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Sept 24, 2013

UN: Sri Lanka


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On Sri Lanka, UN Duo Welcome Report, Silent Like Ban on Nambiar, Silva

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 17 -- When the Sri Lanka report of the UN human rights office was belatedly put online, one searched it in vain for any mention of the UN's own failure and worse, for example in the "White Flag" killings of surrenderees, for whom UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Good Offices envoy Vijay Nambiar, by his own account, acted as intermediary.

  This is not covered, or is covered up, in the UN report.

  So too in the September 17 statement by UN experts Jennifer Welsh (R2P) and Adama Dieng. The day after Ban did not take a Press question about the Sri Lanka report, his two experts "welcome" the report, citing war crimes and the need for reconciliation, but do not mention the UN's role. They should.

  Former UN Ambassador (and staff member) Palitha Kohona is mentioned in the section on Extrajudicial Executions; his deputy Shavendra Silva, who served on Ban's and Herve Ladsous' Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations, is described shelling a hospital which the UN now says had civilians in it. These are war crimes.

 From the new report:

"Major General Shavendra Silva denied hitting Putumattalan hospital and asserted that the facility was only used to treat LTTE fighters, that there were no civilians there. However, this would in no way change the nature of the hospital as a protected objected since LTTE fighters placed hors de combat by sickness or injury could not be targeted under international humanitarian law.  However, testimony collected by OISL strongly contradicts this version of events.  Putumattalan hospital was used to treat civilians, and came under repeated attack."

 On "Allegations of extrajudicial executions in the final phase of armed conflict," the new report says

"Between 16 and 18 May, a number of foreign intermediaries were involved in facilitating communication with senior representatives of the Government, primarily Permanent Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs Palitha Kohona, Senior Adviser to the President Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Communications at this stage also included others, such as senior UN officials and foreign journalists."

  One (UNnamed here) senior UN official was Mr. Nambiar. Were there others? Who were they? This is the UN, "reporting" on itself, as it sloppily did on Haiti cholera, and stands ready to try to do on rapes in the Central African Republic. We'll have more on this.

 The report states, "OISL further concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Government of Sri Lanka possessed the requisite knowledge about the intent to surrender to have been able to convey this to the ground forces in time for them to ensure protection. Intermediaries made multiple attempts and a sustained effort to convince key government figures to allow for independent witness to the surrender, which was rejected."

 On September 16, Prince Zeid came out not for a fully international accountability mechanism, but for a “special hybrid court.”

  In response to generally softball questions, he lauded the new government's approach to the UN. The message, at least to some, is that if lip service is paid to the UN, the push for accountability goes away.

  There is, of course, the shifting position of the US as well.

  Why after all this delay Zeid's office didn't make the report available before Zeid “took questions” is unclear. In fact, the room in Geneva ran out of questions: Zeid left 10 minutes before it was said he had to. But no arrangement was made to take questions online.

  Nor was Zeid asked about the UN's own failings, from leaving Kilinochchi to the White Flag Killings and beyond. The UN's Petrie Report was conveniently forgotten. Notably, the first round of questions included Voice of America, which at the UN tried to get Inner City Press thrown out after it reported on how Sri Lanka's Palitha Kohona, after renting one of the UN Correspondents Association's then and now president Giampaolo Pioli's apartments, was given a UN screening for his government's genocide denial film, "Lies Agreed To," without other (then) UNCA board members like Inner City Press getting to vote. Reuters did the same, and has tried to cover up.

   Overall, if the UN covers up its own acts, like bringing cholera to Haiti and now, under Herve Ladsous, covering up and excusing rapes in the Central African Republic, how can it offer accountability to places like northern Sri Lanka? Zeid said “we” didn't find genocide, and then left the press conference. Lies Agreed To, indeed. We'll have more on this.

 As an aside, OHCHR's role in covering up the first round of Sangaris rapes remains unclear; the report commissioned by Ban Ki-moon has been, what else, delayed. Zeid's deputy in New York picks and choose how and to whom to answer questions, excluding the investigative Press from his briefing on topics like South Sudan (where the UN is under-reporting ceasefire violations). And so it goes.

Back on August 13, 2015, Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about torture in the country - including in 2015. From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: on torture, there’s a report by a group called Freedom From Torture about Sri Lanka, and although some of the witness statements they get are from a previous couple of years ago, they’re actually documenting cases in 2015 even since the election of Mr. Sirisena of the unauthorized detention and torture of people perceived as having been a part of the LTTE in the past.  And I wonder, given the UN’s engagement, what you read out here about the million dollars, about rehabilitation, one of the testimonies is from someone who was, quote, rehabilitated, then released, picked up in a white van, tortured…

Spokesman Dujarric:  I haven’t seen those reports.  Obviously, we stand clearly against the use of torture.

