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Sri Lanka's Blocking of UN War Crimes Panel Visas Unremarked on by Ban

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 9 -- Following the Sri Lankan government's announcement it will deny visas to the members of the UN Panel of Experts on war crimes, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday afternoon issued a 250 word statement.

  He did not call for visas to be granted. Rather, he emphasized that the panel is “not tasked to investigate individual allegations of misconduct.” So much for accountability.

Contrary to Ban's non-mention of the visas, the chairman of the panel, Marsuki Darusman, has said that to deny visas is “unfortunate” and will make truth finding more difficult. Ban's Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq on July 8 told Inner City Press that the decision to seek visas will be entirely up to the panel:

Associate Spokesperson Haq: the Secretary-General has made it absolutely clear that the Panel of Experts he has appointed on accountability in Sri Lanka is advisory and not adversarial in nature. So that’s it on that. Yes.

Inner City Press: Actually, just on that statement, does the non-hindrance of the work of the UN include granting? Is he calling for the granting of visas to these advisers, the advisory Panel, the three members? Is that included in the definition of the work of the UN?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: What I have is what I have just said. That’s the sum total.

Inner City Press: What does “work of the UN” mean?

Associate Spokesperson: The work of the UN means the work that we need to do, however it is defined. In the case of visas, it’s up to the Panel members themselves to determine whether they need those visas to go about their work. As my colleague made clear a few weeks ago, that’s not a requirement for their work, but it’s up to them to determine whether they need it.

Inner City Press: But the Chairman, [Marzuki] Darusman, has already said it’s unfortunate that they’ve said that they won’t get a visa. It seems pretty clear that they want one. I’m just trying to just, since you’ve just read the statement, understand what it means. Does he want the visas to be granted?

Associate Spokesperson: No, no. What he is asking for is for us to go about our work. At this stage it’s up to the Panel to determine what they need to do, and we’ll see, we’ll judge cooperation with the Panel as that proceeds. Obviously what we want is for the Sri Lankan Government to cooperate with all the work of the UN, including the work of the advisory Panel, as needed. But it’s up to the Panel to determine what their needs are.

  But why, then, did the UN the next day emphasize the weak mandate, and therefore needs, of the Panel?

Footnote: Sources in Colombo inform Inner City Press that the UN has told its staff in Sri Lanka not to fly the blue UN flag on their vehicles, not to wear UN t-shirts and the like.

UN's Ban & Sri Lanka foreign minister, May 2009 - when did discussion of downsizing UNDP Center begin?

  Here is the statement:

Following his decision yesterday to recall the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Colombo and close the UNDP Regional Centre in Colombo, the Secretary-General calls again upon the Government of Sri Lanka to take urgent action to normalise conditions around the United Nations Offices in Colombo so as to ensure the continuation of the vital work of the Organization to assist the people of Sri Lanka.

The Secretary-General believes the strong reaction to his establishment of a Panel of Experts on accountability in Sri Lanka is not warranted. The United Nations has consistently held that this Panel has been set up to advise the Secretary-General with regard to taking forward the objectives of the Joint Statement of 23rd May 2009. These objectives include the further fostering of reconciliation and related issues as well as reflecting the commitment by Sri Lanka to the promotion and protection of human rights and the importance of accountability in order to continue the strengthening of peace and development in that country. The United Nations recognizes that the responsibility in this regard is that of the Government of Sri Lanka. The Panel itself will advise on the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience relevant to an accountability process. It will be a resource available to assist the Government of Sri Lanka and the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation in applying the international best practice in this regard.
New York, 9 July 2010
In response to a previously asked question, the Spokesperson clarified that the panel was not tasked to investigate individual allegations of misconduct.

* * *

In Sri Lanka, UNDP Center Was Already Being Downsized, Ban's Act Overplayed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 9 -- The seemingly decisive response by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Sri Lanka government supported detention of UN staff turns out, a day later, to have largely been already planned, then cynically over-promoted. The UN's headline shouted, “Secretary General Closes Regional Center in Colombo Following Disturbances in Sri Lanka.”

But on July 9, Inner City Press asked Ban's Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq to confirm that this action on the UNDP Regional Center has already been planned. Haq, reading from prepared notes, admitted that the “downsizing” of the UNDP Regional Center had already been “discussed with the foreign minister.” Video here, from Minute 14:01.

  Haq insisted that the full closure was decided by Ban Ki-moon himself in direct response to the inability of UN staff to do work. But the UNDP Regional Center was not the building surrounded by Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa and his entourage.

