On Sri Lanka, UN
Dodges on Satellite Cover-Up and Arrest of Staff, UN TV
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
May 2 -- As in Sri Lanka death and disappearances continued last
week, in New York the UN Secretariat dodged questions after question
on the topic, apparently wishing that the government would just
“finish the job,” as one UN official put it to Inner City Press.
At the UN's noon media briefing on Monday,
April 27, Inner City Press
asked the first
question of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele
City Press: On Sri Lanka, I wanted to know in light of the
Secretary-General’s announcement last week that there will be a
mission into the conflict zone by a humanitarian assessment, is that
going forward or has it, as some of the reports have it, been blocked
by the Government?
Monas: This is what John Holmes is trying to arrange.
City Press: Currently, it was announced that it had been agreed to. Was
it then un-agreed to?
Montas: It was agreed to. We don’t know where things are at this
point. Mr. Holmes is there and he is the only one who has the answer
to your question.
City Press: And just also on Sri Lanka, I learned, and maybe you
won’t know this off hand, but that in late 2008 two UN staff
members were arrested by the Government. It now seems or I have been
told and the UN didn’t say anything publicly, but some think
they’re still being held. One is a UNHCR protection officer in
Vavuniya; and the other one is a UNOPS driver; both arrested by
Spokesperson: I don’t
have that information. We can certainly have it for you. All I can say
is that right now we have 13 staff members who are in
the zone of conflict; and that is really all I have.
But the UN had more than
13 staff members in the conflict zone -- it's
that at least 13 were detained in the government's IDP camps. On the
two arrests, two days later John Holmes said that was the first he had
heard of it.
UN's Montas and Holmes, answer in UN staff
arrested in Sri Lanka not shown
April 28, Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas:
City Press: I wanted to know if the UN has any response to the
Government’s barring and denial of a visa to the Swedish Foreign
Minister. There was a three-country team there. Does the UN think
that was a useful move?
Spokesperson: We don’t
have any reaction at this point on this.
City Press: And Mr. Holmes had announced a $10 million CERF grant to
Sri Lanka. Given the issues that have arisen about the camps and
detention and lack of freedom of movement, [are] there any kind of
conditions on that money? And was there any development on the 13 UN
staff members still held in the camps?
Spokesperson: We have no
new development on the 13 staff members. They are still
there. I can also add that Mr. Holmes stressed yesterday -- when he
spoke publicly -– he stressed with Government officials the need
for a humanitarian pause to conduct an assessment of the conflict and
to bring in emergency supplies, including food and medical supplies.
And he also asked for access to the screening points and the need for
the release of those 13 UN staff members, and approximately 207
members of non-governmental organizations who are also trapped in the
area. But you can ask further questions. In terms of the Fund
itself, you can ask Mr. Holmes tomorrow, since you’ll get a chance
to talk to him tomorrow afternoon.
City Press: Maybe I didn’t understand correctly, but when Mr.
[Vijay] Nambiar [the Secretary-General’s envoy to Sri Lanka]
returned, it seemed like the Secretary-General put out a statement
that there had been a commitment by the Government to allow a
humanitarian team into the conflict zone. Since it hasn’t happened
yet -– and there’s some confusion about what was actually
committed to -– I just want to ask again if it’s at all possible
to have some opportunity with Mr. Nambiar that he speak to the press
and say what took place over there. Since he was the envoy.
Spokesperson: I think
what Mr. Nambiar has said was reflected in the statements we
put out. He had received the agreement of the Government. So I
don’t have any further comments on that. In terms of what had
actually happened since Mr. Holmes met with the President, you can
ask your question to Mr. Holmes.
City Press: But Mr. Nambiar -– since Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari [and
other] various envoys that the Secretary-General sends, they almost
always brief the press. And you always say, “We’ll make the
request”, and then they’re possible. Is there some reason -–
can Mr. Nambiar brief or can he give some statement of why he’s not
Spokesperson: He doesn’t
have to do it, you know. Everything he said was
reflected in the statements we put out.
the salary of a UN Under Secretary General, and the urgency of the
situation in Sri Lanka, “he doesn't have to do it.” On Wednesday,
April 29 Inner City Press asked Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq
City Press: I wanted to ask about Sri Lanka first. There is a
controversy about a UNOSAT document that’s come out that the UN had
satellite photographs from Sri Lanka of, it’s called a damage
report of craters in the no-conflict zone caused by artillery. So
some are asking why the UN had these satellite photos and didn’t
release them in this conflict as it did in Gaza and other situations.
Are you aware of it, and can you explain what the policy of the UN
is in releasing satellite photos of conflict zones?
