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UN: Sri Lanka


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In Sri Lanka Speech, Kerry On Domestic Investigation of War Crimes

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 2 -- When in Sri Lanka US Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech on partnership, he said the following on

"possible cooperation on justice and accountability. Restoring your country’s judiciary is a long-term undertaking that requires high standards for judicial independence, fairness, and due process under the law. Those reforms are often difficult to achieve anyway – we’re still working on some things in our system, believe me; you can see some of it on television – not easy, but it is absolutely essential to be open and honest about trying to do it. Every citizen has a right to seek justice, and every citizen has a right to expect justice for victims of war crimes or crimes against humanity. They’re painful issues; I know that. But if you try to compel people to simply forget the past and try to wipe it away, believe me: They will be more likely, not less, to cling to it. And if you tell them to forego justice under the law, they will be more likely to seek it outside of the law. It will be harder, not easier, to move forward as one country at peace.

"And that is why we hope your government will continue to cooperate with the United Nations as it explores the best way to mount a credible domestic investigation into allegations of human rights abuses – an investigation that meets international standards and at the same time, and most importantly, is legitimate in your eyes, in the eyes of the people here. The United States is prepared to furnish whatever legal, whatever technical assistance, whatever help we can to support Sri Lanka as it moves down this path."

   Note it: domestic, hope for UN cooperation. And what about the UN's now withheld / delayed report on war crimes?

 Earlier when Kerry delivered a thousand words of remarks after his counterpart Mangala Samaraweera the war crimes reports, withheld by the UN for at least six months and previously promised by Sri Lanka's government, were not addressed. Diplomacy may (often) be about emphasizing the positive, but where is the follow-through? Here is a transcription of Kerry's remarks:

"I want to thank the foreign minister for an extraordinarily generous... Mangala has given me a really generous and very personal welcome here today, and it is an historic moment, one that I’m very proud and pleased to be able to share with him. And I’m grateful for his friendship and for the invitation, which he offered me when he came to Washington, to come here today in order to renew the relationship between the United States of America and Sri Lanka.

This is a paradise, a very beautiful island nation. It has enormous assets, wonderful, extraordinary people, and great, great promise for the future. And I pledged to him and to his delegation here today that the United States wants to work with Sri Lankans and help in any way we can to shape the future that the people of Sri Lanka want.

The foreign minister and I last met in February in Washington, and today we talked about the enormous progress that Sri Lanka has made in just a few short months – and progress that can be measured: progress on restoring democratic institutions; progress on creating more accountable governance; the passage of the 19th amendment, in which the president kept his promise to reduce the powers of the presidency and move them more to the people through a broader sharing, is an example of that; progress in combatting corruption; and progress on reconciliation that can lead to a much more enduring peace and to shared prosperity for all Sri Lankans.

So I am very mindful that as I stand here in Sri Lanka, more than 10 years after the tsunami on December of 2004, so many people are suffering in Nepal from the devastating earthquake that struck one week ago. And I want to commend the government and the people of Sri Lanka for quickly sending response teams to Kathmandu. The United States is also mobilizing a major response, but it’s indication of the sensitivity of this government and its sense of responsibility and its desire to be a part of the world community that it responded so quickly.

It is tragedies like the Asian tsunami, of the Nepal earthquake – or the Nepal earthquake – that underscore our need to work together to support one another in times of crisis, yes, but also in times of opportunity. And this is a time of opportunity for Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka today, I think many of us see a moment of extraordinary promise. The foreign minister recently gave a rousing speech to parliament, and I was particular inspired by his statement that the true safeguarding of sovereignty can be achieved only by fulfilling our obligations to our people and by preserving and upholding the multiethnic, multilingual, multi-religious nature of our society.

He emphasized as well the importance of working closely together with other countries and with international organizations. Already we have seen those words actually backed up by actions. That’s what makes this government important, and it’s what makes this government different. Sri Lanka is now playing a role on everything from maritime security and trade to cyber issues and climate change. And I am particularly grateful to the foreign minister for hosting an event on cyber-crime and for taking steps to become the first country in South Asia to accede to the Budapest convention.

