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As Sri Lanka Spins, UN Slow and Silent on Why Stopped Counting the Dead

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 25, updated -- Eighteen hours after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Sri Lankan minister G.L. Peiris, Inner City Press asked him how the meeting had gone and what he had said. His associate spokesperson Choi Soung-ah cut in, "We'll get you a read out... We have a read out for today."

But Sri Lanka's Mission to the UN put out their spin on the meeting before eight pm on Monday, four hours after it ended. Why would the UN delay twelve hours and counting?

Perhaps in the nature of a read out, Ban advisor Nicholas Haysom went on the record to say "there are times when, on grounds of safety, you have to make tough calls about whether and when to remove international staff, or even national staff, and yet how to continue to deliver humanitarian aid, and we've had to do this in Afghanistan."

  But the question is not only the UN pulling out of Kilinochchi, it is also the UN stopping preparing estimates of civilians being killed, after the government expressed anger at the leak of one such report (to Inner City Press). By contrast in Afghanistan, the UN provides estimates of and statements on the killing of civilians.

UN's Ban and Peiris: one issues a read out, the other doesn't

  If Haysom is going to be providing the UN's response to the International Crisis Group's call for an international -- and independent -- investigation of the UN's role in war crimes, he should come and do a briefing and take questions. More importantly, Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar should at last answer questions about his role. We will await the UN's belated read out.

Update of 2:20 p.m. -- even at Tuesday's noon briefing, no UN read out of the meeting with Sri Lanka was given. Nor, even after eight days, was any response ready to the International Crisis Group report. A question about Mr. Nambiar, however, was asked, and was strangely referred out by the UN. We will have more on this.

Update of 11:37 p.m. -- long after close of business on Tuesday, the read out below was received:

Subject: Readout
From: Associate Spokesperson
Date: Tue, May 25, 2010 at 10:53 PM
To:Inner City Press

Dear Mathew,

I'm told you asked for the readout of the SG's meeting with the Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs. Sorry you didn't receive it but you should've asked me right away after I told you this morning that we have it in the office. Here it is:

Readout of the Secretary-General's meeting with the Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka

24 May 2010

The Secretary-General met with the Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka Pieris today. They discussed issues of common interest and in particular the situation of persons displaced during the conflict, national reconciliation and human rights accountability.

The Secretary-General noted the establishment of the Sri Lanka Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation and indicated to the Minister that he is continuing to work on establishing a Panel of Experts to advise him on the commitment made by the Government of Sri Lanka in this regard.

* * *

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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