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As UN Meets on Disarmament in Mexico, Firearms Flood In, Off Security Council Agenda like Sri Lanka

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 4 -- Mexico will host a UN conference next week on disarmament including light weapons. On Friday at UN Headquarters in New York, Inner City Press asked Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller if the conference will address the issue of U.S.-bought weapons being trafficked into Mexico and fueling drug shootouts, like the one in Ciudad Juarez which killed 17 people this week. Video here, from Minute 19:51.

  Ambassador Heller emphasized that it is "an NGO conference," and that Mexico is not alone, even in Latin America, in facing problems of small arms proliferation. He acknowledged that such weapons are a problem "beyond the confines of the agenda of the Security Council." Mexico, like Colombia and Sri Lanka and, unsuccessfully, Myanmar and Zimbabwe, would prefer not to be on the agenda of the UN Security Council.

  Issues like small arms, drug wars and guerrilla conflicts like the FARC in Colombia or, until recently, the LTTE in Sri Lanka, are doorways through which a country might get onto the Security Council's agenda. And so, even those Mexico in other forums presents itself as aggrieved by the lack of arms controls north of its border in the U.S., and this is a class cross-border problem, in the UN context Mexico will not complain.

   Nor, it became clear earlier this year, would Mexico push hard to get even a bloody conflict like that in Sri Lanka put on the agenda of the Security Council, on which for now Mexico has a seat. Mexico asked for informal sessions on Sri Lanka, without putting it on the agenda. A Sri Lankan diplomat traveled to Mexico City to remind the country that its conflict with the Zapatistas in Chiapas was never put on the Council's agenda. The Rajapaksa government's massive weapons purchases from China, Pakistan, Israel and even UK companies (click here for Inner City Press story last month) also did not provide a hook for inclusion on the Council agenda.

   And now, even as graphic footage depicting Sri Lankan soldiers committing summary executions emerges, it is understood that Mexico has not raised the issue in the Council, even informally.

Sergio Duarte, USG for Disarmament Affairs, per UN Photo

  That might change, before or during the Conference. After Friday's press conference, Heller signed a legal agreement with the UN's Kiyotaka Akasaka about the conference. Let the traveling begin.

Footnote: Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (above), answered Inner City Press' light weapons question by referring to the halting UN process toward an arms trade treaty. In a background briefing last week, conference organizers admitted that the emergence of H1N1 "swine" flu had thrown a temporary spanner into the works, but that Mexico has demonstrated that it is ready.

  There is a sense that some NGO's not focused on disarmament are having to bend the contours of the conference to make it worth going. Attendance is down, it emerged on Friday. Last year's DPI - NGO conference, in Paris, saw controversies about the exclusion of NGOs from Taiwan, and attendees allegedly connected to the LTTE. In the background briefing last week, Inner City Press asked conference organizers to disclose any such brewing controversies this year. The only answer was that all attendees must be "from a member state," a reference to Taiwan. And perhaps to Abkhazians, for example, unless they hold Russian passports.... Watch this site.

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As UK Questioned on Arms Exports to Sri Lanka, No Action at UN on Flooded Camps

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 19 -- As in London a House of Commons report zeroed in and requested answers on UK licensed arms sales to Sri Lanka in the run-up to this year's bloodbath on the beach, at the UN in New York UK Ambassador John Sawers emphasized that he would only take questions, including on Sri Lanka, in his capacity as the president of the Security Council for this month.

   Inner City Press asked Ambassador Sawers, since the Council earlier this year held meetings about Sri Lanka without putting it on the Council's formal agenda, about the flooding on the UN funded internment camps and the call by various human rights groups that those locked up in the camps be allowed to leave. Video here, from Minute 3:29.

   "There is no request for a meeting on Sri Lanka in any format," Sawers said adding that Sri Lanka is of concern "to a number of Council member" and will be kept "under review." But how? The lack of action by the UN at any level, even as the government in Colombo blames it for the breakdown in sewage systems in the camps, highlights the effect of the UK not having called a procedural vote to put Sri Lanka on the Council's agenda.

  If the situation in Manik Farms camps were to be happening in the camps in Darfur, the Council it seems clear would consider and speak on it. But since the UK, by Sawers' own account, chose Council unanimity over a split but winning vote to put Sri Lanka on the agenda, now ongoing abuses there are not being considered.

  It appears that Council members, even those who expressed concern earlier this year, are not even staying informed on the situation. Inner City Press asked Mexico's Ambassador Claude Heller about the flooding and he said he was not aware of it, but would look into it. While that's to be commended, is it any surprise then that Sawers replied that no request for a meeting on Sri Lanka has been made?