 We'll see.

The UN delayed the war crime report on Sri Lanka until September 16. UN documents leaked to Channel 4 indicate that the UN is trying to undercut that report and support a merely national investigation, or cover-up.

  Inner City Press asked the UN about it on July 30 and July 31, first two responses below, and on August 5 UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric returned with a third response. Third time's the charm? Here's what he said:

And I’ve asked to offer some more details and clarification to the UN’s support to the Government and people in Sri Lanka.

And so as I said last Friday, the UN supports the Government and the people of Sri Lanka in their efforts to advance reconciliation and accountability.  At the request of the Government of Sri Lanka, the UN is exploring the provision of a broad package of technical and financial assistance in consultation with all key stakeholders.  The framework of UN support for peacebuilding in Sri Lanka was presented in Sri Lanka last June by the Resident Coordinator.  And that presentation is available online on the UN’s country office in Sri Lanka and that’s

What is being discussed for support by the Peacebuilding Fund are initiatives to advance the process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka through the resettlement of internally displaced persons, national reconciliation, and the development of credible transitional justice mechanisms in line with international standards.  UN support is always built on the basis of inclusive, transparent and participatory consultations with all key stakeholders.

$1 million has already been disbursed to support resettlement and integration initiatives for the remaining internally displaced persons in the north and east on seized land that has been returned by the Government.  For the rest, the UN continues to consult with the Government of Sri Lanka, and all key stakeholders, to finalize the details of UN support.

The same principle of inclusive, participatory and consultative processes will apply to UN support for the establishment of credible accountability and reconciliation mechanisms that meet international standards.

And lastly, the UN of course believes that there should be genuine and inclusive consultations on a national basis, including the Northern Province, to help arrive at the right model in the Sri Lankan context. Done.  Matthew.

Inner City Press:  Thanks for that.  I’m going to have to, I guess, go over that Sri Lanka statement.

  Here is what Dujarric was responding to: on July 31, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, transcript here:

Inner City Press: yesterday I’d asked you about Sri Lanka and this memo that’s emerged where the UN appears to be working for a purely national mechanism.  And the foreign ministry spokesman there has spoken today about Mr. Feltman’s trip and has mentioned the Peacebuilding Fund.  So I wanted to ask you more specifically, is Mr. Taranco and the Peacebuilding Fund considering funding a purely national accountability mechanism in Sri Lanka contrary to what’s been said here and to the Human Rights Council report that’s due in September?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I think what I can tell you is that the UN supports the Government and the people of Sri Lanka and their efforts to advance reconciliation and accountability as evidenced by commitments made by the Secretary General and during the Under-Secretary-General’s recent visit — Feltman’s recent visit to Sri Lanka.  In this regard, we’re exploring provision of a broad package of technical and financial assistance at the request of the Chief Minister, also including the support of the Northern Province to bolster citizen confidence in the peace process.  What is currently under discussion for support by the Peacebuilding Fund are initiatives to advance the process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka by resettlement of internally displaced persons, national reconciliation, strengthening human rights mechanism, and ending impunity.  The UN support is always based on the basis of inclusive and participatory consultations with all key stakeholders.  And my understanding is that already $1 million have been already dispersed to support resettlement and integration initiatives for the remaining internally displaced people in the north and east on land that’s been… on seized land that have been returned by the Government.  For the rest, we continue to consult with the Government of Sri Lanka and the Northern Provincial Council and all key stakeholders to finalize the UN support.

Inner City Press:  Are you saying this Peacebuilding Fund support is not for an accountability mechanism that would be entirely national, which is the one denounced by the Tamil group that you mentioned?

Spokesman:  You know, I think the… whether there should be domestic or international process, the… I think what we are looking at is obviously implementing projects both with the support of the Government and the Northern Provincial Council.  If I have more, I will share it with you.

Inner City Press:  What about an international mechanism?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, whether it’s domestic or international, that will need to be determined.  We are obviously awaiting the High Commissioner’s report and recommendations to make that decision.

 We'll have more on this.

 Back on July 30, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Dujarric, video here, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: this has to do with the UN’s engagement on the issue of Sri Lanka.  There’s been a… Channel 4 has published what they say is a leaked UN document in which it appears that the UN is preparing to give its blessing to an entirely national accountability mechanism that would involve the National Provincial… according to the document, Northern Provincial Council, Tamil, which they deny that they ever saw it.  They say it’s an outrage and would be a… a… kind of selling out the Human Rights Council and any international mechanism.  I wanted to know, since I saw the pictures of Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman meeting with that group and that there was a lot of discussions of documents going back and forth, is the document referred to by Channel 4 a document that Mr. Feltman had?

