The head of the United Nations says the world body has failed to protect civilians in conflicts despite repeated commitments over the years and the killings at the end of Sri Lanka's civil war seven years ago prompted him to launch an initiative to focus early attention on human-rights violations.

While Sri Lankans are engaging in a process of reckoning and reconciliation, the U.N. has engaged in "self-scrutiny," Ban Ki-moon said Friday in a speech. He said had the U.N been more active during Sri Lanka's civil war many lives could have been saved.

"Reports of expert independent panels that I appointed found serious systemic problems on the part of member states and secretariat alike," he said.