Protest at main UN building, separate UNDP Regional Center not shown

  Inner City Press pointed out that Ban's spokespeople routinely turn back questions about anything involving the UN Development Program, whether irregularities in its programs in North Korea or its Administrator Helen Clark being listed as a sitting official of a non-UN system group by saying, “Ask UNDP.”

 So how could Ban close any UNDP facility in the world by his own decision?

  Haq said the Secretary General had already had discussions with UNDP on this. The question is, when? Watch this site.

* * *

UN's Ban Belatedly Ascribes Siege to Sri Lanka Government, But Won't Call for Visas for UN War Crimes Experts Panel

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 8 -- A week after the UN characterized as “individual” Sri Lankan government minister Wimal Weerawansa's urging that UN staff be taken hostage until the UN advisory panel on possible war crimes in the country be disbanded, on July 8 Secretary General Ban Ki-moon belated deemed “unacceptable.. the unruly protests organized and led by a cabinet minister of the Government.”

  Ban recalled his resident coordinator Neil Buhne, who had declined comment while his stage were blocked in the UN building, and announced he had decided that the UNDP Regional Center in Colombo will be closed. The role of UNDP's Administrator Helen Clark or its Executive Board is not clear.

  Inner City Press asked if Ban's “call upon the Government of Sri Lanka.. to ensure continuation of the vital work of the Organization” includes a call that they reverse their announced denial of visas to the members of the experts' group on war crimes.

Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq initially would not say if the “work of the Organization” referred to included the work of the panel, saying that any decision to seek to go to Sri Lanka would be up to the panel.  Video here.

Protest platform at UN, call for visas for panel not shown

 But the panel's chairman Marzuki Darusman has already called Sri Lanka's announced visa denial “unfortunate.”

So is Ban calling on the government to grant the visas? That will be up to the panel, Haq said. Watch this site.

* * *

As Sri Lanka Minister Blocks 150 UN Staff, UN Nambiar Assured by Kohona

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 7, updated -- With 300 UN staff kept out of work in Sri Lanka due to Tuesday's hostage situation, the UN on Wednesday told Inner City Press it had gotten assurances “at a high level” that this would not continue.

  Before Inner City Press could ask if the UN had yet spoke with any of the three Rajapaksa brothers who run the country, UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq specified the “high level” meeting: it was between the “chef de cabinet” of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Vijay Nambiar, and Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative at the UN, Palitha Kohona. Video here, from Minute 9:37.

To some, this is more than a little ironic. After questions about his objectivity and even involvement in the killing of surrendering rebels holding white flags, Vijay Nambiar rather than hold a press conference gave a single TV interview.

In footage never aired by seen by Inner City Press, Nambiar said he was given assurances that those surrendering would be treated in compliance with international law. These assurances were given by two Rajapaksas -- and by Palitha Kohona.
That assurance, as described by Mr Nambiar himself, didn't work out. Why will this one?

Vijay Nambiar, SG Ban and DSG Migiro, protection of UN staff in Colombo not shown

Kohona, it must be noted, approached Inner City Press to deny the timing that Nambiar described. Kohona says he spoke to Nambiar AFTER assurances were given to the surrenderees.

Either way, both Nambiar and Kohona are at least witnesses for any inquiry into this war crime. How can they be the two sides of a conversation meant to protect UN staff from a hostage taking threatened and led by a Sri Lanka government minister?

   Some wonder whether Mr. Ban keeping Mr. Nambiar as his point-man on Sri Lanka, despite the questions raised, doesn't explain why the rest of Ban's staff is seemingly unaware of the troubling scene in Colombo, and why the Ban Administration's excuses for the hostage taking of UN staff by a government minister have been so noticeable, and different from Ban's approach to Sudan or Zimbabwe. Watch this site.

Update: at 2:45 p.m. after his noon briefing response, Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq announced to the Press that while he had said there were 400 staff normally at the UN in Colombo, with a quarter deemed essential, the total number is in fact 200. Noted -- this update was published minutes after Haq's announcement.

* * *

As Sri Lanka Burns UN Ban in Effigy, Some NAM Members Abandon It, UN In Disarray, Kohona Dressed Down

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 6 -- In the wake of the government sponsored or allowed hostage taking of UN staff in Colombo, Inner City Press on Tuesday asked the Permanent Representative to the UN of a major South Asian country if he still supported Sri Lanka's requested Non Aligned Movement statement opposing the UN's war crimes panel.

  We'll just stay out of it now, the Permanent Representative said. He and his Deputy expressed disgust at the Rajapaksas allowing hostage taking at the UN compound, and the burning of the Secretary General in effigy. Photos here. Very stupid, the Deputy called it.