Spokesman:  Let me see… I don’t have any language on that with me here.

  Five hours later, no answer from Dujarric - who had, it emerged, provided notice of Ban Ki-moon's visit to the US White House only to the same UN Censorship Alliance president, Giampaoli Pioli, who unilaterally granted a UN screening of "Lies Agreed To" after renting one of his apartments to Sri Lanka's Palitha Kohona. This is today's UN.

Back on June 24, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Dujarric:

Inner City Press: Sri Lanka.  I wanted to get your comment on this, given the Secretary-General's historic involvement.  It's been now confirmed by the Foreign Minister there that the promised internal domestic human rights investigation into crimes in the final stages of the conflict is now not going to take place until September, and now this is being laid off on elections, due to the failure to dissolve parliament.  So, I guess, given that the Secretary-General, it seems, kind of supported the delay, what's the response?

Spokesman Dujararic:  I don't have any language on that, but I will harvest some for you.

  But the language "harvested" did not address the delay. Dujarric's deputy Farhan Haq on June 25 returned with this answer to Inner City Press:

"We were also asked earlier about accountability in Sri Lanka.  I can say that the new Government in Sri Lanka has passed a constitutional amendment which, if implemented appropriately, brings renewed hope for democracy and the rule of law.  In this regard, it is important that the Government consults broadly with all political parties, civil society, and above all victims and their families, to ensure full national support and ownership of these processes.

"The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights remains engaged in discussions with the Sri Lankan authorities on the need for transparent and inclusive processes to develop credible mechanisms for accountability and reconciliation."

  So delaying or even dispensing with the promised domestic war crimes investigation is now OK with Ban's UN? We'll have more on this.

Back in May, with the UN's already long delayed report into war crimes in Sri Lanka postponed until at least September, now one of those most responsible for the crimes in 2009, Jagath Dias of the 57th Division, was named Chief of Staff of the Army.

  One wondered if those recently praising the Sri Lankan government, from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to US Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit two weeks ago will say anything about this.

  On May 18, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq if Ban had any comment on Dias, named in Ban's own report on Sri Lanka, getting this post.

  Haq said to wait and see what the Human Rights Council says -- the Human Rights Council which already delayed release of their report. Video here.

  Dias was ejected from Germany and Switzerland, as a Sri Lankan diplomat, for his past.  At the UN, equally problematic military figure Shavendra Silva at a screening of the Rajapaksa government's war crimes denial film "Lies Agreed To" chided Inner City Press for attribution to him the acts of Dias' 57th Regiment.

  Now Silva is in War College in India and Dias is Army chief of staff. Will anything be said by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid, now embroiled in a scandal about OHCHR's seeming cover up for child rapes by French troops in the Central African Republic, and letting French UN Peacekeepin chief Herve Ladsous try to fire the OHCHR whistleblower? What has changed?

 Inside the UN in September 2011 the government's "Lies Agreed To" -- but NOT "No Fire Zone" -- was screened.  When Inner City Press reported on the screening, then on the background fact that the person who agreed to the screening, Giampaolo Pioli, had previously been the landlord of Palitha Kohona, who as Sri Lanka's Ambassador requested the screen in the UN hosted by the United Nations Correspondents Association, then and now headed by Pioli, demands for censorship and expulsion began.

 Unhappy with Inner City Press reporting, Pioli demanded that the story come down.

  When Inner City Press instead of censorship offered amplifications and to publish a letter to the editor of any length, Pioli rejected it and pushed to get Inner City Press thrown out. After some of this was reported in the media in Sri Lanka, and Inner City Press informed Pioli of this and of death threats it had received, Pioli refused to suspend his campaign, instead trying to use the threats as leverage to get Inner City Press to publish a "box," that he would dictate, on the front of its website.

  In this audio clip, after Inner City Press informed Pioli and other UNCA Executive Committee members that their kangaroo court proceeding had given rise to death threats, Pioli demands a "box of apology... as long as it is Inner City Press."

  This is what UNCA became, the UN's Censorship Alliance, and what it is, and functions as. Inner City Press when its elected term on the UNCA Executive Committee ended quit the group and co-founded the new Free UN Coalition for Access, now defending the rights of journalists from Somaliland to Bangladesh and beyond. We will have more on this.

Pioli & Ban Ki-moon, Sri Lanka war crimes denial not shown. UN Photo/Mark Garten

And it has been on HuffPost Live, here. Watch this site.


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