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UN Slow to Answer on Sri Lanka Harassment Until Briefing with Censors

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 5 -- When Navi Pillay wrapped up her visit to Sri Lanka, she spoke of "the harassment and intimidation of a number of human rights defenders, at least two priests, journalists, and many ordinary citizens... people in villages and settlements in the Mullaitivu area were visited by police or military officers [and were] subsequently questioned."

  The next work day at the UN was September 3, and Inner City Press wanted to ask the UN about this. But the day's noon briefing was canceled so that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon could hold a press encounter with only two pre-selected questions.

Upon hearing of the cancellation, Inner City Press by email asked Ban's two top spokespeople:

is UN country team aware of, and what is UN doing about, report of Sri Lanka government harassment of those who met or tried to meet with UN High Commissioner Pillay, inclulding but not limited to

Veerasan Yogeswaran, who runs the Centre for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, said five or six plainclothes policemen visited him at midnight and before dawn at his home in Trincomalee, just hours after the meeting with Pillay.

  Unlike other questions, for 24 hours the UN did not answer. So at the September 4 noon briefing, and on behalf of the new Free UN Coalition for Access, Inner City Press asked both why the noon briefing had been canceled, and about Sri Lanka. Video here and embedded below.

  Ban's spokesperson Farhan Haq said, as if a tautology is an explanation, that when Ban has a press encounter, the noon briefing gets canceled. Even if Ban takes only two questions? Again, why?

  On Pillay's statement and the harassment, Haq made a generic comment about it, using Pillay's full first name and say "we may have" more in the future. Sure hope so.

At the same noon briefing, another journalist, accredited with a Pacifica radio station and a member of the Free UN Coalition for Access, asked about depleted uranium and about the story by the former AP string based on interviews, that the chemical weapons in Ghouta came through Saudi sources.

  Before Haq could answer, another journalist in the front row who often speaks for the UN Correspondents Association tried to cut the question off. She was (and is) at the left hand of UNCA's 2013 president Pamela Falk of CBS. FUNCA says this is not how it is supposed to work, establishment scribes silencing or purporting to answer the questions of others. Video here at Minute 2:39.

Worse, as soon as the briefing was over this UNCA spokesperson immediately went to UN spokesperson Haq demanding to know, "Who does she work for?" @FUNCA_info will have more on this.

As regards Sri Lanka, when Inner City Press covered Ban's May 2009 trip to the island (which turned into a "victory tour" of the North), and published a quote from the chief of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes from a clearly on the record session, Holmes response was to say "I will never talk to you again" and for his staff to file a complaint with UN media accreditation trying to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN.

  This complaining to UN Media Accreditation was used in 2012 by the UN's Censorship Alliance, after Inner City Press reported on the background to UNCA's screening, in the UN, of the Rajapaksa government's film denying war crimes. (Click here for an outside report on that.)

  UNCA Executive Committee members from Voice of America, Reuters and AFP among others participated in the campaign; as since shown, Reuters UN bureau chief Louis Charbonneau handed the chief of UN Media Accreditation Stephane Dujarric an anti-Press internal UNCA document, three minutes after promising not to do so. Story here, audio here, document here. Nothing has been done to address this.

  Rather, after Inner City Press quit UNCA and co-founded the new Free UN Coalition for Access, the UN Department of Public Information's response has been to again threaten to suspend or withdraw Inner City Press' accreditation, this time for merely hanging a FUNCA sign on the door of its shared office, while UNCA has five signs and continues functioning as the UN's Cowardice Association, putting other journalists at risk.

  When Pillay's office was contacted about this, their response was simply to note that accreditation was extended (albeit with inappropriate finger-waggling about, among other things, how to cover Ban and his UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous.) So does the UN take these things seriously? Not on this evidence.

  Pillay is to report to the Human Rights Council in late September. Also, as first reported by Inner City Press, Ban is to have something to say about the Sri Lanka (UN) lessons learnt report that is finished but is so far being withheld. Watch this site.


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