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On Sri Lankan War Crimes, UN Discloses Ban Expert Panel Idea, Election Snub Questioned

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 7 -- After the 2009 video depicting Sri Lankan soldiers shooting blindfolded prisoners was deemed credible in a detailed report Thursday by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, Inner City Press asked the spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon if Mr. Ban would move to appoint a panel of inquiry, as he did to investigate the 157 people killed in Guinea on September 28, 2009. Video here, from Minute 45:21.

Mr. Ban's spokeman Martin Nesirky began by saying that since UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay had already called for an investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka, there was no need for a similar call by Ban Ki-moon, "no need for a second track."

But when Inner City Press asked Nesirky to explain why Ban has been delegating Sri Lanka to Geneva, where given the make up of the Human Rights Council a resolution calling for an investigation like Richard Goldstone's of Gaza failed, Nesirky included in his response something it seems he should have stated from outset.

"The Secretary General has informed the government of Sri Lanka that he is considering appoint a commission of experts to advise him further and to assist the government in taking measures" on violations of human rights, Nesirky said. Video here, from Minute 48:20.

Inner City Press asked Nesirky WHEN Mr. Ban had conveyed this to the government of Sri Lanka, since Ban had made no mention of it in his response to Inner City Press' question to him the prior day on accountability and Sri Lanka. "I don't know," Nesirky said, committing to return with the information. Watch this site.

UN's Ban depicted by Sri Lanka in camps, experts not yet seen

Some are dubious of the UN's follow through on its call for accountabilty and an inclusive political process in Sri Lanka, given most recently the UN's rejection of playing any role in ensuring fairness in the January 26 elections. The reason Nesirky gave on July 6, a week after Inner City Press asked for the UN's response, was that it would require a General Assembly resolution and there wasn't time.

But when Inner City Press asked General Assembly spokesman Jean Victor Nkolo at the Janury 7 noon briefing if the GA could have met in less then three weeks, he didn't not say no. Watch this site.

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN Won't Observe, Has Hopes for IDPs, Mute on Accountability

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 6 -- On the day the UN belatedly confirmed it would not be providing any observers to attempt to reduce fraud and disenfranchisement in Sri Lanka's January 26 elections, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the internally displaced people who remain in the camps the government moved and locked them into, and about accountability for war crimes. Video here, from Minute 9:50.

  Ban Ki-moon answered only the first to the two questions, citing Sri Lanka's commitment to empty the camps by the end of January -- that is, after the elections. According to aid groups, over 90,000 people, nearly entirely Tamils, remain in the camps. Fewer than 10% of them are registered to be able to vote.

UN's Ban, Inner City Press in front, answer on accountability not shown

Here was the exchange, as transcribed by the UN:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you, if I can, on Sri Lanka. Right now the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps, there are still people inside them. There has also been a failure to do any investigation of the events of May, and most recently, it seems like you have decided not to send electoral assistance to the country. Can you say how the first of those are consistent with the commitments made to the UN, and your commitment to stay on top of this issue?

Ban Ki-moon: On Sri Lanka, their promise, President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa's promise is that by the end of January this year, his Government will have all the remaining displaced persons in the camp resettled, reintegrated into their native homes or some other place. I am going to discuss this matter with the Sri Lankan Government. I hope that they will keep their promise.

  What about accountability? The Special Raporteur on Summary Executions Philip Alston gives a press conference at the UN on January 7. Watch this space.

* * *

UN's Ban Mute on Sri Lanka's Election Request, Impunity and Fraud Implicitly Accepted, UN Sources Say

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 6 -- The UN's conflicted stance on Sri Lanka has become more apparent in the run up to the Rajapaksas' January 26 snap election. Nine days ago, Inner City Press asked the spokesman for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to confirm that Sri Lanka had requested some UN presence during the election, and to state the UN's response.

  While the Spokesman, Martin Nesirky, did not answer this question for an entire week, Inner City Press has been told first by one, now by a second, top adviser to Ban Ki-moon that the UN would not be responding positively to the request.

   One adviser said bluntly, we don't want to legitimize an election we have our doubts about. He added that the excuse the UN would give was that the request had come from Sri Lanka's electoral body, and not the Rajapaksa administration. At most, he said, the UN might send some informal representative of the Secretary General.

  This seems a strange logic, to only accept elections help request from incumbent, who as with Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan are often the ones most actively making up fake voters and suppressing out of power candidates' votes. But it does seem to be the UN's position.

  On January 5, Inner City Press asked Spokesman Nesirky about a request for electoral assistance from twenty opposition parties in Georgia, as well as for a belated answer to the week-old Sri Lanka question. On Georgia, Nesirky said that UN only accepts requests from governments.

  On Sri Lanka, Nesirky acknowledged his Office's non-response for eight days, saying he had been seeking guidance, but had yet to receive it.

  Later on January 5, Inner City Press spoke with another senior Ban advisor. He also indicated that the UN would not be saying yes to Sri Lanka. If this is so widely known in the UN's 38th -- now 3rd -- floor, why can the Office of the Spokesperson not say it, even after nine days? "The clock is ticking," Nesirky said on January 5.

  It appears to some that the UN's game is to run out the clock on Sri Lanka's request.

In Vavuniya internment camp, Ban's plastic image used by Sri Lanka

  This comes in the context of Ban Ki-moon, after his whirlwind visit to Sri Lanka, where in the Vavuniya internment camp the government hung a large photograph of him shaking hands with Presidential brother Basil Rajapaksa (above), saying he would be monitoring Sri Lanka, for an inclusive political process.

