Sri Lanka Detentions, UN's Top Lawyer Won't Opine, of Privileges and
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, September 16 -- While two UN system staff members remain
incarcerated in Sri Lanka after what they say was government torture,
in New York the UN is preparing for more countries to sign more
treaties and conventions during next week's General Assembly. Inner
City Press asked top UN lawyer Patricia O'Brien, during her news
conference Wednesday promoting the treaty event, about the two UN
system staffers. Video here,
from Minute 42:01.
booklet distributed at the UN lists the Convention on the Privileges
and Immunities of the UN and the Convention on the Safety of UN and
Associated Personnel. Sri Lanka has acceded to both of them, during
the General Assembly meetings in 2003. But are they being complied
with and enforced?
am not here
to speak about enforcement" of the Conventions, Ms. O'Brien
said. She referred to the UN's ironically titled "depository"
role, and that she also advised the Secretary General on the
"application of treaties."
where do these
interpretations go? In Sri Lanka, the country head for the UN made
belated statements about the disappeared staff that many thought
ignored the government's responsibility under the Conventions. Amin
Awad did not assert that the staffers were immune, at least within
the scope of their work for the UN, but only that the government
should inform the UN of the detention.
going to get into interpreting specific provisions," Ms. O'Brien
General Ban Ki-moon, under fire for weak performance including in Sri
Lanka, convened his Under Secretaries Generals including Ms. O'Brien
and her Political Affairs and Peacekeeping counterparts.
Press was told that these USGs will be taking questions more often,
to explain the UN's positions. Some thought this responded to a part
in the leaked memo by Norwegian diplomat Mona Juul, that Ban has
chosen weak or faceless USGs.
if the UN wants
to get its position out, how can its top lawyer try to limit a rare
press conference to the treaty event, not even the treaties
themselves? There are also questions about the UN's involvement in
the Cambodia genocide tribunal, Somalia piracy enforcement, policing
the (further) abuse of the UN's name, including for commercial gain,
and of the UN's and OLA's commitment to freedom of speech and of the
press. To run from these questions, news conferences are now
UN's Ban and Ms. O'Brien, UN position on detained
and tortured staff not shown
the end, Ms.
O'Brien tried to explain her refusal to answer basic policy questions
by saying since she advise Ban on some matters, it is all cover by
attorney client privilege. This is not a defense or justification
used by the chief legal officers of other international
organizations, and it ill-serves the UN, human rights -- and UN staff
and the rule of law. Watch this site.
on the lighter side, Inner City Press asked Ms. O'Brien about the
incident in July in which William Kennedy Smith, at the event at
which the U.S. signed the Disabilities Convention, asked for the
ceremonial pen. He was refused and told that the UN has only one pen.
Inner City Press asked, does the UN have only one pen? Video here,
from Minute 44:28.
that the UN does not have a budget to give pens, not of this quality,
but might seek a budget allocation. William Kennedy Smith actually
offered to buy the pen, right there. Would that comply with the law?
As on so many other things, the UN's top lawyer has no comment.
* * *
Sri Lanka Call, UN's Ban Sends Pascoe Not Nambiar, Internal
"Accountability" on Agenda
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, September 14 -- On issues ranging from the detention of UN
system Sri Lankan staff to the continuing detentions in the camps in
Vavuniya, UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn
Pascoe is traveling to Colombo on September 15. Inner City Press
asked Pascoe if, for example, he would also raise the video footage
depicting the Sri Lankan Army conducting summary executions, and if
he had seen the footage. Pascoe said yes, he has seen the film, and
that issues of "accountability" will be raised. Video of
press briefing here,
from Minute 38:02.
accountability and investigations are "all best done if done
internally." But the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has ended the
investigation of the killing of 17 Action
Contre La Faim aid workers,
and immediately denied the video the day that it first aired. So what
internal "accountability mechanisms" will Pascoe be
suggesting? Pascoe said that the "range of human rights issues"
need to be discussed, and that there is blame on all sides, "there
is enough to go around."
