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On Sri Lanka, UN Did Not Recuse Nambiar, UK Supports Ban Panel, Peiris Waits

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 26 -- As questions mount about the role in crimes of war in Sri Lanka of both Vijay Nambiar, the chef de cabinet of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Sri Lankan diplomat Palitha Kohona, the UN on Wednesday said that in setting up the long promised UN group of experts, "it’s not as if it’s simply the Chef de Cabinet. And it’s not something that involves directly -- the setting up of that panel clearly does not directly involve the Sri Lankan Mission itself."

But when Inner City Press earlier asked what steps had been taken toward actually setting up the group of experts that Ban announced back on March 5, the answer was a meeting between Nambiar and Kohona. Asked if there are any UN provision for recusal from setting up a panel to investigate deadly incidents by those involved or witness to the events, the UN spokesman did not describe any safeguards.

Meanwhile, the UK Mission has provided the following read out that Inner City Press requested:

I asked the Ambassador for some feedback on his meeting with the Secretary-General regarding the issue of Sri Lanka which you had mentioned to him when you saw him earlier in the week.

He did raise the issue of Sri Lanka in his discussion with the Secretary General and assured him that the UK Government fully supported his proposals for an accountability process to look into allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law and this included the proposed panel of experts.

   Inner City Press had asked Ambassador Lyall Grant if there was any change in position on Sri Lanka as power shifted from Gordon Brown and his Foreign Secretary David Miliband to Cameron, Clegg and Hague. Miliband, now running to replaced Gordon Brown as head of the Labour Party, has Tweeted that the new government should act on the International Crisis Group report. We'll see.

  Sri Lanka's Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris continues his war crimes defense tour, now in Washington waiting to meet with Hillary Clinton on Friday. Since the Sri Lankan Mission's read out of his meeting with Ban cited US Ambassador Susan Rice as supporting the Rajapaksas' mechanism over any outside one, what Hillary Clinton will say is a matter of some interest.

UK's Lyall Grant and US' Susan Rice, UN Sri Lanka panel positions not shown
 From the UN's May 26 transcript, video here from Minute 12:40

Inner City Press: yesterday you repeatedly said to me, “check, listen to Al Jazeera” on the question I was asking about what the Secretary-General — what, you know, what he rejected and what Mr. Nambiar, that the allegation that he said he totally rejected. So, I did, I did, it wasn’t easy, but I’ve listened to what Mr. Nambiar said. And I have to say it still gives rise to questions. There are two, and I’ll just, there are two that really come to mind. He acknowledges that he was contacted, he says through UN Headquarters by a Sunday Times correspondent, through the UK Foreign Office and UN Headquarters of the desire to surrender of these LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] leaders. And he says he spoke with the President, the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and Palitha Kohona, who is now the ambassador here, and that they said that they would be treated like normal war criminals. I mean, excuse me, they will be treated like normal prisoners of war – I want to be clear on that. He doesn’t say how this was conveyed back to the people who surrendered. He doesn’t say, and I think it would be important to know who in the UN Headquarters was part of this chain of communication and it’s unclear to me why, given both Mr. Nambiar and Mr. Kohona were the ones discussing the accountability panel that Ban Ki-moon is setting up if they, at least, you know, again without casting aspersion on them, there are factual questions about a possible problem, that Philip Alston is looking into. So, how is it not a conflict of interest to have Mr. Nambiar or Mr. Kohona being the ones to discuss the composition in terms of reference of a panel that is dealing with exactly the incident in which they were involved by Nambiar’s own statement to Al Jazeera? Sorry.

Spokesperson: What do you mean, “sorry”?

Inner City Press: No I’m sorry to put those all together; I just wanted it sort of a package question.

Spokesperson: It’s okay, it’s okay. Firstly, there are a lot of very specific questions that I do not have the answer to. So I can seek those to the best of my ability and the ability of my colleagues. The second is that the panel of experts that’s being put together, this is not simply in the purview of the Chef de Cabinet. Of course, there are other people involved in this, and not least the Secretary-General because it is the Secretary-General’s panel of experts. So it’s not as if it’s simply the Chef de Cabinet. And it’s not something that involves directly — the setting up of that panel clearly does not directly involve the Sri Lankan Mission itself. This is the Secretary-General’s panel of experts.

