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As UN Delays on War Crimes in Sri Lanka, New Ambassador Criticizes Press and "Blogging Privilege," Colombo Style

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 10 -- Sixty six days after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he would name a panel of experts to advise him about possible war crimes in Sri Lanka, Inner City Press on May 10 asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky about reports that the panel would only be named, if at all, after his political advisor Lynn Pascoe is allowed to visit by the government. Video here, from Minute 7:44.

  Nesirky responded that the UN's "wheels are still in motion." Inner City Press asked if the Sri Lankan government has put the brakes on the UN's wheels. Nesirky said, "Ask the government of Sri Lanka."

  Barely an hour later, Sri Lanka's new Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN wrote a letter to Inner City Press, cc-ing a UN reporters' group:

From: PA2DPR
To: Matthew.Lee [at]
Date: Mon, May 10, 2010 at 1:25 PM

Mr. Mathew [sic] Russell Lee, Report, Inner City Press

Dear Sir, Pl. find attached, a letter addressed to you by Mr. Bandula Jayasekara, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka.

Hemantha Perera, PA to DPR

10th May, 2010

Ref. Media/2010

Mr. Mathew [sic] Russell Lee, Reporter
Inner City Press, Room: S-453A [sic]
UN Headquarters, New York N.Y. 10017

Dear Sir,

This refers to the question posed by you to Mr. Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for UNSG at the UN daily noon briefing held on 7.5.2010 “In the last 24 hours the Defence Minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has said that anyone that would seek to testify about war crimes by the Sri Lankan Government should be put to death. It’s a capital offence and it’s treason”.

We have inquired into this matter and Mr. Rajapaksa has not, I repeat not, made such a statement. Your question is not based on fact, and is patently mischievous, misleading and incorrect.

We kindly request you to reproduce this letter for the sake of fair play. As a man of integrity, in the media, you should not mislead the people who read your blog. You should not abuse the position of blogging privilege. I sincerely hope you would uphold the ethics of blogging.

Thank you,

Bandula Jayasekara
Deputy Permanent Representative

  There is no problem with publishing the letter -- the letter's and its cc's goal are not clear -- but there is equally no problem with providing the basis of the question: it is on the Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence's own web site.

Bandula Jayasekara and Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother and quote not shown

 Under the a heading "Traitors should be given Capital punishment," a May 7 posting recited that

"'Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa says anyone seeking to undermine Sri Lanka's sovereignty should be treated as a traitor regardless of his or her position. It will be a grave blunder on the government's part to pave the way for the so-called international community to interfere in Sri Lanka, he says. The Defence Ministry says that any Sri Lankan promoting an agenda which is detrimental to the country is nothing but a traitor who should be ready to face the consequences. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa told The Island in a brief interview that traitors deserved capital punishment."

This was also reported by Agence France Presse, which was linked to in Inner City Press' article:

"Fonseka has accused the president's brother, defence secretary Gotabhaya, of ordering the execution of surrendering rebels, a charge he has vehemently rejected. In an interview published Thursday, Gotabhaya said Fonseka was planning to use his parliamentary position to "fast track" and force an international war crimes investigation against Sri Lanka. 'Any Sri Lankan promoting an agenda which is detrimental to the country is nothing but a traitor...,' said Gotabhaya. 'Traitors deserve capital punishment and no one should shed crocodile tears for them," he told the privately-run Island newspaper. 'Those bent on destabilising the country would now exploit Fonseka's parliamentary privileges to fast track their sinister campaign (for a war crimes probe).'"

  Has the Sri Lankan government or its UN Mission sought a correction from AFP, or from the Island, or from its own web site? (In fact, this appears for now 149 times on the Internet, click here.)

  Or is the goal to extend the type of attempted intimidation of the media the Rajapaksa administration practices in Sri Lanka to the United Nations, emboldened by Ban Ki-moon's two month delay in naming the war crimes advisory panel he said he would name? Watch this site.

Footnote: when Bandula Jayasekara arrived at the UN as Palitha Kohona's deputy, Kohona threw a reception in Sri Lanka's high rise apartment. Bandula Jayasekara told Inner City Press that he used to be a journalist, is now a "new school diplomat" and that he would let it all hang out. Apparently he is, with his call to "not abuse the position of blogging privilege." Or what?

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN Soft Pedals Humanitarian Law, Still No War Crimes Panel for Ban Ki-moon after Gota Rajapaksa Threats

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 9, updated -- On Sri Lanka, more than two months after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he would name a group of expert to advise him on possible war crimes, still no panel has been named. Now, the Rajapaksa government of Sri Lanka has announced its own "mechanism."

  The country's Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona told Inner City Press he advised Colombo to better publicize the "mechanism." He predicted that Ban will never actually name a panel. He asked, smiling, "For what? For money?"