  Now, as Mahinda Rajapaksa (with whom Ban has described himself as having a close relationship) calls a snap election to try to establish a family dynasty, the UN wants to look away, but doesn't want to admit it will look away.

  Something of a wrench has been thrown into the Rajapaksas' plans by the candidacy of ex-General Sarath Fonseka, who has accused Presidential brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa of ordering the shooting of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leaders who sought to surrender, after speaking with Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff as well as with Norway, waving white flags.

  For these and other war crimes, Ban said the UN would press for accountability. Little has been done since on this front. Now, one of Ban's advisors has conveyed to Inner City Press the UN's acceptance that the Rajapaksas will never accept an independent investigation. The UN's theme seems to be "look away, look away." Watch this site.

* * *

At UN, China Takes Few Questions, ECOWAS Unheeded on Guinea, Myanmar Waits

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 5 -- As China takes over the UN Security Council presidency for the month of January, at the customary program of work press conference, its Permanent Representative Zhang Yesui took only six questions -- four topics and two follow ups -- and barely answered them.

 One of the questions was from Chinese state owned media Xinhua and was a softball. What is China's thinking in choosing to hold its thematic debate about regional organizations -- including the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- and how can regional organizations help maintain stability?

  Ambassador Zhang Yesui, seeming entirely prepared for the question, said that often regional organizations know more about the problems that they deal with. He cited the African Union's work on Sudan, and later Somalia -- although that doesn't seem to be going so well -- but he might have mentioned ASEAN and its "hands off Myanmar" stance.

  Some analysts believe that China's and the U.S.'s increasing use of regional organization reflects that militarily dominant countries, not wanting the UN to criticize what they do, from Xinjiang to Afghanistan, like to limit the Security Council's jurisdiction. One test of this will be whether the U.S., up in arms about Yemen, raises the matter at the Security Council.

  Ambassador Zhang Yesui was asked if China thinks that "moderate Taliban in Afghanistan" should be spoken with. He replied that "internal affairs of a state should be determined by its people."

  Surprising, then, that China goes along however reluctantly with the Council's statements on Myanmar, urging the military junta to engage with the opposition and free Aung San Suu Kyi. China, of course, has just imposed an 11 year sentence on Liu Xiaobo. No questions on this, however, were taken at the briefing.

  Ambassador Zhang Yesui said there has been progress with North Korea -- his American counterpart Susan Rice says the same. Kim Jong Il is reportedly headed to Beijing. Meanwhile, the Indian miltary has spoken darkly of "two front" preparations for Pakistan and China, but this rattling of nuclear sabres was not mentioned in the press conference. It's a regional thing.

At UN, President Hu, ECOWAS views not shown

  In the program of work's footnotes is the phrase "Peace consolidation in West Africa." While no question on this was taken, one assumes this means Guinea, the massacre of September 28 and the resulting UN report. A Presidential Statement is being prepared.

  While China may go along with it, China signed a business deal with the junta soon after the massacre. This contradicted the stance of the regional organization, ECOWAS. What was that again, about respect for regional organizations? Watch this site.

* * *

In UN Council, Iran and Guinea But Not Yemen Discussed by Five New Members

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 5 -- In the UN's nearly empty building, 2010 dawned at the Security Council with January's president China serving breakfast and giving photo albums to the other Council members, five of them new this month.

  One of the five outgoing countries pointedly asked, at the Council retreat for the new members, what is the function of the ten non-permanent members, other than to legitimize the decisions of the Permanent Five?

   Croatia, to pick one example, accomplished nearly nothing during its two year stint. (Perhaps explanatory, its Permanent Representative left in scandal, diverting Mission funds for gambling in Las Vegas.)

  Of the incoming members, many are watching Brazil, given its rising power and the outspokenness of President Lula. In late 2009, Brazil wrote a letter to the Council about the safety of its embassy in Honduras, into which the deposed Manuel Zelaya took refuge.

  A Council source told Inner City Press on Tuesday morning that this will have to be reviewed, along with other outstanding items from 2009.

  Amid the clanking of breakfast dishes, various Council members spun the Press on their topics of interest. A Presidential Statement is in the works about the September massacres in Guinea, a "hot issues, on the hot burner," the PRST's drafter gushed.

  On Iran, a well placed Council member said the country's failure to be responsive to the Sanctions Committees letter was helping to build the case for further sanctions. "If there's no regime change before then," quipped another member.

Around the Horseshoe Table, one perm perm rep and reform not shown

  The critical outgoing member has questioned why the Council's Committees are only chaired by non-permanent members. Is it a mark of respect, or of the P-5 trying not to dominate? Or, because the work is large administrative and conducted by lower level bureaucrats, is chairing the committees beneath the P-5 Permanent Representatives?

  Of these five, only four were seen on Tuesday. Missing was the U.S.'s Susan Rice. The U.S. has, some say, thus staked out a position above the over Permanent Four. Now in 2010, will the U.S. which says it wants to use the UN be raising the issue of Yemen? Watch this site.

  Also on the U.S. Mission, at the UN barely a word has been said about the flame out in scandal and withdrawal of the nomination of former Goldman Sachs executive Jide J. Zeitlin to head the Mission's UN reform efforts. Who's next?

Media footnote: while the Council is usually off-limits to the UN press corps, on Tuesday morning the bureau chief of China's state owned Xinhua came smiling out of the breakfast. With human rights issues like Myanmar, Iran, Sudan and Guinea on the Council's agenda, some wonder how China can be an honest broker. We'l be covering this, and secondarily any honest brokering with the press.

 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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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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