Inner City Press: Are there any provisions for sort of recusal? In the case of, sort of, at any type of UN inquiry, if — and again, I’m trying to be very careful here, I am not trying to say that — I am just saying that this is an incident that would fall within the purview even of the lessons learned in the reconciliation commission of Sri Lanka, this incident that Alston has asked about in which prisoners who surrendered with white flags ended up dead. If, as Mr. Nambiar — I had never heard of Mr. Kohona being involved and giving the assurances — but if he is, it just seems that there should be some, you see, this is the type of thing that, for example, [Luis Moreno] Ocampo [Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court] has criticized Sudan for — allowing those accused of crimes to be involved in Sudan’s own inquiry. He said that’s laughable. But it seems here, and I don’t want to be, it’s a, there obviously, it’s apples and oranges, but just in terms of involvement in the incident to be looked at, and involvement in setting up the inquiry to do it, I just wonder if you are… comfortable…

Spokesperson: As I’ve said, it’s not as if this is being somehow done in isolation. There are other people involved within the United Nations to establish that panel of experts. But the other questions, I’ve heard them and we’ll see what we can find out.

Watch this site.

* * *

On Murders after Surrender, UN's Nambiar Muses on Crossfire, Speaking With Kohona

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 25 -- Beyond the allegations of the UN being complicit in war crimes in Sri Lanka, made by the International Crisis Group, there is an additional question about UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar role in convincing Tamil Tiger leaders to surrender, which led to their summary execution.

  Mr. Nambiar's belated defense is that they may have been killed in crossfire or by the Tamil Tigers. He says he was given assurances of "normal" treatment by Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaka and Palitha Kohona -- to whom Mr. Nambiar continues to communicate on the very topic and composition of the group of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka. This is a total conflict of interest.

  On May 24, Ban Ki-moon reacted "angrily" when Inner City Press asked about this and three ICG allegations, saying, "I totally reject all that kind of allegations." Video here, from Minute 38:07.

  Two minutes later, in response to a second question from Inner City Press about the ICG report, Mr. Ban said, "I rejected it? I don't know I ever said I reject it." Video here, from Minute 40:07.

  On May 25, Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said that Ban was rejecting the allegation that went beyond the ICG report: the question about his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar. So Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: Philip Alston has said that a number of LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] leaders who were, came out to surrender after having spoken with Vijay Nambiar, the Chief of Staff, were in fact — he believes, Alston believes — summarily executed by the Sri Lankan Government. So the question is... what was Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar’s role in encouraging them to come out?

Spokesperson Nesirky: The Chef de Cabinet has talked about this publicly and made clear that this was, that he had no direct contact with the people who were being asked to surrender. He had no direct contact with them. He spoke to the Sri Lankan leaders and was conveying a message that was relayed to him not by someone from the Tamil community. I will be able to give you the exact ins and outs if you need it, but he has spoken publicly about it.

Inner City Press: I really try to cover it very closely. I’m not, I’m not…

Spokesperson: Yes, yes he has. He did so quite recently in an interview with Al Jazeera.

  Thereafter, Nesirky declined to summarize what Nambiar had said, or to make Nambiar available for questions. He said, "Ask Al Jazeera." So Inner City Press did.

  What follows is a transcription sent to Inner City Press on this point. We will have more on this.

UN's Ban and a pensive Nambiar, transcription now shown

Q: ...role you played in negotiations for the surrender of many of the Tamil leaders at the time. What was agreed?

Mr. Nambiar: As you know both in April and May of last year the UN had made strenuous efforts in order to try and see that the civilian population would be safeguarded from some of the difficulties, the tragedies of the conflict that was taking place. Now, when I went in May during my second visit, the extent to which I was involved in this was a telephone conversation, a telephone message I got from a Sunday Times correspondent through the UK Foreign Office and through the UN headquarters where I was asked to check with the Sri Lankan authorities regarding the possible protection could be given to two of the Tamil leaders... When I received this call, I said that I will make an effort and contact the government authorities, which I did, the same day that is I think it's the 17 and 18 of May. I went and I spoke to the foreign secretary at that time, Mr. Palitha Kohona, the defense secretary, and subsequently I spoke to the president also. So, I raise this question …the Sunday Times correspondent talked about their wanting to surrender…they may want to do it to a third party…afraid for their lives…so I raised this with them and suggested …the response from them was that they would be treated likes normal prisoners of war, if they raised the white flag they would be allowed to surrender. Now that is the extent to which I was involved.

Q: This is what President of Sri Lanka told you..

Nambiar: Yes…the president also in response to my statement, he said the same thing, as did the foreign secretary and the Defense Secretary.

Q: They specifically said they would treat them…

Nambiar They just made…they just responded in the manner, they would be treated like ordinary prisoners of war.

Q: Since you spoke to so many people and parties that were involved, why do you think things went wrong?