But I know that you also have a tremendous amount of work to do here at home. You are working on creating an enduring peace and you’re working on providing prosperity for all of your people. Many challenges and difficult decisions obviously still lie ahead, and we talked about many of them this morning. But one thing that struck me was the readiness of this government to open its doors and to open its minds to different ideas and to new and more effective and efficient ways of doing things.

One thing about this Sri Lankan Government seems very clear: the president and the prime minister and the foreign minister are not afraid of tackling tough issues. They’re willing to make difficult decisions and

they are committed to keeping their promises. We’ve seen that with the 100-day Plan. And as the government heads into the parliamentary elections this summer, Sri Lankans will continue to rely on their tremendous leadership and commitment.

So I am here today because I want to say to the people of Sri Lanka that in this journey to restore your democracy the American people will stand with you. We intend to broaden and to deepen our partnership with you. And to that end, the foreign minister and I agreed to establish an annual partnership dialogue between our two governments. I’ve also asked teams from across our government to mobilize quickly in order to provide technical assistance as the Government of Sri Lanka embraces these important reforms. And we will soon have members of that team from the Treasury Department and from the Commerce Department come here in order to work with the government on the economic measures that could be taken to provide for greater investment and greater growth. And as you know, President Obama recently nominated one of our most talented Foreign Service officers – Atul Keshap – to be our ambassador to Sri Lanka.

So Mangala, thank you again for a very generous welcome. These are very important days here in Sri Lanka. And all of us need to rely on each other and we need to work together cooperatively. That’s exactly how we’re going to forge a stronger friendship, and that’s also how we’re going to forge a stronger partnership and an even better future for both of our countries.

What strikes me about Sri Lanka and the United States – and it got lost in the last years – is that the truth is we want the same thing for our people. We actually share the same values. We have the same aspirations for better jobs, for education, for health, for prosperity, for peace, for stability, for reconciliation. Those are the things that bring us together; that’s what brings me here today. And I’m very proud to be here to help renew the partnership and the friendship between the people of the United States and the people of Sri Lanka. Thank you, my friend."

  And certainly not only the current Sri Lankan government, but those involved in war crimes including the killing of tens of thousands of people in 2009, are thankful for these type of remarks. We'll have more on this.

Back on February 26, 2015, nine days after the UN Human Rights Council under Joachim Rucker granted HCHR Zeid's request to withhold the already delayed report on war crimes in Sri Lanka, the UN added Jaffna as a stop to the Sri Lanka visit by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's highest political official Jeffrey Feltman.

  That came two days after Inner City Press asked if Feltman would go to Jaffna, site of protests of the delay, and was told "Colombo only."

  But when Inner City Press asked the UN on both March 3 and again on March 4 if Feltman while in Jaffna had received what's called the genocide resolution, and what he will do with it, the question went unanswered for a week.

  Until on March 10 when Feltman came to do a too-rare sit down press conference. Inner City Press asked Feltman three questions on Sri Lanka, including about the genocide resolution and deferral of the investigation report. Video here, from Minute 12:19

 On this last, Feltman said the delay keeps the pressure one -- NOT the position the UN takes for example with the African Union's report on South Sudan. This incongruity, like other incongruities of the UN on Sri Lanka, have not been explained.

 On the genocide resolution, he said "I was handed the packet of material but it was not the genocide resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council" but rather the type of issues of the north as represented by their elected would like to see included in any credible accountability mechanism. Video here. Really? We'll have more on this.

  Here is the video of March 3; the March 4 video has yet to be provided and the transcript is not online. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, when asked again, said that Feltman has been asked, if he briefs the Security Council, to come to the Council's stakeout. On no notice? And when might Feltman brief the Security Council about Sri Lanka?

  Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric if Feltman is conveying a weakening of the call for an international inquiry (video here and see below), and Dujarric said to watch what Feltman says in his lone Colombo press availability. How?

  (There's this, from Jaffna, by Feltman's interlocutor. What's wrong with the UN?)

