6432 Dead in Sri Lanka, UN
Council Takes Over Press Room, UNHCR Funds Detention Camps, "Collective
Russell Lee of
Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, April 24
-- The UN descended into chaos on Friday on the topic
of Sri Lanka. In Colombo, the UN gave diplomats an updated chart of
casualties, with the death count having risen to 6432 since January 20,
2683 as of
March 7. Inner City Press exclusively published the first report,
and now places online this
second one, here. In response to Inner City
Press' questions on Friday, UN Deputy
Spokesperson Marie Okabe said that these UN figures "may be a
estimate." Video here,
from Minute 10:29.
While the 3749 minimum additional civilians were
being killed, the UN
Security Council has held three informal meetings, the last on April 22
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's envoy, Vijay Nambiar. Ban claimed the
had won a commitment from the government to a UN humanitarian
mission to the conflict zone. But the government of Sri Lanka has now
a trip is not necessary or feasible.
Friday morning, Inner City Press asked a range of
Council diplomats what
they would do, given this new development. One senior diplomat from a
Member of the Security Council opposed to adding Sri Lanka to the
agenda told Inner City Press that Ban had made a mistake by speaking
about what Nambiar said he had won. He
said that his country, as supporter and funder of the government of Sri
believes that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam uses UN Council
argue to civilians to stay with them in the conflict zone. Whether UN
can be seen there is not clear.
Nevertheless, even this Council member later on
Friday agreed that
Council president Claude Heller of Mexico could read out his second
"remarks to the press" about Sri Lanka in three days, this time
encouraging the government to cooperate with the UN to visit the
When Ambassador Heller read this out -- more below
on how and where he
did this -- Inner City Press asked, is the Council calling for a
ceasefire? No, Heller said. Video here,
from Minute 15:48.
Inner City Press asked if Heller or the Council had
seen the UN's count
of 6432 dead civilians. Heller replied that the Council on Wednesday
"no opportunity to discuss the casualties." Video here,
13:31. What then have they been
Amb. Heller in near-empty Council, run
to near-empty press room described below
The manner of Heller's presentation was without
precedent at the
UN. In the UN's briefing room, UNHCR's
representative in Sri Lanka Amin Awad was answering questions about his
agency's work with the government on camps. Of the camps, he said the
government was given an "aide memoire" which he would now try to make
public, and that the camps "should not be collective punishment."
Midway through, after Inner City Press had asked
about charges that the
UN is working with and funding detention camps in violation of
humanitarian law, suddenly Ambassador Heller and his spokesman, UK
John Sawers and other Council staffers, burst into the room. They stood
the wall, as cell phone filmed by Inner City Press.
A note was handed to UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie
Okabe, and she asked
Amin Awad to leave the rostrum. Heller took his place, and read out his
Council's "remarks to the press." He tried to immediately leave, but
Inner City Press asked a question about the UN's casualty figures, and
UN's Neil Buhne trip to Jaffna was the mission to the conflict zone
that the UN
is speaking of. Video here,
from Minute 13:31.
Heller replied that now John Holmes of OCHA is going
region." Does this mean the conflict zone? Heller didn't answer. He was
asked if this was a formal Council statement. He called it "remarks to
press," and said it was the "best way to agree." But agree on
Inner City Press is told that Heller and Sawers came
out of the Security
Council but found few to no journalists waiting to hear the remarks
them. Much of the UN press corps elsewhere, covering a committee
listing companies which helped North Korea's recent launch.
Frustrated, Heller headed for the media briefing
room, figuring he'd
find reporters there to hear the Council's remarks. There were perhaps
half-dozen journalists in the room, listening to Amin Awad. In fact, at
beginning of the briefing Ms. Okabe had indirectly apologized, saying
reporters would be "watching in their rooms."
Now the under-attended humanitarian briefing about
converted into the forum for the full Council's scripted "remarks to
press." UK Ambassador Sawers showed himself -- he did not go to the
rostrum or consent to taking questions -- while France's Ambassadors
LaCroix were nowhere to be seen. The U.S., it was said, was represented
Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, with Susan Rice being in Washington, most
Once Heller left the stage, Inner City Press asked
Amin Awar about a
comment Amb. DiCarlo had made, that IDP camps that do not comply with
international humanitarian law should only be funded for so long. Amin
said that UNHCR has to be there, that there may be bilateral talks he
privy to. Video here,
from Minute 27:25.
On the elevator going down to the UN lobby, he told
Inner City Press
that in Washington earlier in the week he had met with Inter-Action and
to Congress along with NGOs. Inner City Press asked him about reports
government of Sri Lanka is funding DC-based firm Patton Boggs to
interests. I didn't know that, Amin Awar
said. And so it goes at the UN.
We continue to wait for the
UK's formal answer to the first of the two
questions which Inner
Press asked the UK Mission to
the UN two questions on Sri Lanka early on April 15:
Does the UK
believe that international law and the
rights of UN humanitarian staff are being violated by the
detention of UN staff in the Sri Lankan government's “IDP” camps?
this press time nine days later, the formal answer has been
referral to Minister
Miliband's April 12
statement, and this.
On April 21, Inner City Press put the question to U.S. Ambassador Susan
Rice, whose spokesman the following day cleared this response:
"UN personnel should have freedom of movement and be treated with
respect." But they are still detained as of this writing. As more
answers arrive or are released we will report them on this site.
It has been reported
this morning that Sri Lanka's “minister also told the
Foreign Secretary that there was concern that the LTTE would
consolidate its fortification of the No-Fire Zone.” Please confirm the
of that, and of this
and if so, does the UK interpret it as saying that
an offensive on the No-Fire Zone and the civilians in it will begin?
the UK Foreign Secretary say?
for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters
footage, about civilian
in Sri Lanka.
Click here for Inner City
Press' March 27 UN debate
Click here for Inner City
Press March 12 UN (and AIG
Click here for Inner City
Press' Feb 26 UN debate
12 debate on Sri Lanka http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17772?in=11:33&out=32:56
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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Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an
undefined trust fund. Video
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