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On War Crimes, UN Ban's Panel May Not Speak to Fonseka or Travel to Sri Lanka, Report May Be Secret

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 22 -- A panel on Sri Lanka war crimes has been named by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the day after Inner City Press exclusively disclosed the names of its three members -- but the panel, it turns out, won't necessarily travel to Sri Lanka or interview any witnesses.

  Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky if, for example, the panel will interview Sarath Fonseka, who served as General in charge during the final stage of the conflict and who has spoken of orders to kill people who surrendered, a war crimes. Video here, from Minute 10:48.

Nesirky replied that "the mandate is such that some of the precise details, the who and how, still need to be worked out." The aim, he said, is to speak with "the concerned officials," and to finish in four months.

Which officials are more "concerned" than President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brothers Gotabaya and Basil, and his Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona, named by Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar as having given assurances that those who surrendered would be treated in accordance with international law -- before they were killed?

   (Kohona disputes the timing of his communications with Nambiar, something that at a minimum one would expect this UN panel to inquire into and resolve.)

Inner City Press asked Nesirky, in light of the European Union's announcement that it will only extended the GSP Plus tariff benefit if the Rajapaksa administration takes specific human rights related actions in the next six months, if the UN believes or wants one of the actions to be cooperation with the UN panel. Video here, from Minute 11:51.

  Nesirky replied, we're focusing on the work of this advisory panel. So much for coordination.

So much, too, for consistency. Murzuki Darusman served on Ban's panel on the death of Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan. That panel's report was released to the public. Darusman came to the UN briefing room on the day of its release, and Inner City Press asked him questions.

In this Sri Lanka case, though, Nesirky would not say if the panel's report will be made public, nor if any of the three members will take questions from the Press.

UN's Ban and Darusman: public report for 1 death, secret for tens of thousands of deaths?

 Inner City Press asked, for example, how Mr. Darusman will handle his four month Sri Lanka focus with his new other job, as special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea / DPRK.

Has Steven Ratner performed any other service for the UN, other than advising Kofi Annan about Cambodia's Khmer Rouge in the last 1990s? Nesirky did not answer any of these. And so we'll add a third, about the third member: is Yasmin Sooka more about reconciliation or accountability?

  Even as Nesirky announced the names, confirming what Inner City Press has asked him on the record the previous day, his Office did not have ready biographies for the three, as is the usual practice.

Later on Tuesday, after Inner City Press asked Nobel laureate and Elder Martti Ahtisaari a question, Ahtisaari said of Sri Lanka that it was sad that in the international community, no one had been prepared to do anything. Sad indeed. Watch this site.

From the UN's transcript of its June 21, 2010 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: I want to ask on this panel on Sri Lanka, can you confirm that beyond Mr. Darusman, that the other two members are Yasmin Sooka and Steven Ratner?

Spokesperson Nesirky: What I can tell you is that we’ll probably be making an announcement tomorrow.

* * *

UN Sri Lanka Panel To Include Steven Ratner and Yasmin Sooka of S. Africa, Reconciliation or Accountability?

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive Must Credit

UNITED NATIONS, June 21 -- On Sri Lanka war crimes, sources tell Inner City Press that the three names including not only former Indonesian attorney general Darusman but also American lawyer Steven Ratner, and South Africa's Yasmin Sooka, who served on that country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who was proposed by Ban advisor Nicholas Haysom, also of South Africa.

 According to these well placed sources, and contrary to unsourced reports in the Colombo press, there will be no Austrian on the panel.

After his widely criticized "victory tour" to Sri Lanka last May, during which interned Tamil children were forced to sing for him in the Vuvuniya camp, surrounded by barbed wire, Ban has hounded by calls to follow through on his and Mahinda Rajapaksa's statement at the end of the trip.

On March 5, Ban said he would name a panel to advise him "without delay." Now, belated, he is slated to name the panel this week.

Sri Lanka's banner of UN Ban, with gun, Vavuniya camps

 Sri Lanka is lashing out in advance, even as their ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona chairs an international investigation panel about the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Can you say, hypocrisy? 

  Kohona has also been named by Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar as having provided assurances that surrendering LTTE leaders would be treated in accordance with international law -- before they were killed. Kohona disputes the timing of his communications with Nambiar. Watch this site.

On War Crimes, US Rapp Says Sri Lanka Panel Doesn't Meet Standards, Ban Names Next Week

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 19 -- Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa administration insists that its panel on "Lessons Learned" is a sufficient response to reports of tens of thousands of civilians killed in the final stage of the conflict last year. On June 18, Inner City Press asked Stephen Rapp, US ambassador at large for war crimes issues, if "Lessons Learned" are enough.

  "Obviously, what's been announced to date has not met the standard," Rapp said. "They're telling use it does have that capacity, to investigate these cases, to follow up and call witnesses. We're hearing it, but we're not seeing it."

  Rapp, whom Inner City Press had previously questioned as prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, said his office will be filing another report with the U.S. Congress by the end of July, on "what has been done." He said, "they will not have concluded their investigation, but we can talk about the standards."

  Surprisingly, while Rapp responded to Inner City Press that he had seen the BBC Hard Talk interview with Gotabaya Rajapaksa, he said he had "missed" the portion in which Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that if former top general Sarath Fonseka testified about war crimes, he would be "hung" as a traitor.

  "He said that?" Rapp asked. "It missed that... Witnesses need to testify freely, without consequences." Yeah. Rapp emphasized that the US is "engaged... Samantha Power was there." Yes, in the run up to the victory celebration.

  UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, who back on March 5 said he would appoint of Group of Experts to advise him on accountability in Sri Lanka, is belatedly slated to name the Group this coming week.