  In any event, since the decision was made by the Human Rights Council in Geneva, how can Feltman be making any representations about what will happen next?

   With the UN yet to send out any of the promised read-outs, even as it sends them out about other countries, this has been reported:

The Under Secretary General for Political Affairs of the UN Jeffrey Feltman who arrived in the island today on a 4 day official visit met with President Maithripala Sirisena and Acting Foreign Minister Ajith P Perera. Following the discussions Acting Foreign Minister Ajith P Perera expressed these views during which he said the calls for an international inquiry against Sri Lanka are weakening.”

  Inner City Press directly asked for the UN's response to this last, but by noon on March 2, nothing. So it went and asked the question.

 On Friday, February 27, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric:

Inner City Press: on this trip by Mr. Feltman to Sri Lanka, I wanted to know:  can you confirm he's meeting with the Tamil National Alliance… that's tomorrow?  And will there be any readouts?

Spokesman Dujarric:  We talked to our colleagues in DPA [Department of Political Affairs] to make sure we can get some readouts e-mailed over the weekend as they happen.

   But more than 24 hours later, after Feltman's meeting with the TNA, there was no read-out.

  Meanwhile it was reported under the headline "UN clarifies the delay" that "the UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, told the TNA that the release of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Inquiry on Sri Lanka (OISL) report on alleged war crimes in the Island was postponed to September this year following the assurance given by the new Government, that it would conduct an internal investigation under UN supervision."

  So since UN DPA is tweeting about Feltman's trip, Inner City Press asked in this same medium, "Press Q: So, did government promise an 'investigation under UN supervision'?"

  So far, no answer. The UN is UNresponsive - click here for that, including with regard to the UN's Censorship Alliance - but we'll stay on it.

  Rucker, speaking in Geneva, has claimed that this delay was "very rational" in a "relatively unique" case. Are all forms of impunity and justice delayed "relatively unique"?

  On February 24, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said:

"Mr. Feltman will then travel to Sri Lanka on Saturday.  There, he plans to meet with senior officials of the Government of Sri Lanka, political parties and civil society groups. This will be his first visit to Sri Lanka, and he looks forward to discussing with Sri Lankan leaders various issues of mutual concern."

  Inner City Press immediately asked Ban Ki-moon's Spokesman Stephane Dujarric if Feltman will at least visit Jaffna in the north, site of protests of UN High Commissioner Prince Zeid's recommendation of the day:

Inner City Press: I want to ask in advance whether he’s going to go only to Colombo or Jaffna where there were pretty big protests over the weekend against the decision to defer that human rights report.  I’m wondering what’s the relationship between his trip and that… the process supposedly in six months to…

Spokesman Dujarric:  My understanding is that he will only go to Colombo to meet with various people.  We’ll get you, as the meetings happen, we’ll try to get you readouts.

 Now, Jaffna has been added. But what will the read-outs be? We'll have more on this

  Back on February 13 after Sri Lanka's new government spoke of doing another local investigation into war crimes in 2009, and asking for a suspension of the UN Human Rights Council process, Inner City Press went to Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera's meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

  No other media at the UN attended; only the UN's own in-house UN Photo and UN TV. But accompanying Mangala Samaraweera were outgoing Ambassador Palitha Kohona and others. Video here.

  Ban Ki-moon, before Inner City Press was whisked out of the meeting, told Mangala Samaraweera he had met him after the tsunami - that is, when Ban was a South Korean diplomat.

  On February 17, after High Commissioner Prince Zeid recomended and got for Sri Lanka a six month deferral of action, Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq, asked of Shavendra Silva by IPS, said

"the Secretary-General is aware that the new administration is planning to set up a domestic accountability mechanism and will be carefully assessing developments.  The Secretary-General, as you're aware, met with the Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka last Friday, 13 February, and stressed the importance of Sri Lanka to show firm and clear commitment to accountability, reconciliation and human rights.  He also encouraged the Government to engage continuously with the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Advancing accountability, like other parts of the post-war agenda in Sri Lanka, will lay the basis for the country to make further progress on peace, democracy and development.  The UN remains committed to support Sri Lanka’s efforts to address the postwar agenda.  The Secretary-General is also aware of reactions from various communities to the decision by the Human Rights Council, and the Secretary-General will positively engage with the new Government and support its efforts."