Spokesperson: As far as this particular question goes, I would urge
you to wait until 3 p.m., when you will have John Holmes, who’s
been leading our response to this over the last few days, and he’ll
talk to the press about the situation in Sri Lanka.
City Press: Has he also been in charge of things like this, like the
release of satellite photos by UNOSAT?
Spokesperson: He’s been dealing with the humanitarian issue on the
ground, which is our focus. And so I’d ask you to try him out
City Press: Also on Sri Lanka, can you first of all confirm that the
Secretary-General has been asked to brief the Council tomorrow
afternoon on Sri Lanka? And also, that at the luncheon that you
discussed that the exclusion of Sweden’s Foreign Minister was
raised to Ban Ki-moon, and if so, what’s his position on it?
Spokesperson: I am not aware whether the issue of Mr. [Carl] Bildt
was raised. Beyond that I would suggest that, for questions about
what’s on the Council’s programme, to check with the Council
Presidency whether this will be put on their programme. I do believe
that this is something that some members of the Council have raised,
but check with the Council Presidency whether this is actually going
to be put on the programme for tomorrow or not.
As we'll see -- or, note -- while the Council session did take place the UN did not send
single UN TV camera, and then deflected all questions back to the
Security Council, which has not spokesperson. On Thursday,
Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe
City Press: I wanted to –- there’s this controversy about
satellite photographs that were taken in Sri Lanka from the air, that
UNOSAT, apparently on behalf of UNITAR [United Nations Institute for
Training and Research], got, but didn’t release to the public. So
many people have started to ask, why did they release photos of Gaza,
not of this photo?
tried to figure out yesterday, Mr. [Carlos] Lopes [UNITAR Executive
Director] said he has -– that there was a difference of how the
photos -– who they were produced for. In Gaza, they were made for
donors. It wasn’t clear to me who they were made for in Sri Lanka. Mr.
Holmes said he has no problem with them being released, it’s
up to UNITAR. Who is ultimately –- that’s a UN agency. Who
decides that the photographs should be or shouldn’t be released,
and why aren’t they being released?
Spokesperson: I don’t have anything beyond what Mr. Holmes told
you about this.
City Press: Mr. Holmes threw it back, I guess, to another part of
the UN agencies. So we don’t have UNITAR here every day, so I
guess I’m asking you on behalf of the UN system…
Spokesperson: UNITAR has not provided us with an explanation, so I
recommend that you ask them directly.
City Press: But he answers, Mr. Lopes answers to Ban Ki-moon, right?
It’s a UN…
Spokesperson: I don’t have anything from them, so if you need an
immediate answer, I would suggest you go to them.
By week's end,
no further explanation had been offered, nor photos made available.
May 1 Inner City Press asked Ms. Okabe:
City Press: Yesterday, Mr. Holmes in his briefing of the Council
mentioned his concerns and, I guess, the UN’s concerns about a
memorandum of understanding that the Sri Lankan Government is trying
to impose on non-governmental organizations that will require them to
report information on everyone -- on people that they serve. Can the
UN either provide a copy of the document or say more -- whether it
has accepted conditions like this in any country in which OCHA does
the mediating between NGOs and groups?
also, there was a lack of a UNTV camera yesterday. There was an
informal interactive dialogue at the end of which the President of
the Council came out to make a speech, which he thought was to the
world, but somehow the decision was made not to have a camera. Who
made that decision?
Spokesperson: As you mentioned yourself, Matthew, it was not a
consultation or a meeting of the Security Council, so you’ll have
to address that question to the Security Council President. I can’t
comment on John Holmes’ comments during that session as it was not
an official meeting. It was a closed interactive session, as you
mentioned. And OCHA has provided the update today about the very
dire situation in Sri Lanka. The Secretary-General’s concerns
remain the same on this. So any further conversations about OCHA’s
relations with NGOs, you should probably take up with OCHA directly.
City Press: But the previous informal -- with the same exact format
-- there was a camera and they started at exactly the same time. So
I guess my question is, are you saying that it’s entirely up to the
Spokesperson: Please, address the Security Council on this issue.
And so the week
of UN noon briefings ended with another run-around on Sri Lanka. The
Security Council didn't meet on Friday, and Russia takes over this
month. This is all a new low for the UN Secretariat. Watch this site.
for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters
footage, about civilian
in Sri Lanka.
Click here for Inner City
Press' March 27 UN debate
Click here for Inner City
Press March 12 UN (and AIG
Click here for Inner City
Press' Feb 26 UN debate
12 debate on Sri Lanka http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17772?in=11:33&out=32:56
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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