Nambiar: I might add that this is only one of the issues that I raised…discussing a whole…the question was that the what happened in the heat of the war I am not aware of, it was something which we had no first hand knowledge about…there have been discussions of this in the press and subsequently there have been some comments make by the Sri Lankan leaders also about whether or not they could have been killed in the crossfire, there was one person who also suggested they said perhaps he could have been killed by LTTE themselves who were not interested in their people could have been killed by the Sri Lankan forces, we are not in a position to make any assessment, certainly I am not.

Q: Also speculation …coordinated execution while trying to get rid of other remaining leaders of Tamil Tigers…

Nambiar: I am not in a position to comment on that, because I don’t have any independent knowledge.

Q: All these are possible…

Nambiar: I don’t have any information on that…

Q: Maybe then investigation is necessary?

Nambiar: This is of course not for me to mention, there has been calls for this kind of investigation and it's for the member states to decide…

  There is more. For now it should be noted that a television interview is not an investigation. It is easy to say that they were "killed in the cross fire" or by the LTTE.

  This is what an investigation is for -- also, to determine how Mr. Nambiar conveyed back the assurances he received from Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaka and Palitha Kohona -- to whom Mr. Ban continues to converse, as does Mr. Nambiar, on the very topic and composition of the group of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka.

   This is a total conflict of interest. An external, independent investigation is needed. When Mr. Nambiar says "it is up to the member states," it is in the context of confidence that those who threatened to veto putting the Sri Lankan "bloodbath on the beach" on the Security Council's agenda could likewise block any Council action. This is known as impunity. More to follow, watch this site.

* * *

On UN Role in Sri Lanka War Crimes, Ban Rejects Then Denies Rejecting Allegations

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 24 -- "I totally reject all that kind of allegations," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Press on Monday, responding to a question about the UN's involvement in war crimes in Sri Lanka. Video here, from Minute 38:07.

Two minutes later, in response to a second question from Inner City Press, Mr. Ban said, "I rejected it? I don't know I ever said I reject it." Video here, from Minute 40:07.

  Inner City Press had initially asked Mr. Ban about the International Crisis Group report, which even in the Executive Summary calls for "an independent international inquiry into... the UN’s September 2008 withdrawal from Kilinochchi through to its ineffectual attempts to push for a ceasefire and its involvement in Sri Lankan government internment camps."

  Would the group of expert Ban committed eighty day ago to name to advise him have jurisdiction over the UN's own actions and inactions?

   Beyond "totally reject[ing]" ICG's criticism of the UN's and Ban's performance on Sri Lanka, Ban said that his panel would only address "international standards" applicable to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission belated announced by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

  To some, there was a parallel: Rajapaksa rejected any allegation that his soldiers killed civilians, before conducting any investigation. And at Monday's press conference, Ban Ki-moon totally rejected ICG's call for an "inquiry into... the UN’s September 2008 withdrawal from Kilinochchi through to its ineffectual attempts to push for a ceasefire and its involvement in Sri Lankan government internment camps."

   To these, Inner City Press added the issues raised by Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar's still murky role in encouraging the surrender of rebel leaders who were then summarily executed. Video here, from Minute 37:16.  In fairness, this may have thrown Ban off and led to the rejection then non-rejection.

   But the UN's own Special Rapporteur Philip Alston has asked the Rajapaksa government about this -- presidential brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been accused of ordering the killings -- but has yet to ask the UN's own Vijay Nambiar. Alston's mandate expires in June. So who will investigate? Especially after Ban's "total reject[ion of] all that kind of allegation"?

UN's Ban and Mahinda Rajapaksa, united- in "total rejection of allegations"

   After Ban announced his intention to name a group of experts "without delay," the Rajapaksa government protested, including seeking and obtaining -- albeit in a late, "non-objection" portion of a NAM meeting in New York -- a letter from the Non Aligned Movement that told Ban he had no jurisdiction over human rights.

  While some Ban advisors have said they disagree with the NAM letter's logic, the Ban Administration never publicly rebutted the reasoning. And now eighty days have passed without Ban naming even the group of experts.

  On Monday, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban why he has delayed these eighty days to pass. With Ban slated to meet with Sri Lanka's Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris later on May 24, he said that the delay was "not based on pressure of Sri Lanka."

  Reading from notes, Ban said he would discuss "accountability.. reconciliation... and improving the conditions" for people, nearly entirely Tamils, in the UN-funded camps. Ban and his advisors should know the G.L. Peiris has publicly refused to provide any timeline for resettling the people still in the camps, and he said that Ban should not even name his group of experts. Some ask where does Ban Ki-moon stands, does he reject or not remember rejecting?

