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On Sri Lanka, UN Continues to Spin Threat Against Its Staff, From Gandhi to Apology?

By Matthew Russell Lee, News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, July 3 -- When a government's minister openly urges that UN staff members be taken hostage, what does the UN say? If the country were for example Sudan, the UN would immediately denounce it. But Secretary General Ban Ki-moon takes a different approach to Sri Lanka.

  At first this was, sources in the Ban administration said, due to Ban's contacts with Mahinda Rajapaksa back when Ban was South Korean foreign minister. Now added to Ban's reticence is the pro-Rajapaksa positions of Russia and China, either of which could veto a second term for Ban.

  And so we have the absurd result of Ban's spokespeople excusing the hostage taking call by Sri Lankan minister Wimal Weerawansa. Inner City Press asked, and was told by the UN spokespeople that perhaps he had been misquoted. Then that, although a government minister, he had been speaking in his individual and not governmental capacity. Oh that Stanley McChrystal could get away with that one, mused one wag.

   Alongside, and now views as related, there was the lost in translation claim, in which a senior UN official from the region claimed that Weerawansa's call was one for Gandhian non violence.

   Suddenly the Spokesperson's Office reference to misquoting made more sense: if a senior UN official, who inacts with the Spokesperson's office, made the claim that Weerawansa's words were Gandhian, suddenly the later claim that he had been misquoted -- or mistranslated -- makes more sense. But it says much about the advice Ban is receiving.

   In 2009, more than one UN staff member was grabbed up by the government, amid claims of torture. Many more UN staff languished in the internment camps at Vavuniya, with the UN saying nothing about them until exposed. If Sudan grabbed UN staff, Ban and the UN would scream. This is why talk from Colombo about UN double standards is so ironic.

   We can add to this that a political arm of the Secretariat, not directly in Ban's office or even floor of the UN's North Lawn building, has told closed door meetings they were against the formation of the three person panel on war crimes in Sri Lanka, saying it would reduce the UN's “leverage.” Leverage for what?

Protest of UN in Colombo, Gandhian Weerawansa not shown

On July 2, Inner City Press revisited the issue with UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: You’d said earlier in the week there was this idea, this quote by Wemal Weerawansa, that the UN House there should be surrounded and staff kept in until Mr. Ban cancels the panel and whatnot. You’d said that you were checking to see whether he was somehow misquoted. Were you able to determine whether this minister was misquoted? And can you explain how a minister can make, if he is not misquoted, make such a statement and you characterize it as an individual statement when the person is still a Government official?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Certainly, as I mentioned earlier, the Government has assured us that these views did not reflect the policy of the Government. Certainly there have been also no crowds outside of the UN House, which is a relief. Beyond that, we have received some indications that an apology might be in order, and we’ll see whether there is any sort of clarification or apology coming from the Government. I’ll let you know if something like that comes through.

The next day, still no word on apology. One seems unlikely, as the Rajapaksa also let expire a July 1 deadline from the European Union on the GPS Plus trade concession. Now a similar status is under review in the U.S., in response to a petition from the AFL-CIO.

One question is how far China and Russia will in fact go for Sri Lanka. And the position of Japan. These are fears expressed by Ban administration insiders. Watch this site.

* * *

As Sri Lanka Threatens UN Staff, Ban's UN Makes Excuses, Calls It Gandhian

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 30 -- As Sri Lanka's minister of housing called for UN staff to be held hostage until any war crimes inquiry is stopped, the UN in New York made excuses for the threat. Inner City Press asked about Minister Wimal Weerawansa's call for “to surround the UN office in Sri Lanka and trap the staff inside until a decision is taken by the UN Secretary General to dissolve the panel he appointed on Sri Lanka.”

Rather than condemn this call, as it would in Sudan or elsewhere, UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq first told the Press that perhaps the minister had not been “quoted correctly.” Video here, from Minute 10:46.

Next, Mr. Haq said that the Rajapaksa administration had assured that Weerawansa's call was an “individual position.” Inner City Press asked how the UN distinguished between the position of the Sri Lankan government, which has already said it will deny visas to the panel, and that of a government minister. Video here, from Minute 11:59.

The UN House, Haq said, has not reported any mobilization. Who received the assurance? The UN resident coordinator. But isn't he, Neil Buhne, the one who stayed quiet while two UN system staff members were imprisoned and tortured, they said, by the government last year?

Later on Wednesday, Inner City Press asked a very senior UN official about Sri Lanka's threat. This justification was more telling: according to the UN official, Weerawansa's call was really for GANDHIAN civil disobedience, not violence. So the Sri Lankan government is to be praised, then.

UN's Ban and Mahinda Rajapaksa, response to threat to UN staff not shown

Inner City Press asked Haq if the terms of reference of the panel, the preparation of which was offered as an excuse for the 90 day delay between announcing and forming the panel, will be released to the public. No, Haq said, it is an advisory body, not a body outside its advisory function. Video here, from Minute 15:52.

In a new development Haq said that perhaps the panel will not even conclude with a written report. Some terms of reference. Some defense of UN staff. Watch this site.

* * *

Sri Lanka Block of Visas Unfortunate, Darusman Says, UN Says Visit Not Needed, How Panel Staffed Is Unclear

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 25 -- The UN panel on war crimes in Sri Lanka does not need to go to that country, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman has said. But the chairman of the panel, Marsuki Darusman, has now called Sri Lanka's decision to deny him and his two panel-mates visas “highly unfortunate” and a barrier to finding out the truth.

Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky if Ban agrees that the denial of visas to the UN panel is unfortunate. Nesirky would not answer, but rather emphasized again that going is “not necessary... not required.” Video here, from Minute 22:24.

