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On Sri Lanka, UN Can't Say How Many Died, Nor If Ban Called for Ceasefire

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 17 -- With the UN accused in Sri Lanka of funding prison camps, ineffectual efforts at a ceasefire and leaving civilians to fend for themselves, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky faced and dodged questions on Monday. He did not say how much the UN spent on the internment camps, nor explain the UN's silence after its estimate of civilians deaths was leaked to Inner City Press in March 2009.

Nesirky said that Ban "made energetic efforts" to protect civilians. Inner City Press asked if that included calling for a ceasefire, and if not, why not. Video here, from Minute 20:23. Nesirky simply repeated the line about energetic efforts.

Asked another question about establishing an inquiry as he did after the killing of 150 people in Guinea, Nesirky insisted that Ban has been pursuing accountability since his trip to Sri Lanka, and will "soon" named a panel to advise him. But the trip was a full year ago. Only on March 5, 2010 did Ban say he would name a panel "without delay -- and ten and a half weeks later, he has not done so.

Nesirky repeatedly insisted there is no way to know how many civilians were killed. But Inner City Press reported, and reminded Nesirky, that a leaked Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs document counted 2,684 civilians deathly only between January 20 and March 7, 2009.

  Inner City Press asked if the UN has other similar documents in its possession, if so why they have not been released and will they be released? Nesirky said he would look into it, but insisted that body counts are almost impossible.

  Inner City Press asked, if the UN produces casualty figures in for example Sudan and the Congo, why not Sri Lanka? Video here, from Minute 36:25.

UN's Pascoe and Holmes on May 22, 2009, response to ICG not shown

 Nesirky said you cannot compare, it "depends on the circumstances." One wanted to ask, depends on the political circumstances?

Footnote: the UN and Ban backed down, in the view of many, in the face of push back by Sri Lanka and certain of its allies which have a say in Ban Ki-moon's second term. Recently Sri Lanka's Mission to the UN has taken to trying to intimidate journalists, e-mailing abusive letters even during the middle of the UN's noon briefings.

  One wonders if the Mission will do the same to all those journalists who asked about Sri Lanka killing civilians during Monday's briefing: from France, Lebanon (comparing Sri Lanka to Sudan) and the Balkans (comparing Sri Lanka to Srebrenica). We'll see.

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On Sri Lanka, ICG Calls for Investigation of UN Inaction, Ban Panel Still Delayed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 16 -- At the one year anniversary of Sri Lanka's bloodbath on the beach, the UN which pulled out of Kilinochchi before the slaughter, then funded internment camps for Tamils after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's "victory tour," has come under questioning.

  Inner City Press on May 14 asked UN spokesman Martin Nesirky when Ban would follow through on his intention, announced on March 5, to name a panel of experts to advise him on the issue, and whether Ban's delay was now related to Sri Lanka's belated unveiling of its own "mechanism."

  Nesirky called the mechanism -- dismissed by a slew of human rights groups -- an "interesting development," but said that Ban is independent.

  Now, the International Crisis Group is calling for an inquiry into the UN's own behavior, for an inquiry into "the conduct of the UN during the last year of the conflict, examining the UN’s September 2008 withdrawal from Kilinochchi through to its ineffectual attempts to push for a ceasefire and its involvement in Sri Lankan government internment camps."

  This is from an early copy of ICG's report to be released on May 17. [Full disclosure - the ICG report has a citation to Inner City Press.] ICG's President Louise Arbour said, "The scale of civilian deaths and suffering demands a response. Future generations will demand to know what happened, and future peace in Sri Lanka re-quires some measure of justice." Amnesty International has damning findings, though unlike ICG, under embargo until May 17.

UN's Ban, his HRC, Arbour and HR in background even then

   Meanwhile Sri Lanka's Mission to the UN attacks Inner City Press -- click here for coverage in Sri Lanka of the first leter of new Deputy Permanent Representative Bandula Jayasekera -- as Perm Rep Palitha Kohona lounged around in the General Assembly on May 14 waiting to speak about Somalia piracy. THe air was of impunity, as both Ban and GA President Ali Treki offer assurances of inaction to Kohona and the Rajapaksa administration. One can ask the UN to investigate Sri Lanka -- but who will investigate the UN?

