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On Sri Lanka Threats, UN Tells Press "Call NYPD," But SLC Sees Silva

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 12 -- Amid the UN's ambiguous relationship with the Sri Lankan government accused of killing 40,000 civilians in 2009, with the involvement of both its UN Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona and his Deputy, general Shavendra Silva, Inner City Press on June 11 asked the UN about

a threat that I’ve received from it seems to be a Sinhalese or Sri Lankan extremist, saying I should "swim like a brick," and the reason I am asking you about it is because it was cc'd to Marie Okabe and two other UN personnel. And I am wondering, what is the UN’s response when you receive this type of a threat? What do they do with it, what happens, and I want to know what they are actually going to do in this case?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Well, I am not aware of that last one, Matthew. I don’t think I was copied on that one.

  He wasn't, at least on the face of it. But on June 12 Nesirky returned to the noon briefing with an answer: Inner City Press should "call the New York Police Department" and, if it chooses to, share threats with the UN's Department of Safety & Security.

  Well, as Inner City Press immediately responded to Nesirky whether it makes it into the UN transcript or not, one of the threats was copied not only for former Kofi Annan Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe, but also to "inquiries2 [at]" and "nguyenK" at, described as "UN Ethics." This then is a test.

  Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, whose work has included official Edward Mortimer, Kofi Annan's former communications director and senior adviser, grilling the International Monetary Fund on its downplaying of Sri Lanka's continuing militarization, has chimed in on the matter, here:

This story starts in September of last year with a screening of “Lies Agreed Upon” – a government of Sri Lanka propaganda film which was expertly deconstructed by the International Crisis Group. Matthew Lee wrote a piece about how the screening, in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium of the UN, was organised by the President of the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA), Giampaolo Pioli, without going through the normal process of consultation for such screenings. He then further revealed (although he acknowledged it was “possibly unconnected”) that Pioli rents a flat to the Sri Lankan Permanent representative to the UN (and suspected war criminal) Palitha Kohona.

Then in May, five journalists wrote a letter asking Pioli to expel Lee from the UNCA. Pioli set up a Board of Examination (you can read Lee’s thoughts on the reasons for this and the make-up of the board here, with more detail here, here, and here). Meanwhile the UN itself muddied the waters by deciding “in this context” not to renew Lee’s accreditation to cover the UN. 

Lee then offered to print a two sided clarification in which he and UNCA would both set the record straight. However this was rejected out of hand and, under Pioli’s direction, Lee was suspended from the UNCA. Although the grounds for expulsion have never been made public, it appeared to centre around various complaints that had been made by the Sri Lankan Government and by Pioli himself in respect to the showing of Lies Agreed Upon. To quote Lee: 
"The Sri Lankan Mission to the UN, run by Pioli's former tenant Kohona and his deputy Shavendra Silva, continues to act as though it has a special relationship with Pioli, sending complaint letters about Inner City Press to Pioli's UNCA unlike any other member state at the UN."
The next stage is a ten-day investigation by the UNCA, while the UN still refused to provide any clarity on if or when Lee’s accreditation will be renewed. Meanwhile Lee has been harassed from Sri Lanka using tactics which will be familiar to many Sri Lankan human rights defenders: anonymous threatening phonecalls, vicious personal emails, and several hyperbolic attacks in the media. The latter included the suggestion that Lee could be jailed for harassment for up to seven years. Since there is no evidence to suggest that there is any police investigation (or indeed any suggestion of harassment in a legal sense) this is pure yellow journalism. 

The saga rumbles on (see also Lee’s articles here, here, here and here) and it may never be clear how deep the Government of Sri Lanka’s involvement in the intimidation was. What is clear is that they certainly gave the bandwagon a push and were very quick to jump on when it started rolling. 

The UN should not be taking the side of the bullies, nor should they be adding to the confusion and speculation by failing to renew Lee’s accreditation. As for the UNCA; their role is to stand up for its members, not to expel them and we can see no justification for the continuation of this “Board of Examination”. Both the UNCA and the UN have played straight into the hands of the Government of Sri Lanka’s attempts to silence its critics.

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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

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

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