  After Sawers' answer, Inner City Press asked a spokesperson for the UK Mission to the UN about the House of Commons report, Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2009). Sawers had emphasized he would only answer as Council president, and so this troubling but UK specific report could not be asked about.

  Later on Wednesday the UK mission responded to Inner City Press that there is a review of the licenses for exports to Sri Lanka ongoing, that some licenses might be revoked. The spokesperson noted that some licenses were rejected, for example for weapons or ammunition, and said that those grants were mostly for "humanitarian or dual" use.

  Inner City Press asked how the UK could verify how the items were used, if its personnel along with all independent media were excluded from the northern part of Sri Lanka as now from the camps. The spokesperson said that the UK wouldn't reply on the media for verification anyway. But how then is the verification done?

Behind barbed wire in the Manik Farms, sewage not shown

  The spokesperson said that there has not been any discussion within the UK Mission to the UN about the situation in the camps, that such discussion might take place in London, mostly because of the Tamil diaspora there. But given the UK Mission's publicly stated decision not to call what they say would have been a victorious but split vote to put Sri Lanka on the Council's agenda, some expect a more robust response from the UK when the internment camps it is is part funding, including through the UN, become threatened by epidemics and the people not allowed to leave. We'll see.

From the House of Commons' Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2009)

Sri Lanka

123. In the course of our evidence sessions, we raised our concerns with witnesses on the

subject of Sri Lanka. On 11 March 2009, we asked representatives of the Export Group for

Aerospace and Defence (EGAD) to what extent they saw similarities between exporting

arms to Sri Lanka and Israel. David Hayes, Chairman of EGAD, told us that an embargo

would be “a matter for Government, not for industry”.180 However, Nigel Knowles, Vice

Chairman of EGAD, felt able to offer an argument against an embargo, citing the leverage

generated by trade. He suggested that it was sometimes necessary “to take a little grief in

order to keep a friendship”.181 We were not persuaded either by the leverage generated in

this case, or indeed the general principle. Indeed, the Campaign Against Arms Trade notes

in its written memorandum that the Defence Industrial Strategy concluded that “the

balance of argument about defence exports should depend mainly on non-economic


124. We pursued the issue of Sri Lanka with Bill Rammell at our session on 22 April

2009.183 He told us that the FCO’s judgment was that an embargo, or the threat of one, was

not the best vehicle for trying to secure a ceasefire.184 Using an embargo signalled “the end

of the diplomatic road” and demonstrated that a lot of influence had been lost.185 The

Minister told us that few licences had been granted for exports to Sri Lanka since the

beginning of 2007 which he cited as evidence of procedures being effective.186

125. The issue of Sri Lanka illustrates the difficulties faced by the Government, and by

those who, like us, scrutinise the licensing decisions made by Government, in assessing

how exports of arms might be used by the destination country at a future date, particularly

if political situation in the country at the time of the exports appears stable. Bill Rammell

told the Committees that licensing decisions were based on evidence from FCO posts,

from NGOs, newspaper and media reports and a variety of other sources.187 He said that

you make judgments based on the situation at the time; you do not make judgments for

ever and a day.”188 In its submission to us, Saferworld listed the type of weapons that had

been licensed for export to Sri Lanka from 1997 onwards, including the period of the

fragile ceasefire starting in 2002.189 During the ceasefire, a wide variety of military

equipment and weapons were exported to Sri Lanka, and, due to the extremely limited

access of international observers to Sri Lanka, it is impossible to be certain how many of

those weapons were used subsequently against the civilian population when hostilities

began to escalate again in 2006. Bill Rammell argued that few licences had been issued for

Sri Lanka since 2007, but accepted that the international community had not focussed

enough on what had been happening in Sri Lanka.190 We note the fact that in the period 1

April 2008 to 31 March 2009, 34 licences were issued for export to Sri Lanka, and we will

be keeping a keen eye on all future exports.

126. We conclude that the policy of assessing licences to Sri Lanka on a case-by-case

basis is, in our opinion, appropriate. However, we recommend that the Government

should review all existing licences relating to Sri Lanka and provide in its Response an

assessment of what implications the situation in Sri Lanka will have on how the Foreign

and Commonwealth Office judges the possible future use of strategic exports by that

country and the risk that the export licensing criteria might be breached. We further

recommend that the Government provide in its Response an assessment of what UK

supplied weapons, ammunition, parts and components were used by the Sri Lankan

armed forces in the recent military actions against the Tamil Tigers.

Inner City Press' June 18 debate on Sri Lanka, click here

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

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

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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