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After Sri Lanka Whitewashes War Crimes, UN's Ban Welcomes It, Counts on Government

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 16 -- When Inner City Press asked the UN about the Sri Lankan government's Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission report, the response was that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would comment on it when it was released.

  After it was released, with the claim that the government did not target civilians, Inner City Press at noon on December 16 asked Ban's Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq for comment. It took the UN nine hours to issue what many view as the quietest of diplomacy. First at noon there was this exchange:

Inner City Press: the Sri Lankan Government has now made public its Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission report. And it says that civilians were not targeted, which runs entirely contrary to the Panel of Experts report here at the UN. It was said that once it became public, the UN may have some response to it. Is the UN aware of the report, the commission’s report and do they think it is a credible report, and what is the next step for Ban Ki-moon’s stated interest in accountability for the force?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Well, we are continuing with our efforts at accountability. As you know, his advisory panel did come out earlier this year with their report on Sri Lanka. And we hope and trust that Member States will now again look to the contents of that report and see what can be done to follow up on the work being done by the panel led by Marzuki Darusman. Beyond that, in terms of the work done by the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation [Commission], we will need to study the full content of what this report say and may respond in due course.

Inner City Press: I want to ask just sort of related to that; at least one Member State on the Human Rights Council in Geneva has told me that this report, whatever, however it is called, doesn’t even have a UN stamp on it. It sort of has been really… they found it kind of strange how it was filed by the Secretariat with the Human Rights Council. It may seem like a small thing, but to them they read into it, as did other Member States, is that the case, is it a UN report, is the UN stamp on it or is it just a piece of paper?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: It is a UN report; you can find it on the UN website. We presented it here at the United Nations, as you are well aware, and it’s a panel that is an advisory panel to the Secretary-General.

Inner City Press: Does the Secretary-General, and maybe you will either know what he thinks or you can ask him — does the Secretary-General think the Human Rights Council should take up that report of many civilian deaths prior to the universal periodic review for Sri Lanka which is, you know, long away?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: As you know, it is up to the members of the Human Rights Council what they take up. Certainly the Secretary-General does want the Member States to look at this report and take it seriously and address the contents and the recommendations of that report. But, how they go about that, as you know, these are bodies of Member States and we’ll await what kind of decisions they take.

  After that exchange nine hours went by. Inner City Press reported stories on the International Criminal Court, Haiti and Ban's native South Korea. Then at 9 pm on Friday Ban's office issues this (non) statement:

Subject: Note to correspondents in response to questions on the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission for Sri Lanka
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply
Date: Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 8:56 PM
To: matthew.lee [at]

Note to correspondents in response to questions on the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission for Sri Lanka

The Secretary-General notes that the report of Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was tabled in parliament today and welcomes that it has been made public.

Rajapaska & Ban, welcoming the white wash    (c) UN Photo

The United Nations will be studying the report closely. The Secretary-General hopes that the Government of Sri Lanka will move forward with its commitment to address accountability concerns in good faith as an essential step towards reconciliation and lasting peace in the country.

  So Ban, despite the obvious whitewash in the government's report, "welcomes that it has been made public," and counts on the government to "address accountability." This goes beyond "quiet diplomacy." Watch this site.

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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

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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