When Vengeance drives Human Rights Recrimination on the World Stage: The Ban Ki-moon Story

Michael Roberts

As the annual witch-hunt directed at Sri Lanka from the UNHRC at Geneva looms, we can benefit from recalling the role of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, in this pantomime. Ban Ki-moon is a South Korean who has been identified as “a lackey” of USA in the same category as Kofi Annan by the Canadian activist Chris Black in an email communication on 20th January 2020. Ban Ki-moon and the UN Rehabilitation Commissioner, Navy Pillai were behind the selection of Marzuki, Sooka and Ratner to man the UN Panel of Investigation whose report has served as the foundation for the campaign mounted by the UNHCR offices in Geneva to hound Sri Lanka for human rights abuses.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (r) is greeted by IDPs (Internaly Displaced Percons) as he visits Manik Farm in Sri Lanka on May 23, 2009.
AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (/AFP/Getty Images)       

This essay will indicate the degree to which Ban Ki-moon and the UN offices in New York were committed to sustaining the US programme for Sri Lanka from 2009 if not earlier. With the advent to power of Obama and Hillary Clinton in late 2008, the American civilian establishment in Washington readily bought into the LTTE picture of “an impending humanitarian catastrophe” looming in the Vanni Pocket in the north western corner of Sri Lanka. With Robert Blake, their ambassador in Colombo, as point-man, they sought to persuade the GoSL to adopt “no-fire zones” and “ceasefires” so as to protect the Tamil civilians whom the LTTE had herded into that area as a protective shield and a means of securing international intervention.

Ban Ki-moon assisted this process wholeheartedly. Several UN emissaries (for e.g. Holmes, and Nambiar) jetted into island during the first four months to boost the ‘requests’ from UN offices in Colombo and the robust demands from Blake.

They failed. The Sri Lankan forces went ahead and penetrated the remaining Tiger defences in a remarkable set of military offensives that seized the Vanni Pocket and released the civilian ‘hostages’ – numbering about 280,000 (plus some 11-12,000 Tiger personnel). This victory was finalized by 18th/19th May 2009.

What occurred then? Ban Ki-moon descended on Sri Lanka. This – we know in retrospect –was a retributory mission. He immediately visited the camps at Manik Farm where the displaced Tamil people had been sequestered in a huge operation involving INGOs, NGOs and both Sri Lankan civilian and military personnel.

His principal intent was then indicated when he flew by helicopter on the 23rd May 2009 over the arena of fighting, with a hired cameraman stringer taking photographs of the desolate wind-ravaged “Last Redoubt.”[1] His partialities and his limited desk-bound capacities of discernment were displayed to the world in his summing up of the scenario generated by the abandoned “tent city” that had been one of the outstanding features of the overcrowded Last Redoubt.  “Complete devastation,” he said in summary conclusion.[2]

one of the Times’ stringer’s Pix …. for the rest see http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626922360092/

This was an oversimplified misreading because it did not attend to the following picture of the LTTE’s last arena of action in March-to-May 2009.[3] Their “Last Redoubt” of some 12 by 2.5 kilometres of coastal character had been

  • largely made up of tents and dugout sleeping holes interspersed with some houses;
  • hugely overcrowded in ways that could only be grasped by studying the photographs posted on TamilNet;
  • … and noting that the red-roofs of these houses — all built after the tsunami of 2004 had laid waste to this stretch of coast – seem to be unscathed in the extant photographs;
  • …. and noting that the assembled peoples had left the arena in some hurry in the period 19th April to 18th May;
  • …. and, finally, that this de-populated arena would have been buffeted by the kachan winds blowing seawards from the inland dry zone.

This gross misreading represents in capsule form the tale of subsequent UNHRC errors of judgment and sweeping conclusions regarding the last stages of Eelam War IV – errors rooted in profound intellectual failures and desk-bound perspectives that have failed to address the complexities of warfare and landscape.