  Inner City Press on May 7 asked Ban's spokesman about the panel, and his top humanitarian official John Holmes about restrictions placed by the government, including its rejection of the UN Common Humanitarian Action Plan, which has blocked non governmental organizations from providing assistant in Vavuniya, about the lack of access to those in "rehabilitation" camps, even by the Red Cross, and other restrictions on NGOs. Video here, from Minute 39:09.

  Holmes in his careful answer several times called relations with the Rajapaksa government "difficult" but still tried to make it seem fine, that for example over 10,000 people have been incarcerated without trial or visit for more than a year. He noted that the government threw the Red Cross out of parts of the country, and said he "hoped" they could return, including so that donor money could flow for "decent rehabilitation."

  Holmes estimated the number in the "rehabilitation" camps at 11,000 to 12,000. He said there are still 80,000 in IDP camps, and some 220,000 "returnees." He did not note how few of them could vote, although he seemed to use the elections as the excuse for the lack of humanitarian access. Video here, from Minute 42:24.

UN's Holmes, humanitarian access and war crimes panel not shown

Inner City Press asked UN Spokesperson Martin Nesirky about the

Inner City Press: number of days since the Secretary-General said he was forming this panel to advise him on war crimes in Sri Lanka. In the last 24 hours the Defense Minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has said that anyone that would seek to testify about war crimes by the Sri Lankan Government should be put to death. It’s a capital offense and it’s treason. So I am wondering: this seems like a pretty extreme position in the light of international justice trying to collect evidence of war crimes anywhere. What’s the response to that and what does this “no delay” thing mean now that the panel formation was announced?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well the “no delay” thing means what it says. There is no delay. The Secretary-General is pushing ahead with putting together the panel of experts that we’ve talked about a number of times, here and elsewhere. Not only the panel, but the terms of reference; that is being actively worked on. There is no delay. Okay.

Inner City Press: And then there is no comment on Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s comment that anyone that [interrupted]

Spokesperson: Not at the moment, no.

Update: as quoted by AFP, "Any Sri Lankan promoting an agenda which is detrimental to the country is nothing but a traitor...," said Gotabhaya [Rajapaksa to Sri Lank's The Island newspaper, published May 6]."Traitors deserve capital punishment."

 Inner City Press has conveyed, to the most senior UN officials, how conclusively lame it would appear if Ban never even named this long promised panel to advise himself on possible war crimes in Sri Lanka. It is understand that Ban himself heard this on May 7. Some say the announcement is near. It has already been far too long.

* * *

On Sri Lanka, As UN's Ban Delays on Panel, Pascoe's Trip Delayed For "Goodies"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 5 -- Two months after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he would form "without delay" a panel of experts to advise him on possible war crimes in Sri Lanka, still no such panel has been named.

  In the interim, the UN has said that Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe will travel to Sri Lanka. But that has not happened or even been nailed down yet.

  A senior UN official told Inner City Press on May 5 that they think Sri Lanka is putting off the trip so that they can put certain things in place and show "goodies" to the UN. Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona continues to predict that Ban will never go forward and name the panel. "Ask them why they would name a panel," Kohona has urged Inner City Press, "for anything more than fundraising."

  Inner City Press has put Kohona's question to the senior UN official, who while not confirming that the panel idea is dead or dying, said the UN is happy to think that improvements are being made under the shadow of a visit. In fact, Inner City Press was told that an Austrians national was approached about being on the panel. But two month are two months.

UN's Ban and Pascoe in Uzbekistan, Lankan follow through not shown

  Meanwhile in Sri Lanka itself, the Red Cross still does not have access to the so-called rehabilitation centers, and there are whispers of a slew of babies being born to women who were in government detention nine months before.

  The IMF has delayed the next tranche of its loan, as the government has not followed through on its commitments.

  The so-called CHAP was rejected by presidential brother Basil Rajaksa, NGOs complain. They do not complain loudly, threatened as they are with expulsion from the country. Watch this site.

From the UN's transcript of its April 30 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: This is, it’s now been seven weeks since the Secretary-General said that without delay a panel of group of experts would be named to advise him on accountability in Sri Lanka. It was also said that Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe would be visiting the country. Has a request for Mr. Pascoe to visit been made, and what progress, if any, has there been on naming this group of experts?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: A visit by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, is in the works and is likely to take place fairly soon. We don’t have a date yet, but it’s in, if you like, an active planning phase. So that’s to answer the first point. The second point: the Secretary-General has made clear that this panel of experts will be put together without delay, and I know that that is indeed the case. People are working actively on putting that panel together. It is not complete yet, and neither are the terms of reference. But active work is being done on this and the Secretary-General is very clear that there will be no delay. But it needs to be done properly.

   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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