On a leafy Colombo corner, surrounded by hundreds of his nationalist supporters and Buddhist monks, Sri Lankan cabinet minister Wimal Weerawansa burns an effigy of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
Mr Ban is a figure of hate among the protesters The crowd shouts anti-UN slogans in Sinhala and jeers when cars leave the UN compound. UN staff say they feel scared and besieged; the world body delivers a strong protest. The government says the demonstration is peaceful and orders the police to leave. Would-be hunger strikers lie on a mattress.
What is causing this unusual stand-off and why are Sri Lankan nationalists so angry with the UN?
This battle arises from Ban Ki-Moon’s appointment of a three-member international panel to “advise him on accountability issues” relating to allegations of war crimes by both sides in the final stages of the civil conflict. From the start, plans for the panel angered Colombo. It denies allegations that it targeted and killed civilians, or shot surrendering Tamil Tigers.
It says Ban Ki-Moon’s move is an unwarranted interference in its affairs and says he has no backing from the UN’s Security Council or Human Rights Council.
An anti-UN protester told the BBC he used to see the world body as something which helped his country, but now he felt it was getting excessively politicised.
Tempers have often flared during the protests Cheered on by a largely supportive media, the government says the UN’s action is hypocritical, alleging that no similar attention is paid to civilian deaths caused by Western powers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – the same powers that it often accuses of hounding it, chiefly the US and Britain.
The constant refrain is that Sri Lanka, a small country, “defeated terrorism” and that the rest of world is jealous as it has not enjoyed similar success.
And the Sri Lankan government says that, like other countries re-examining past deeds, it has set up its own perfectly adequate mechanism, namely the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation which was announced in May.
On the other side sit the critics of the Sri Lankan government. They list allegations that international humanitarian law was breached and say there is enough evidence to warrant an international inquiry. There must be a process of accountability of Sri Lanka if it is to move forward, they say.
International human rights groups including Amnesty International say they doubt its efficacy and point to what they say is a string of failed commissions of inquiry in Sri Lanka’s past, going back decades and achieving little or no justice. Domestic and foreign critics say the mandate of the domestic commission appears to be quite narrow.
Mr Alston has even thrown the charge of hypocrisy back at Colombo, as the Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN heads a UN committee looking into allegations of Israeli human rights violations.
But the demonstrators at the UN compound are sticking to their line and promising a hunger strike until Ban Ki-Moon withdraws his rights panel. “If they don’t like our own panel, why don’t they just ask us to broaden its mandate?” an indignant associate of Mr Weerawansa asked the BBC on Wednesday morning.