Top official accused of failing to protect Tamils opposed in bid to lead UN

A senior UN official who led its development programme during the massacre of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka's war is reported to have met with heavy opposition from within the world body itself in her bid to lead the United Nations.

UNDP chief Helen Clark has emerged as a top contender for the post of UN secretary general when Ban Ki Moon steps down early next year.

'Many of her own UN colleagues are not rooting for her,' reports the influential Washington based Foreign Policy (FP) publication highlighting that the former New Zealand premier has allegedly forced out a UNDP advisor who oversaw an internal probe that exposed UN’s 'systemic failure' to protect tens of thousands of Tamils killed by indiscriminate shelling.

The advisor, Lena Sinha served as the chief of staff of an internal review panel appointed by Ban Ki Moon to look into the world body’s actions during the final months of the 2009 war in Sri Lanka and its aftermath.

UN responsibility

The panel led by former senior UN official Charles Petrie concluded that the United Nations failed in its mandate to protect civilians in the last months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war.

It criticized senior officials in New York, as well as UNDP’s leadership team in Colombo, charging they routinely downplayed the extent of the Sri Lankan government’s complicity in killing the vast majority of at least 70,000 civilians by indiscriminate shelling.

Since 2008 Helen Clark held the post of administrator who is the UNDP’s most senior official based in the UN head quarters (UNHQ).

The UN resident coordinator reports to the Secretary-General through UNDP.

The UN team in Sri Lanka “did not perceive the prevention of killing of civilians as their responsibility — and agency and department heads at UNHQ were not instructing them otherwise,” according to the Petrie report.

“The United Nations system failed to meet its responsibilities,” the UNSG announced after receiving the report in November 2012.

Helen Clark’s top managers allegedly drove Lena Sinha out of her job in retaliation for participating in the investigation that sharply criticized the agency’s response to mass atrocities in Sri Lanka, reports 'Foreign Policy' referring to internal UN emails and several past and present UN based officials and diplomats.

After the Petrie report was released, Lena Sinha, was told she would "never work for the UNDP again", says FP.

'Abuse of Authority'

The offices of the deputy UN secretary-general and a top aide to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon unsuccessfully lobbied Clark’s office to rescue Lena Sinha’s 15 year long career, the publication says.

FP quoting an email by Charles Petrie says that he characterized UNDP’s treatment of Sinha  as “an extraordinary demonstration of vindictiveness and abuse of authority.”

“It seems that UNDP, and Helen Clark in particular, took the Petrie report personally,” Edward Mortimer, who served as a top advisor to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has told FP.

“UNDP has it tragically backward, apparently retaliating against a staff who helped document the UN failings in Sri Lanka, while promoting staff who were actually responsible for those failings,” Philippe Bolopion, the deputy director for global advocacy at Human Rights Watch has said.

Clark's office has hit back at the criticism saying that some of the allegations in the article were "totally fabricated".

"Helen Clark's 40-plus years in public service in New Zealand and at the United Nations speaks for itself," the UNDP has said in a statement.

Ban’s successor will still be decided in effect by the security council that will eventually hand its choice to the UN general assembly for approval.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.