Albeit speculatively, we can proceed further with our criticism. Ban Ki-moon was not interested in a refined appraisal. He was an American appointee guided by that most ancient of political motives: vengeance. He and Navy Pillai proceeded to appoint a Panel of Investigation – the “Darusman Panel” as it is sometimes called – including two individuals (Darusman and Sooka) who were international apparachik of the same timbre as himself and a third (Ratner) who was a law professor within the US Secretariat’s advisory board.[4]

All these events, therefore, support the conclusion essayed Chris Black. Ban Ki-moon was an extension of the US government. There is, then, a prima facie case to contend that the UN Panel of Enquiry set up by Navy Pillai under the Chairmanship of Marzuki Darusman was a punishing rod. The subsequent programme of the UNHRC in Geneva, then, is the culmination of this line of retribution.

The livid anger[5]  displayed by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, on the 22nd April 2009 – after Gotabaya and his generals ignored Robert Blake’s command and penetrated the “Last Redoubt” – was one indication that the American civilian authorities were on the path of retributory action. Washington’s punishing rods have been at work ever since with the UNHRC as its spearhead and a bevy of media personnel as their trumpets.

Since mid-2009 that little brown upstart known as Sri Lanka has been birched …. and birched …. and relentless birched. “Human rights” is a caning weapon serving as an expression of primeval vengeance. When no less a person than Eileen Donahoe, the US ambassador at the UNHCR,[6] speaking on the telephone to the Sri Lankan ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam in September 2011, spat the words  Whether the LLRC is good or not, we’ll get you next time!”,[7] one has further evidence of the degree to which retribution drives politics.

Donahue Sooka

This line of vengeance has allies driven by other motives and reasonings. Linking hands with the international power-players are fervent human rights moralists from both the West and Sri Lanka drawn into condemnation of the SL Government’s military campaign because of their liberal/democratic values and a bourgeois desk-bound incapacity to comprehend war in general and the specific intricacies of Eelam War IV in 2008/09 in particular.


Roberts, Michael 2014 “Reading ‘devastation’: Botham, CMJ and Ban Ki-Moon,” in Roberts, Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 259-70.

Kunanayakam, Tamara 2019 “We will get You ….” American Threat at the UNHRC in Geneva in September 2011,” 20 September 2019, https://thuppahis.com/2019/09/27/we-will-get-you-american-threat-at-the-unhcr-in-geneva-in-september-2011/


[1] See Times 2009 at https://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/albums/72157626922360092.

[2] See Roberts, 2016 “Reading ‘Devastation.”

[3] This area was consistently called a “No Fire Zone” by Blake and other agencies; while several Sri Lankan news outlets slavishly followed this terminology. The LTTE had artillery firing from this arena and its armed personnel therein. Nor had they signed any no-fire agreement.” So, the terminology is grossly misleading.

[4] Note: Marzuki Darusman, Chair (Indonesia) – Attorney General of Indonesia (1999-2001) and member of its National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM);  Yasmin Sooka (South Africa) – Judge of the Witwatersrand High Court; commissioner of the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission; the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission; Executive Director, Foundation for Human Rights of South Africa and trustee of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre; [and]  Steven R. Ratner (USA) – Bruno Simma Collegiate Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, member of the U.S. State Department‘s Advisory Committee on International Law and adviser to Human Rights Watch.

[5] Clinton stated that “a terrible humanitarian tragedy” was taking place in Sri Lanka, referred to “genocide” and demanded a halt to fighting so that “we could secure a safe passage for so many of the trapped civilians as possible” – see https://www.reuters.com/article/us-srilanka-war-clinton-sb-idUSTRE53L4HZ20090422?mod=related&channelName=worldNews. ……   Also see the articles (then and later) from Philip Fernando (2009) and Daya Gamage (2-16) = http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2009/04/hilary-clintons-hundred-days-as.html …… AND http://www.asiantribune.com/node/89579

[6] Note this online description today: “Eileen Donahoe is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation where she focuses on Internet governance, global digital policy, international human rights and cybersecurity. Eileen also sits as a Commissioner on the Global Commission for Internet Governance (GCIG). Previously, she served as the first US Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, and as director of global affairs at Human Rights Watch where she represented the organization worldwide on human rights foreign policy, with special emphasis on digital rights, security and governance.”

[7] See Kunanayakam 2018.

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