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As Sri Lanka Names Its Own Palihakkara as Investigator, UN Panel Would Not Look at UN's Role in War Crimes

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 19 -- As witnesses testify that orders to execute prisoners came from the top of Sri Lanka's government, the UN on Wednesday couldn't confirm it is even following the issue. Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky about the much publicized report on UK Channel 4. "I would have to check with colleagues if they are aware" of the report, Nesirky said.

Inner City Press asked if the panel that Ban said ten and a half weeks ago would be named without delay would have jurisdiction to look into the UN's own role, described by the International Crisis Group, in war crimes in Sri Lanka. Video here, from Minute 11:12.

  No, Nesirky in essence replied. He said the panel would only "advise the Secretary General on the extent to which a domestic inquiry in Sri Lanka would meet normal standards." Thus, the delayed Ban panel would not, even if named, be responsive to the calls for investigation made by ICG, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others.

  On BBC, Louise Arbour of ICG said the government violated the laws of war by blurring the line between combatants and civilians, and that its killings of civilians were not accidents. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's Number One Ambassador to the UN who is apparently letting his Number Two run wild or play bad cop, said he had read the ICG report -- the UN has apparently not finished it -- but that any outside, independent investigation would be "colonial and paternalistic."

  But how could a panel now named by Mahinda Rajapaksa investigate war crimes claims made against his own brother? On the panel is Kohona's predecessor as Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, who defended the blood bath on the beach as it took loomed and took place. See video here (March 26), here (April 22, and Inner City Press' Q&A report), and here (June 5).

   Would the UN accept, for example, Sudan's UN Ambassador investigating claims against Omar al-Bashir?

UN's Ban and
Palihakkara- credible investigation not shown

  Against this backdrop, Nesirky has in two days not provided any of the answers he promised on Monday, including how much the UN spent on Sri Lanka's internment camps, and with what safeguards if any. There has still been no response from the IRIN or Ban's office to what's described as censorship of the ICG report by the UN's IRIN news service.

From the UN's May 19 transcript:

Inner City Press: on Sri Lanka, I wanted to ask, there is a report since our last interchange on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, citing senior military commanders, that there were orders from the top to kill surrendering soldiers or hardline elements of the Tamil Tigers, saying these orders came from the top, that “we were to leave no one alive”. What I am wondering is, in light of this still either delayed for 10 and a half weeks — however you characterize it — appointing of a panel to advise Ban Ki-moon on accountability in Sri Lanka, are they aware of this report? Does it make it go faster, and would that panel have jurisdiction to advise the Secretary-General on the UN’s own role in, as we discussed, leaving Kilinochi, an ineffective call for a ceasefire, and funding internment camps as ICG [International Crisis Group] has alleged?

Spokesperson: On the specific news report that you are referring to on Channel 4, I would have to check with colleagues whether they are aware of it. I do not know the answer to that right now. On the broader question, the Panel of Experts will have the role to advise the Secretary-General on what the standards are for a credible domestic investigation or inquiry. In other words, to address the question of accountability that has been discussed very often. So it is a very specific aim, to advise the Secretary-General on the extent to which a domestic inquiry — meaning in Sri Lanka — would meet normal standards, widely-held standards, for that kind of investigation. So it is fairly specific.

Inner City Press: And if you don’t mind, since on Monday, I think, you had said that the Secretariat was going study this International Crisis Group report, which actually made some allegations or called for an international inquiry into the UN’s own conduct. What is the UN’s response to that? Do they think that is appropriate? Given that this Panel would not even do that if named, what is the UN’s response to Louise Arbour and the ICG’s call for an inquiry into the UN’s own actions in this matter?

Spokesperson Nesirky: As I mentioned, and as you have pointed out, we said that it is being studied in some detail and that remains the case.

Watch this site.

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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.

* * *

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.

 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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