  This is shameful all around, in light of talk of accountability.

  Last week, the UN's Oscar Fernandez Taranco met the US State Department's Nisha Biswal. Inner City Press asked if it was about Bangladesh, and was told, "in part." Taranco was at Ban's meeting with Samaraweera, here. So was Sri Lanka and the deferral request the other part? Watch this site.

Back on February 12 Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman for the UN's position. Video here.

  First, Inner City Press asked whether Sri Lanka's Palitha Kohona is leaving the UN:

Inner City Press: yesterday, he met with Ambassador Kohona of Sri Lanka.  I couldn't tell if that was a farewell call or not.

Spokesman Dujarric:  It was indeed a farewell call.

Inner City Press:  And did the issue of not pursuing the Human Rights Council investigation into Sri Lanka arise?

Spokesman Dujarric:  It was, indeed, a farewell call.  I mean, the Secretary-General's position on the, on the human rights investigation is unchanged.  He's obviously aware that the new administration is considering setting domestic accountability mechanisms and will be carefully assessing these developments.  The Secretary-General has stressed the importance of Sri Lanka establishing credible mechanisms that meet international standards.  Advancing accountability, like other parts of the post-war agenda in Sri Lanka, will lay the basis for the country to make further progress on peace, democracy and development.  The UN stands ready, as always, to support Sri Lanka's efforts to address the post-war agenda as we have consistently affirmed.

  It's a question that when raised, here, to the US State Department went so far unanswered. New foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera is set to meet with Ban on February 13. Watch this site.

  Back on January 12 the UN said that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made this call:

"The Secretary-General congratulated President Sirisena’s election and the successful conclusion of the presidential election. The Secretary-General and President Sirisena discussed the President’s 100-day plan and Sri Lanka’s post-war agenda. The Secretary-General affirmed continuous support by the UN to Sri Lanka."

  That is, the UN's read-out of Ban's call had no mention of accountability or of the UN Human Rights Council inquiry into the bloodbath on the beach in 2009. We'll have more on this.

 After Mahinda Rajapaksa conceded defeat but before 10:30 pm on January 8 in Washington, US Secretary of State issued a statement, below.

  Inner City Press published it, and asked the UN for its comment. Told to expect one in the AM, New York time, Inner City Press noted, the earlier the better. Twelve hours later, there was nothing.

  So Inner City Press asked again at the noon briefing on January 9, after new President Sirisena's inauguration. UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said the UN welcomes the transfer of power, then later in the briefing read out this statement:

"The Secretary-General congratulates the people of Sri Lanka on the successful conclusion of the presidential election, and welcomes the constitutional transfer of power.

"The Secretary-General applauds the Sri Lankan Elections Commission for its professionalism in ensuring a peaceful and credible election. He also commends the efforts of the candidates, including in particular outgoing President Mahinda Rajapaksa, law enforcement agencies and civil society for upholding and respecting democratic governance.

"The Secretary-General looks forward to working with President Maithripala Sirisena and the people of Sri Lanka. He affirms the continuous support of the United Nations for development, reconciliation, political dialogue and accountability in Sri Lanka."

  Inner City Press immediately asked Haq if what this reference to accountability portends for the UN inquiry into the events in 2009. We'll have more on this.

  Amnesty International has said that "Sri Lanka has for years resisted all international efforts to investigate the conflict years, and instead relied on domestic investigation bodies that toed the government line. This has to end – the new government should cooperate fully with the UN investigation.”

   Watch this site.

  In other possible routes to accountability, talk of seeking justice in US courts as to several joint American citizens in Team Rajapaksa - or on the team during the 2009 "Bloodbath on the Beach" -- has picked up. Some team members have reportedly already left the country: we'll have more on this.



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