bully the UN. The nationalist protesters who blockaded the UN office in Columbo and burned Ban Ki Moon in effigy seemed to have explicit government approval.  Police stood aside as a government minister led nationalist hordes who disrupted the UN offices. When the host government is complicit in these kinds of action, there is not much the UN can do to defend itself. It is not like Ban Ki Moon can order sanctions on Sri Lanka.  The most that Ban can do is protest loudly–and, here is the key,– hope that his protests are heard in places like Washington, Brussells, Mumbai and Beijing.   

It’s important to keep in mind what this protest is all about. The UN has said that at least 7,000 civilian non-combatants were killed when the Sri Lankan military opened fire on a cornered  Tamil Tiger force and their civilian hostages. The International Crisis Group puts that number “in the tens of thousands.”  These nationalist protesters hope to prevent any accountability for the massacre. 

If the Security Council or other key member states just let this just slide, it would be a pretty terrible example to set.  For now,  though, the UN is on the retreat and alleged war criminals are enjoying impunity. Meanwhile, it is the thousands of civilians that the UN’s Sri Lanka team supports who will suffer the most.  

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