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UN's Ban Defends Lack of Sri Lanka Ceasefire Call, Misunderstands His Powers and Duties, Council President Says

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, February 10 -- As bloodshed and civilian casualties mount in Sri Lanka, at the UN in New York Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was asked by Inner City Press why, unlike in Gaza, the Congo and elsewhere, he has not called for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka. Mr. Ban responded at some length, reading from notes. In essence he said, because Sri Lanka is not on the agenda of the Security Council, he cannot call for a ceasefire. Video here, from Minute 46:31.

  Minutes later, Inner City Press asked this month's Security Council president Yukio Takasu of Japan about the Secretary-General's argument, that he cannot ask for a ceasefire if a conflict is not on the Council's agenda. Ambassador Takasu directly disagreed, stating that "the Secretary General has very important responsibility granted in the Charter, he can draw the attention of the international community to any issue that matters to peace and security." Video here, from Minute 5:45.

  Ban did say, in response, that he is dispatching his political director to Sri Lanka. Inner City Press understands this is to push for international monitoring of the camps the government has set up outside the Tamil Tiger-held zone. Ban also said he might send "humanitarian assessment team" when he thinks it appropriate. It's worth nothing that the last time UN humanitarian chief John Holmes went to Sri Lanka, he was officially called a terrorist for speaking about the dangers to civilians.

  Ban also answered that "respect for the sovereignty of member states is another principle" he makes his decisions by. But this did not keep him from calling for ceasefires in other situations.

  Mr. Ban's answer on Tuesday included an admission that the situation in Sri Lanka is "under-reported." But not only does that not explain Ban's failure to follow his own precedents and statements and call for a ceasefire -- the UN Secretariat may be contributing, with its contorted logic rejected by the Security Council president, to the under-reporting of the plight of civilians in Sri Lanka.

UN's Ban and Sri Lankan Presidential advisor, no ceasefire call issued

  Two and a half weeks ago, the senior advisor to Sri Lanka's president, and his brother, came to the UN and met with Ban Ki-moon, as Inner City Press reported.  The UN did not issue any read-out of this meeting at the time. Ban referred to it on Tuesday. But it appears that what was discussed was for the UN and Ban to allow the Sri Lankan government time to try to knock out the Tamil Tigers, without facing too much criticism or a ceasefire call. This is the type of communication alleged between Israel and the United States, for the U.S. to use or threaten to use its veto in the Security Council to allow Israel time, to fight Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, or Hamas in Gaza in 2009. But Kofi Annan in 2006, and belatedly Ban in 2009, called for ceasefires.

  Here, Ban is saying that military operations should be conducted in compliance with international law. But he also said, twice on Tuesday about Iran and then Kashmir, that it is his philosophy that problems should be solved by dialogue and not military action.  Does this philosophy apply everywhere except Sri Lanka? What is Ban's response to the Security Council president's rejection of his novel argument that he as Secretary General defer to the Council? Watch this site.

From the transcript of Ban's February 10 press conference:

Inner City Press: In your opening statement, you mentioned Sri Lanka, as well as Gaza, and you just also said that everything should be resolved peacefully in Iran, and you also said it now with regard to Kashmir. I was wondering, with the offensive by the Government in northern Sri Lanka, and the hospital was bombed – various things were going on - are you calling for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka, as you have in Gaza and the DRC and elsewhere? And if you're not calling for a ceasefire, can you explain why?

S-G Ban Ki-moon: On this issue, as you may know, I have discussed with the [Sri Lankan] Presidential Special Envoy who visited New York, about two and a half weeks ago. And I discussed this matter very seriously over the telephone with President Rajapaksa, that he should avoid civilian casualties and also help those people caught in the fighting, so that they can be transferred into a very safe zone, and ensure the safety of United Nations humanitarian workers there. He assured me he would give his best effort. There is too much loss of life and that should be the thinking of all sensible people. The Sri Lankan issue is not, in fact, on the Security Council agenda and the respect for the sovereignty of Member States is another principle I firmly bear in mind. However, both the situation in Gaza and Sri Lanka are governed by international humanitarian law. I have consistently expressed my strong concern regarding violations of international standards. First of all, I have expressed consistently my concern at the ongoing violence and drawn attention to the need for a political, and not a military, solution, and also specifically drawn attention to the plight of civilians. To some extent, the situation in Sri Lanka has been under-reported, I think. In any conflict situation, the first thing you want to do is to understand the facts on the ground. I have dispatched, in fact, my political director to the region, to Sri Lanka and I am also considering dispatching some humanitarian assessment team whenever I think it's appropriate.

  And when would that be?

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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