To some it seems that Mr. Ban is back to accommodating Sri Lanka. If a country like Sudan were to deny visas, the UN would condemn it. But because Sri Lanka has blustered every move, Ban is undercutting the panel and its chairman.

Darusman ("unfortunate") at left, Nesirky ("not needed") at right

Inner City Press asked when the three panel members will meet, which will start ticking the four months until their report is due. In the coming month, Nesirky said, in July.

How will the panel be staffed? Nesirky said that these “finer points” have yet to be worked out. This is hard to understand, given that it was back on March 5 that Ban said he would appoint the panel “without delay.” What has the UN been doing? Watch this site.

From the UN's June 25 transcript:

Inner City Press: Did Mr. Darusman, who is the Chair of the Sri Lanka Panel, has been quoted that, of Sri Lanka’s decision to deny him and the other two visas, that the decision is unfortunate, which seems to imply that he wanted to go there, there would be some benefit to going there in terms of carrying out the work of the Panel. So when he said that is he, I guess… what does the UN say that the Chairman of the Panel sees a need to go? You know, yesterday you said, well, they don’t need to go there. Well, the head of the… You didn’t say it that way… I don’t mean to [inaudible]

Spokesperson: No, I didn’t, Matthew, so it’s good if you’re going to paraphrase me to do it accurately. Basically what I said was that it is not necessary for them, it is not a requirement that they go to Sri Lanka. It is not a requirement, and we did talk about how, if they need to be in touch with concerned officials, that they can do, short of actually going to Sri Lanka. I also said, if I remember correctly, that once those three Panel members get together — which they have yet to do — once they do, they will be able to decide for themselves to what extent to be able to do the job the Secretary-General has asked them to do to advise him; they will be able to decide whether they do need to go to Sri Lanka or not. And if they do, then they will ask. But it’s not a requirement for them to be able to do that or to do it.

Inner City Press: Sure, and I’m sorry, and I didn’t mean to — maybe the tone of the voice was wrong. But my question was just, does the Secretary-General agree that it’s unfortunate?

Spokesperson Nesirky: I think what’s important here is simply to be very clear, that this is an Advisory Panel to advise the Secretary-General. It’s not an inquiry, an investigation that’s directed against Sri Lanka. It is not. What it is, is to advise the Secretary-General. And as such, visits are not required. Okay.

Inner City Press: you said they haven’t gotten together yet. Is there any idea of… Just two things; when they actually will get together to start this four-month timeframe running, and also how their work will be staffed. How many staff members will there be? Will there be a recruitment process that will slow down the beginning, or is there already provisions for who, how the group will be staffed?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, my understanding is that the three of them will be getting together relatively soon, within the coming month. In other words, in July — I’m not exactly sure at what point. As to the support that they receive, that will come through the Secretariat, and that’s something that still needs to be worked out, the finer points of that.

* * *

As Sri Lanka Says No Visas, UN Says No Need to Visit or Talk to Witnesses

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 24 -- The government of Sri Lanka has said it will deny visas to members of the UN panel of experts to advise Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on alleged war crimes in the final stage of that country's civil war. Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky for Ban's response to being thus rebuffed. Video here, from Minute 19:42.

It's not a question of speaking to witness,” Nesirky said, emphasizing twice that it is “not an investigation, not an inquiry, not a probe.” The obvious question is, why not? More than a year after thousands of civilians were killed, the UN is only now convening three individuals to advise Ban on what he might do.

  Inner City Press is told that the panel will have staff, to be based in New York. Meanwhile in Sri Lanka, the government is said to be setting up some protests to be held in front of the UN in Colombo. If Sudan were to do this, the UN would denounce it. But here?

UN's Ban & GL Peiris, visa for UN panel not shown

Russia has chimed in, as it did during the conflict, calling the slaughter entirely an “internal matter.” As one wag put it, “They should know.”

Footnotes: The "no visas" announcement was made by External Affairs minister GL Peiris, who twice rebuffed the Press while in the US lobbying against the UN panel. Then, Hillary Clinton stood by Peiris. And now?

  The Sri Lankan Mission to the UN put out the foreign ministry's statement, a day late and in an unwieldy format. The Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona is still apparently not back in New York. Sri Lanka has thumbed its nose at GSP Plus as well. What will happen with the IMF? Watch this site.

* * *
UN Sri Lanka Panel To Include Steven Ratner and Yasmin Sooka of S. Africa, Reconciliation or Accountability?

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive Must Credit

UNITED NATIONS, June 21 -- On Sri Lanka war crimes, sources tell Inner City Press that the three names including not only former Indonesian attorney general Darusman but also American lawyer Steven Ratner, and South Africa's Yasmin Sooka, who served on that country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who was proposed by Ban advisor Nicholas Haysom, also of South Africa.

 According to these well placed sources, and contrary to unsourced reports in the Colombo press, there will be no Austrian on the panel.

After his widely criticized "victory tour" to Sri Lanka last May, during which interned Tamil children were forced to sing for him in the Vuvuniya camp, surrounded by barbed wire, Ban has hounded by calls to follow through on his and Mahinda Rajapaksa's statement at the end of the trip.

On March 5, Ban said he would name a panel to advise him "without delay." Now, belated, he is slated to name the panel this week.

Sri Lanka's banner of UN Ban, with gun, Vavuniya camps

 Sri Lanka is lashing out in advance, even as their ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona chairs an international investigation panel about the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Can you say, hypocrisy? 

  Kohona has also been named by Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar as having provided assurances that surrendering LTTE leaders would be treated in accordance with international law -- before they were killed. Kohona disputes the timing of his communications with Nambiar. 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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