But when Inner City Press late Tuesday asked several senior UN advisers about the hostage taking, they appeared ill informed and in disarray. One of the “Conspirators” portrayed on a sign board in Colombo only asked, “Did they spell my name right?” and thought that the dressing down of Sri Lankan Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona was enough.

  Kohona was back on the scene on Tuesday, in the General Assembly Hall to hear Queen Elizabeth II's speech. Afterward he walked desperately through the hall, looking for hands to shake. They were few and far between. When your government allows the burning of the Secretary General in effigy, it tends to go this way. Ask Omar al Bashir, who still takes Ban Ki-moon's calls.

By day's end the question was, why hadn't Ban Ki-moon yet tried to call the Rajapaksas? Did he think they would not answer?

Siege of UN in Colombo, draft NAM statement not shown

 Was it beneath him, since he was the one burned in effigy? He will meet on Wednesday with Benyamin Netanyahu. And we will try to be there. Watch this site.

Footnote: Inner City Press has obtained, and now puts online as a public service, the NAM draft as of June 30. Click here to view. It is obvious how paragraph 4 conflicts with what's being asked of Ban about the Gaza flotilla attack.

It is a well recognized international norm that in situations where there are allegations or breaches of international law that the country concerned should in the first instance be allowed to conduct its own investigation and to make known its findings.”

Another miscalculation by Sri Lanka. Watch this site.

* * *

Sri Lanka Minister and Mob Hold UN Staff Hostage, Ban Remains Silent

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 6 -- The UN's compound in Colombo has been surrounded, UN staff held hostage by a crowd led by Sri Lankan government minister Wimal Weerawansa. "We warn the U.N. to withdraw the (investigating) panel if they want to get the employees out," Weerawansa told the protesters.

The siege came six days after Weerawansa urged crowds to take UN staff hostage. Inner City Press on June 30 and July 2 asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq for Ban's response.

On June 30, Haq said Weerawansa's threat may have been misquoted, and was in any event merely “individual.”

Inner City Press asked a very senior UN official about the threat and was told it was a “Gandhian” threat.

On July 2, when Inner City Press asked why the UN would minimize a government minister's threat against UN staff as “individual,” Haq claimed that an apology might be forthcoming from the government and told Inner City Press, "I will let you know if something like that comes through."

On July 3, Weerawansa made clear he was not misquoted, and the threat was not individual. Inner City Press published stories on July 3, 4 and 5. Ban Ki-moon, in Jamaica, said nothing. Haq and his Office sent nothing.

On July 6, UN staff were taken hostage, and the Sri Lankan government did nothing to stop it.

UN's Ban portrayed by Rajapaksas, staff as hostage not shown

   It is called a government endorsed and protected action against UN staff.

While Weerawansa and some Sinhalese activists are calling on Ban to be “impeached” for his belated and begrudging naming of a panel to advise him on Sri Lankan war crimes, others including UN staff and supporters point to other reasons: the inexplicable delay, and this failure to perform the most basic part of the UN S-G job, to protect or at least speak up for UN staff in the field. Watch this site.

* * *

Sri Lanka Army Claims Dutch Ambassador Support Despite EU Human Rights Cut of GSP Plus Concession

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 5 -- As the European Union cut off Sri Lanka's trade concession on human rights grounds, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense claimed that EU member (and World Cup semi finalist) The Netherlands “appreciates the diplomatic and strategic position upheld by the Government of Sri Lanka with respect to the pressure exerted by certain countries in connection with the internal political issues of the country.”

This appreciation was sourced to Leoni Cuelenaere, The Netherlands' Ambassador to Sri Lanka in a July 2 meeting with Sri Lankan Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne, and was placed on the government's web site and numerous other sites.

Since this seemed a strange position for an EU member to express, email inquires were made with Leoni Cuelenaere, resulting in an electronic reply that “as you can imagine, I said nothing of the kind!”

But why, then, has not The Netherlands and the EU more publicly sought a retraction from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense and the other sites which have carried and are carrying this presentation of The Netherlands' position?

Leoni Cuelenaere and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, no correction shown

  Similarly, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Jamaica, he has said nothing about Sri Lankan Minister Wimal Weerawansa's threat to take UN staff in Colombo hostage. Ban's Associate Spokesman has said that Weerawansa's call was only as an individual, despite his position with the Rajapaksa government.

 But now that Weerawansa has said he was officially speaking for a political party that is part of the Rajapaksas' coalition, the National Freedom Front, one expects at least a correction, and more substantively some defense of UN staff, from the Secretary General. We're still waiting.

* * *
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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