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At UN, Weakness on Rights Enabled by HRW & Scribes, Sri Lanka's Silva Push

By Matthew Russell Lee, Media & NGO Watch

UNITED NATIONS, February 22 -- How can it be that Sri Lanka thought that the UN of Ban Ki-moon and those who surround and enable it would accept as a member of the UN "Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations" Major General Shavendra Silva, whose Division 58 is repeatedly named in connection with war crimes in Ban's own Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka?

  The answer is multifaceted. Ban has shown himself weak when faced with the pushback of even small states like Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka, if he is not being pushed forward and given scripts by Western powers. (Even then he is sometimes silent.)

  Non-governmental organizations which should be critiquing him, like Human Rights Watch, have decided to go silent and even offer praise and excuses, in exchange for access.

  Much of the press that covers the UN simply takes press releases or spin or "leaks" as news, happy to be able to take credit for stories they did no or little work on.

  Into this morass, four weeks ago Sri Lanka launched Silva as a Senior Adviser to Ban on peacekeeping, after getting Saudi Arabia and Nepal to stand down as candidates.

  Inner City Press, which covered Ban's trip to Sri Lanka in May 2009 when while Tamil children at gunpoint sang Ban's name, Ban waved a blue baseball cap, immediately began to question Ban's spokesman and then member states and other UN officials about how this could be accepted.

  Sri Lanka responded with a letter of complaint, with copies to Ban's spokesman and to UN Correspondents, who made no reaction, having invited Silva and Palitha Kohona to screen in the UN their rebuttal to a war crimes documentary which was not, itself, shown in the UN. But clearly the Sri Lankan Mission and Silva thought the cc's would help them.

  Then Inner City Press asked High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay about Silva, and get her on camera to say she was concerned, and had written to Ban Ki-moon.

  Quickly, some who had done no work on the issues tried to grab it, to save face. But even then Human Rights Watch argued that it was not Ban Ki-moon's fault.

  We disagree: Sri Lanka only had the hutzpa to submit Silva because Ban had shown himself so weak, had in a closed door meet with Mahinda Rajapaksa berated his own staff, as exclusively reported by Inner City Press.

   But Human Rights Watch some time ago decided to go soft of Ban, refusing even to summarize the topics of director's Ken Roth's meeting with Ban. HRW's new UN representative, a French former UN correspondent, selectively doled out information to old office mates, and directly refused to tell Inner City Press the topic of the meeting with Ban he attended, or even to send HRW's press releases.

   His predecessor, who moved on to Amnesty International, was quite different. Is it personalities? Is it the downside of accept a huge contribution from a single donor? Would donors be told the topics of HRW's meetings with Ban?

   Even when, after Inner City Press got on the record quotes of concern about Silva from the Permanent Representatives of Bangladesh, Pakistan and the US, and Senior Advisory Group chairperson Frechette belated said Silva could attend but not participate, the spin game continued, with HRW doling out a quote that media which never worked on the issue dutifully ran.

Silva shakes with enabled Ban, "member states made me do it" (c) MRLee

   This is why Ban's UN for now continues as it does. And it should change. Watch this site.

Update: in interviews conducted Wednesday evening, a range of diplomats predicted "this is not over." A South Asian DPR argued that Sri Lanka will push through the Asia Group for Silva. A Western diplomat said, they'll fight. Another said, the best thing for accountability is that Ban Ki-moon is out of town. It's in this context that this analysis is written - and will be pursued.

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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

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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