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On Sri Lanka, UN Won't Answer Questions, Its IRIN Censors Criticism of Ban?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 18 -- With the UN under fire for its role with respect to war crimes in Sri Lanka, the UN has apparently taken to censoring reports which raise the question, while leaving those questions it does in person take unanswered more than a full day later.

  On May 16 the International Crisis Group e-mailed to the Press its reports calling 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."

  Inner City Press reported on this call on May 16, and at the next day's UN noon briefing asked Martin Nesirky, the spokesman for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to respond to those three points. Nesirky said the report would have to be studied, but committed to get for example the dollar figure spent by the UN on the camps.

  Prior to the May 18 noon briefing, Inner City Press learned that the UN affiliated IRIN News service had "spiked" a story about the ICG report, allegedly because the Government of Sri Lanka had refused to comment on the report.

  Nesirky at the May 17 noon briefing, however, tried to deny Inner City Press the right to ask about this presumptive censorship. "Only one more questions," Nesirky declared, pointing at another correspondent -- who in turn ceded this final question to Inner City Press.

  Why is there a limit on questions, Inner City Press asked. I can end the briefing when I want to, Nesirky said. Based on the previous day, he knew there were questions to be asked. Inner City Press asked him to confirm or deny the censorship by IRIN of a story critical of his boss' performance on Sri Lanka.

  "Ask IRIN," Nesirky twice said. Inner City Press emphasized that the allegation made to it of UN censorship redounds against Ban Ki-moon, not the acronym of IRIN. "Ask IRIN first," Nesirky said, ending the press conference. Video here, at end.

UN's Ban under M. Rajapaksa's gaze, IRIN and answers not shown

  Inner City Press did ask IRIN, and its parent the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

Please on deadline confirm or deny that IRIN spiked and/or declined a run a piece about the ICG report on Sri Lanka and the UN's role;

unless you deny, please confirm that the reason was the Gov't of Sri Lanka's failure to provide comment, which ICG asked for from them three weeks ago;

and please comment on why this IRIN decision is not... censorship.

At yesterday noon's briefing, several questions around about OCHA's performance in Sri Lanka, and ICG's critique of inter alia the pull out from Kilinochchi and the funding of internment camps. Some of the question are below, from the transcript. A request was made for John Holmes to come and take questions on these topics. In the interim, please provide OCHA's response to the ICG report, as the Spokesman did not, 24 hours after the questions were asked.

Although each of these was on deadline, the response received stated that "IRIN does NOT in general tend to write stories on things like ICG or HRW types of reports, because they already get good pick up, and IRIN per se would have little to add."

But as ICG itself points out, IRIN routinely writes about ICG in connection with other countries and even on more positive stories about Sri Lanka.

In fact, IRIN recently published a story about Sri Lanka called "Some Kind of Peace." But ICG's report about war crimes was not covered, it says, because the Government of Sri Lanka would not comment. (It was perhaps too busy writing abusive letters and more to journalists.)

Ban Ki-moon on March 5 said he would name a group of experts to advise on war crimes in Sri Lanka, with out delay. It is now May 18 and no panel has been named. A report critical of his performance has been constructively censored by the UN, and his spokesman has not answered basic even financial questions in more than 24 hours. What was that again about "without delay"? Watch this site.

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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.

* * *

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.

 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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