Footnote: Inner City Press, which covered Ban's trip to Sri Lanka last May and has asked follow up questions at the UN since, had its request to Sri Lanka's Mission to pose questions to Minister Peiris ignored and thus denied. It was sent to Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona, a former UN staffer, but was not responded to. A Mission staffer said arrangements, including invitations to journalists who have never written about or been to Sri Lanka, were coordinated by Kohona's Deputy, who now sends Inner City Press repetitive and abusive e-mailed every day before the UN noon briefing. 
  On Monday, two Mission staffers shepherded G. L. Peiris around the UN on Monday, from BBC to Reuters, and then on to Ban Ki-moon. There is a 3:15 "photo opportunity" and Inner City Press has a right to be there. Watch this space.

* * *

As Sri Lanka Names Its Own Palihakkara as Investigator, UN Panel Would Not Look at UN's Role in War Crimes

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 19 -- As witnesses testify that orders to execute prisoners came from the top of Sri Lanka's government, the UN on Wednesday couldn't confirm it is even following the issue. Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky about the much publicized report on UK Channel 4. "I would have to check with colleagues if they are aware" of the report, Nesirky said.

Inner City Press asked if the panel that Ban said ten and a half weeks ago would be named without delay would have jurisdiction to look into the UN's own role, described by the International Crisis Group, in war crimes in Sri Lanka. Video here, from Minute 11:12.

  No, Nesirky in essence replied. He said the panel would only "advise the Secretary General on the extent to which a domestic inquiry in Sri Lanka would meet normal standards." Thus, the delayed Ban panel would not, even if named, be responsive to the calls for investigation made by ICG, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others.

  On BBC, Louise Arbour of ICG said the government violated the laws of war by blurring the line between combatants and civilians, and that its killings of civilians were not accidents. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's Number One Ambassador to the UN who is apparently letting his Number Two run wild or play bad cop, said he had read the ICG report -- the UN has apparently not finished it -- but that any outside, independent investigation would be "colonial and paternalistic."

  But how could a panel now named by Mahinda Rajapaksa investigate war crimes claims made against his own brother? On the panel is Kohona's predecessor as Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, who defended the blood bath on the beach as it took loomed and took place. See video here (March 26), here (April 22, and Inner City Press' Q&A report), and here (June 5).

   Would the UN accept, for example, Sudan's UN Ambassador investigating claims against Omar al-Bashir?

UN's Ban and
Palihakkara- credible investigation not shown

  Against this backdrop, Nesirky has in two days not provided any of the answers he promised on Monday, including how much the UN spent on Sri Lanka's internment camps, and with what safeguards if any. There has still been no response from the IRIN or Ban's office to what's described as censorship of the ICG report by the UN's IRIN news service.

From the UN's May 19 transcript:

Inner City Press: on Sri Lanka, I wanted to ask, there is a report since our last interchange on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, citing senior military commanders, that there were orders from the top to kill surrendering soldiers or hardline elements of the Tamil Tigers, saying these orders came from the top, that “we were to leave no one alive”. What I am wondering is, in light of this still either delayed for 10 and a half weeks — however you characterize it — appointing of a panel to advise Ban Ki-moon on accountability in Sri Lanka, are they aware of this report? Does it make it go faster, and would that panel have jurisdiction to advise the Secretary-General on the UN’s own role in, as we discussed, leaving Kilinochi, an ineffective call for a ceasefire, and funding internment camps as ICG [International Crisis Group] has alleged?

Spokesperson: On the specific news report that you are referring to on Channel 4, I would have to check with colleagues whether they are aware of it. I do not know the answer to that right now. On the broader question, the Panel of Experts will have the role to advise the Secretary-General on what the standards are for a credible domestic investigation or inquiry. In other words, to address the question of accountability that has been discussed very often. So it is a very specific aim, to advise the Secretary-General on the extent to which a domestic inquiry — meaning in Sri Lanka — would meet normal standards, widely-held standards, for that kind of investigation. So it is fairly specific.

Inner City Press: And if you don’t mind, since on Monday, I think, you had said that the Secretariat was going study this International Crisis Group report, which actually made some allegations or called for an international inquiry into the UN’s own conduct. What is the UN’s response to that? Do they think that is appropriate? Given that this Panel would not even do that if named, what is the UN’s response to Louise Arbour and the ICG’s call for an inquiry into the UN’s own actions in this matter?

Spokesperson Nesirky: As I mentioned, and as you have pointed out, we said that it is being studied in some detail and that remains the case.

Watch this site.

 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.

* * *

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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