Stephen Rapp in previous role, new US position on Sri Lanka not shown

 Beyond a Austrian member whose nationality but not name Inner City Press has previously reported, an intrepid publication in Sri Lanka has named as a pane member Indonesia's former attorney general Marzuki Darusman.

  While the wires may be crossed -- Darusman was on June 18 named the new Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea by the UN Human Rights Council -- Inner City Press has previously questioned Darusman, after the April 15, 2010 press conference on the Benazir Bhutto report. Darusman told Inner City Press he had not interviewed Mugran bin Abdul Aziz, nor former US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad. We'll see -- watch this site.

* * *

As in Sri Lanka Rajapaksas Threaten War Crimes Witness Fonseka with Death, UN's Ban Ki-moon Has No Comment

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 7 -- The role in war crimes in Sri Lanka of the UN, its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar have been questioned by the International Crisis Group and others.

   Now Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the defense chief brother of Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa, has on film threatened to hang military whistleblower Sarath Fonseka if he dares testify to any independent investigation into war crimes in the country.

  But Ban Ki-moon and his Office, though aware of Gotabaya Rajapaksa's threat, had no comment on it on June 7. Inner City Press asked about Ban's three months delay since March 5, when he said he would name a group of experts to advise him on war crimes in Sri Lanka, and whether Gotabaya Rajapaksa's death threat against witnesses would convince Ban, as human rights groups have concluded based on the history, that a Sri Lankan government self-investigation is not credible.

  Ban's Associate spokesman Farhan Han, while acknowledging that UN is aware of the quote, would not comment on it, and disputed that three months in even coming up with the terms of reference of the group of experts constitutes any delay. Video here, from Minute 15:02.

UN's Ban and Sri Lanka's Kohona, war crimes inquiry not shown

  This is strange, given for example that less than a week after Israel's assault on a flotilla headed to Gaza, Ban's Office says he is already discussing the terms of reference of a panel with Israel's and Turkey's prime ministers.

Is it the UN's documented and alleged involvement in Sri Lanka's war crimes that explains Ban's greater delay and defensiveness about events in Sri Lanka? Haq finally said that "we're very close to announcing names" for the three months delayed Sri Lanka panel. But will they be impartial? Watch this site.

* * *

Sri Lanka's Kohona Denies Assuring UN's Nambiar Rebels Would Not Be Executed, Qorvis told Peiris to Leave NPC

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 28 -- Before surrendering Tamil Tiger leaders were shot to death last year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar says he was assured they would be treated like normal prisoners of war by Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and Palitha Kohona, currently Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN.

  On May 28, Mr. Kohona told Inner City Press that he never provided such assurance. Since this differs from what Vijay Nambiar told Al Jazeera -- see Al Jazeera transcript below -- Inner City Press inquired further.

   Kohona said that he spoke to Nambiar "the day after" -- presumably, the day after Nambiar conveyed the two Rajapaksas' assurances to the LTTE leaders, leading to their surrender and death.

  "I ask you to report my denial," Kohona told Inner City Press. "And say that the other two, you did not have the opportunity to ask."

 As Inner City Press pointed out to him, the questions might well have been put to the Rajapaksas' Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris, but Kohona denied or ignored Inner City Press' request to interview Peiris.

   While down in Washington DC, Peiris had been scheduled to take questions at the National Press Club but walked out before answering a single question. A witness says that just prior to the event, Peiris was audibly told by his and the Rajapaksas' public relations advisors at Qorvis that Peiris might face some "unfair" questions." So Peiris immediately left.

 But Peiris should answer detailed questions, if he is the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs. That is why Inner City Press, hearing of the Sri Lankan Mission's invitation to journalists who have never written about the conflict to wine and dine with Peiris, asked instead to interview him.

  "Maybe if you changed your attitude," Kohona said. "Now that you want me out... maybe I'm going to have to change my approach."

  Already, Kohona's deputy is repetitively sending to Inner City Press letters meant to discourage questioning, right before the UN noon briefings. On May 28, Inner City Press asked a number of Ban Ki-moon / Sri Lanka / panel and Nambiar related questions, and received at least some answers on the former, but no answers to the Nambiar questions. Watch this site.

Al Jazeera transcript:

Q: ...role you played in negotiations for the surrender of many of the Tamil leaders at the time. What was agreed?

Mr. Nambiar: As you know both in April and May of last year the UN had made strenuous efforts in order to try and see that the civilian population would be safeguarded from some of the difficulties, the tragedies of the conflict that was taking place. Now, when I went in May during my second visit, the extent to which I was involved in this was a telephone conversation, a telephone message I got from a Sunday Times correspondent through the UK Foreign Office and through the UN headquarters where I was asked to check with the Sri Lankan authorities regarding the possible protection could be given to two of the Tamil leaders... When I received this call, I said that I will make an effort and contact the government authorities, which I did, the same day that is I think it's the 17 and 18 of May. I went and I spoke to the foreign secretary at that time, Mr. Palitha Kohona, the defense secretary, and subsequently I spoke to the president also. So, I raise this question …the Sunday Times correspondent talked about their wanting to surrender…they may want to do it to a third party…afraid for their lives…so I raised this with them and suggested …the response from them was that they would be treated likes normal prisoners of war, if they raised the white flag they would be allowed to surrender. Now that is the extent to which I was involved.

Q: This is what President of Sri Lanka told you..

Nambiar: Yes…the president also in response to my statement, he said the same thing, as did the foreign secretary and the Defense Secretary.

Q: They specifically said they would treat them…

Nambiar They just made…they just responded in the manner, they would be treated like ordinary prisoners of war.

To be continued - 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.

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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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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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