City Press asked Pascoe if he will be traveling to the internment
camps at Manik Farm, and who will be accompanying him. He said his
"program" is still being negotiated, and that people from
his Department of Political Affairs and the UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will join him.
the press conference or in response in the hall afterwards was
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, whose
objectivity was question in connection with his early trips to Sri
Lanka, particularly after his brother Satish wrote an op-ed praising
the strategies and acts of Sri Lankan General Fonseka, who led what
even the UN's John Holmes characterized as a "bloodbath on the
said his visit would follow up on "earlier
trips by John Holmes and others" -- notably omitting Nambiar's
sudden trip seems not unrelated to recent criticism of Ban Ki-moon's
performance, including in the leaked memo of Norway's Deputy
Permanent Representative to the UN Mona Juul.
UN's Pascoe faces taped questions on
plane to Sri Lanka in May, is internal accountability best?
On Sri Lanka,
the Juul memo said
example of weak handling from the Secretary-General’s side is the
war in Sri Lanka. The Secretary-General was a powerless observer to
civilians in their thousands losing their lives and being driven from
their homes. The authorities in Colombo refused to receive the
Secretary-General while the war was going on, but he was an honored
guest -- and he accepted the invitation -- once the war had been
“won.” Even though the UN’s humanitarian effort had been active
and honorable enough, the Secretary-General’s moral voice and
authority have been absent.
criticized Ban for choosing weak Under Secretaries General and not
allowing them to talk. Suddenly, this week there are press briefings
by Pascoe, Alain Le Roy and Susana Malcorra. Two other Ban advisers
spoke Friday, but only on background. And still not Gregory Staff of
UN Security, nor UNDP's Helen Clark nor Ann Veneman of UNICEF, whose
Colombo based spokesman James Elder is being thrown out.
and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, unlike Ban and Myanmar Senior General
Than Shwe, agreed in advance to some photogenic win-win
outcome of Pascoe's trip? Perhaps for Elder to be able to remain, or
some symbolic release of some of the detained, albeit not to the
regions they came from? We'll see -- Pascoe said to ask him "Friday or
Saturday," so the UN should provide a read-out then. Watch this site.
Pascoe spoke, Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe answered yes when
Inner City Press asked for on the record confirmation of its earlier
story of Ban's telephone call to Rajapaksa. Pascoe then
described the call as straight forward, saying that Ban and Rajapaksa
"have a very good relationship." Pascoe spoke on other topics at the
press conference, that we will shortly be reporting on.
* * *
Ban Speaks with Sri Lankan President, Internment Continues, S.
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, September 14 -- More than a week after Sri Lanka moved to
expel UNICEF's spokesman James Elder, and months after two UN system
staff members were grabbed and tortured, they say, by the government,
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday morning called President
Mahinda Rajapaksa, sources tell Inner City Press.
They also say the
issues were raised to Sri Lanka's new Ambassador to the UN Palitha
Kohona on September 11. Earlier
that day, Ban's Deputy Spokesperson
told Inner City Press that the formal presentation of credentials to
Mr. Ban by Ambassador Kohona, reportedly denied a visa by the UK, was
"not a meeting," and that issues would not be raised.
however, is what will actually change
inside Sri Lanka, where the UN
continues funding what UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi
Pillay calls internment camps. It's said that Ban's director of the
Department of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe will tell the Press about
the issue at a press conference later on Monday. But there are other
questions for him as well. Watch this site.
UN's Ban presses flesh with M. Rajapaksa,
changes not seen
On the UN's second story, between the Security Council and Delegates'
Lounge, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appeared Monday morning with an
entourage including chief of staff Vijay Nambiar but not his deputy,
and took photos with a group in from Seoul preparing the South Korean
delegation's visit to the General Assembly meetings later this month.
Later they were escorted by one of Ban's security officers to the
elevators that head to the 38th floor. Some wondered if the similar
preparatory delegations of other countries are given the same
treatment. Time will tell.
Sri Lankan Torture and Exclusion, UN Gives Run Around, HSBC into
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, September 13 -- With Sri Lanka refusing to let even the
International Committee of the Red Cross see 10,000 of the people it
has detained since May, while moving
to expel UNICEF's Colombo-based
spokesman James Elder, at the United Nations last week Inner City
Press asked what Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will in fact do.