From the UN's May 14 transcript

Inner City Press: A week ago, you’d said that the wheels were, are turning and fully, well-oiled for this visit by Mr. Pascoe to Sri Lanka. Has there been any progress on that? Because the most recent reporting from Colombo is that he won’t be going until June, and there seems to be a controversy of whether now Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General, will now await to see how this mechanism, late announced mechanism by the Rajapaksa Administration, how that works out before he moves forward and names his own panel. Is that, that seems to be inconsistent with this idea of no delay. Can you say if there is any relation between the mechanism announced last week by the Rajapaksa Administration and the Secretary-General’s 5 March stated goal to name his own panel?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: The Secretary-General remains committed to the panel of experts and setting it up without delay. That remains the case. And as for Mr. Pascoe’s visit, that’s being worked on. I can’t say exactly when it will be, because that’s still being worked on. But it’s in the works.

Inner City Press: And [inaudible] without delay is not changed by this announced mechanism? It’s not that it will be delayed until the mechanism is established?

Spokesperson Neskirky: Obviously, that is an interesting development. But it doesn’t impinge on the Secretary-General’s own stated aim of setting up a panel of experts which would report to him. It’s a separate matter. But, obviously, it’s an interesting development, the news that we’ve heard from Sri Lanka in the last few days on this separate internal, if you like, domestic undertaking. But the Secretary-General’s is a separate matter, as we have said.

We'll see. Watch this site.

* * *

On Sri Lanka War Crimes, US' Rice Supports UN's Ban, So Panel Without Delay?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 13 -- U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told the Press on Thursday, "the Secretary General has a very constructive and worthy interest in accountability inside Sri Lanka and we support his leadership in that regard." Video here, from Minute 8:46.

  For two months the Sri Lankan government has lobbied against UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's March 5 announcement he would "without delay" name a panel of experts to advise him about war crimes in the country.

  Last week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced the country's own "mechanism" to look at "lessons learned." When US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice on May 10 issued a statement welcoming and setting benchmarks for the Rajapaksas' mechanism, without mentioning Mr. Ban's proposal, it brought into question whether the U.S. supported Ban's move toward outside review.

  Inner City Press on May 11 sought comments from Ambassador Rice and the State Department, and from Human Rights Watch. The latter responded first, by way of Tom Malinowski, HRW's Washington Advocacy Director:

Sri Lanka has a long history of failed commissions of inquiry and there is no indication that this one will be any different. Everyone should be asking what happened to the committee Sri Lanka established in response to the October US State department report. The members of that inquiry were initially supposed to report in December 2009 and then in April, but nobody has heard from them since. The Sri Lankan government launches these efforts from time to time not because it wants to bring out the truth, but because it wants to delay calls for an international investigation. There is no reason to let this process play itself out again to its inevitable, inconclusive end before calling for an independent, international inquiry, which is realistically the only way forward.”

  On May 13, after Ambassador Rice spoke of positive developments in the UN Human Rights Council since the U.S. joined -- she did not mention the flip of the EU proposed resolution about the killing of civilians by Sri Lanka's government into one praising and demanding resources for the government -- she took four questions, about Libya, Iran and at the end, Sri Lanka.

US Rice and UN Ban, action on accountability not yet shown

  Inner City Press asked Ambassador Rice to clarify her May 10 statement -- does the U.S. support Ban Ki-moon's stated intention to without delay name a panel to advice him on war crime in Sri Lanka, or does the Sri Lankan mechanism replace that?

  "As I think you know, Matt, my statement didn't address that one way or another," Ambassador Rice began. Yours "is a different question. Why don't you ask that question, instead of asking me to reinterpret my statement?"

  The question re-asked, Ambassador Rice said that "the Secretary General has a very constructive and worthy interest in accountability inside Sri Lanka and we support his leadership in that regard." Video here, from Minute 8:46.

  From the US Mission's transcript:

Inner City Press: can you clarify your statement Monday on Sri Lanka. I just wanted to know, were you saying in that, does the U.S. support the Secretary General’s call to, without delay, appoint a panel to advise him on war crimes in Sri Lanka or was this saying that the Sri Lankan somehow replaces that?

Ambassador Rice: As I think you know, Matt, my statement didn’t address that one way or the other. It was a statement about the Commission that had been established within Sri Lanka, and I didn’t comment on the Secretary General.

Reporter: Do you support the Secretary General’s position?

Ambassador Rice: I think the Secretary General has a very constructive and worthy interest in accountability inside of Sri Lanka, and we support his leadership in that regard.

Ironically, a senior Ban administration official on May 11 told Inner City Press, in light of Ambassador Rice's statement, that Ban would now wait to see how the Sri Lankan mechanism developed before acting on his stated intention to name his own panel "without delay." Now what? What 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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