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In Sri Lanka, Pillay Notes Attacks on Media, But Dubious UN Takes Seriously

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 31 -- As Navi Pillay wrapped up her visit to Sri Lanka today, she read out a prepared statement, three paragraphs we will focus on here.

  She acknowledged what Inner City Press and other reported mid-way through her trip, "namely the harassment and intimidation of a number of human rights defenders, at least two priests, journalists, and many ordinary citizens... people in villages and settlements in the Mullaitivu area were visited by police or military officers [and were] subsequently questioned."

  This treatment is not limited to witnesses; it is often focused on journalists.

  Pillay recounted that "more than 30 journalists are believed to have been killed since 2005, and several more including the cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda - have disappeared. Many others have fled the country. Newspaper and TV offices have been vandalized or subjected to arson attacks some, such as the Jaffna-based paper Uthayan, on multiple occasions.. I have called for the right to Information Act to be adopted like many of its neighbors in SAARC."

  The intimidation of the media and of complaining witnesses is major, and will undermine or call into question whatever oral and then written report Pillay issues about the trip.

  After mentioning this intimidation, surveillance and harassment more than halfway through her statement, Pillay makes this claim: "the United Nations takes the issue of reprisals against people because they have talked to UN officials as an extremely serious matter."

  Not only is this often not true -- the UN cracks down on its own whistleblowers, and not only doesn't provide protection to those in it who are targeted, the UN as time assists in the targeting, ignoring the rights of free speech and free association.

  A UN system whistleblower who exposed UN corruption in North Korea was not only fired, false information about him was leaked by the UN to the New York Times. More recently the UN's Kosovo whistleblower James Wasserstrom, even when he litigated and won a judgment, was not even compensated for his costs, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appealed.

  As regards Sri Lanka, when Inner City Press covered Ban's May 2009 trip to the island (which turned into a "victory tour" of the North), and published a quote from the chief of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes from a clearly on the record session, Holmes response was to say "I will never talk to you again" and for his staff to file a complaint with UN media accreditation trying to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN.

  This complaining to UN Media Accreditation was used in 2012 by the UN's Censorship Alliance, after Inner City Press reported on the background to UNCA's screening, in the UN, of the Rajapaksa government's film denying war crimes. (Click here for an outside report on that.)

  UNCA Executive Committee members from Voice of America, Reuters and AFP among others participated in the campaign; as since shown, Reuters UN bureau chief Louis Charbonneau handed the chief of UN Media Accreditation Stephane Dujarric an anti-Press internal UNCA document, three minutes after promising not to do so. Story here, audio here, document here. Nothing has been done to address this.

  Rather, after Inner City Press quit UNCA and co-founded the new Free UN Coalition for Access, the UN Department of Public Information's response has been to again threaten to suspend or withdraw Inner City Press' accreditation, this time for merely hanging a FUNCA sign on the door of its shared office, while UNCA has five signs and continues functioning as the UN's Cowardice Association, putting other journalists at risk.

  When Pillay's office was contacted about this, their response was simply to note that accreditation was extended (albeit with inappropriate finger-waggling about, among other things, how to cover Ban and his UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous.) So does the UN take these things seriously? Not on this evidence.

  Pillay is to report to the Human Rights Council in late September. Also, as first reported by Inner City Press, Ban is to have something to say about the Sri Lanka (UN) lessons learnt report that is finished but is so far being withheld. Watch this site.


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