10, Inner City Press asked about the torture of two UN
system staff members, first reported on by Inner City Press, and
received in return a canned
statement that Ban would raise the issue
to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
But the next day, when Inner City
Press asked a Ban adviser who asked to be called only a "senior
UN official" how Ban will proceed, since Rajapaksa canceled his
attendance to the upcoming General Assembly meeting, two different
official" said that "in the absence of Rajapaksa, the Prime
Minister will be here. The new Ambassador, today, I think some of the
issues will be raised." But moments
before from the same
rostrum, Ban's Deputy Spokesman Marie Okabe told Inner City Press
that the day's presentation of credentials by Palitha Kohona to Ban
"is not a meeting," implying that no substantive issue
would be raised. It was just
City Press: Marie, the Sydney Morning Herald has said that James
Elder of UNICEF, whose visa is being revoked, is now receiving...
threats by phone in Sri Lanka. Is that something that the UN is
aware of, and will that issue and the issue of the two staff members
that were allegedly tortured be raised by the Secretary-General to
the new ambassador, Mr. [Palitha] Kohona, that he’s meeting today
for the presentation of credentials?
Spokesperson Okabe: I am not aware of that report and, as you know,
the presentation of credentials is not a meeting. He’s meeting a
number of them -- I don’t have the whole list -- so it’s not an
opportunity for him to sit down and have a meeting with them. But I
mentioned to you yesterday and earlier this week that the
Secretary-General, in his statement earlier this week, has said that
he plans to be in touch with the President of Sri Lanka on both those
But is the President of Sri Lanka coming to the General Assembly? I
thought he is actually not coming. So when is he going to speak to
Spokesperson: You’d have to ask the President of Sri Lanka whether
he is coming to the General Assembly.
When is the Secretary-General going to raise it to the President?
Spokesperson: I’ll let you know as soon as that happens.
waiting. British-based bank HSBC, on the other hand, is not
people still interned in the camps in Vavuniya, HSBC has bragged it
is looking to move beyond Colombo and Kandy and open branch offices in
Jaffna and elsewhere in the
is looking at opening branches in strategic locations in the North
and East," its CEO for Sri Lanka and Maldives Nick A Nicolaou
Some call it
"banking on the bloodbath on the beach,"
and wonder how HSBC has to date escaped the boycott calls that have
been directed at Victoria's Secret and GAP, including its ironically
named Banana Republic brand.
A 2003 UN photo-op, Nicaragua's Hostage filing under
reportedly on the verge of losing the EU's Generalized System of
Preferences (GSP) Plus tariff concession for textile exports, some
wonder if Victoria's Secret will be exposed, and the complacency of
the Banana Republic shaken up. Watch this site.
at the U.S. embassy in Colombo, even the Number 2 Ambassador Moore
has left, on September 13, leaving a decided Number 3 in charge.
Moore auto-tells interlocutors "I
departed Colombo September 13 at the end of my assignment. I will be
back on this email address in mid-October. Please contact Acting DCM
Rebecca Cohn for assistance until September 30 and DCM Valerie Fowler
Obama Administration's ambassador Patricia Butenis is not due, it's
said, until the end of October...
was the UN's
official response on September 10 to the allegations that at least
two UN system staff members in Sri Lanka were tortured:
City Press: There was a report today that two UN system staff members
in Sri Lanka had been tortured during their incarceration. Can you
give both an update on what the UN has done and whether the UN knows
that these individuals have been tortured?
Spokesperson: The United Nations has been and is extremely concerned
about the continuing case of two national UN staff members detained
by the Sri Lankan authorities in late June. The two men were
detained while deployed to Vavuniya by the United Nations without any
notice to the Organization. The United Nations was immediately
concerned about the “disappearance” of the staff, and protested
strongly the manner of their detention, once discovered, with the Sri
Lankan authorities, at many levels. The United Nations has been
particularly concerned about suggestions that the two staff members
may have been mistreated in the first days of their detention. If
these allegations are validated, this would be a violation of Sri
Lankan and international law.
allegations were raised with the Government both orally and in
writing, and the United Nations has assisted the two staff members to
seek redress through the Sri Lankan legal system.
call for due process to be swiftly applied. The Government should
either notify the Secretary-General of the case and any charges
against the two men and request for their immunity as UN staff to be
waived, or they should be released.
mentioned to you earlier that the Secretary-General had raised the
issue when he met with the Sri Lankan President on the sidelines of
the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, shortly after
these reports first came in.
Secretary-General issued a statement earlier this week in which he
said he would be contacting the President following the expulsion of
the UNICEF staff member and during that conversation the
Secretary-General obviously is expected to take up this case and
express his serious concerns over their mistreatment. So that’s
what I have for you.
* * *