Sri Lanka, Doctors Detained As
UN's Ban to Visit with Press, Ethnic Aid
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
NATIONS, May 18 – As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon prepares to
visit Sri Lanka May 22-23 in what some call a victory tour, his top
humanitarian coordinator John Holmes acknowledged that in some
previous rebuilding in eastern Sri Lanka, groups of people were moved
into previously Tamil areas. He specified so-called “high security
zones near the port of Trincomalee” as having “issues of that
kind.” Video here,
from Minute 41:51.
City Press, which has now been invited by the UN to accompany Mr. Ban
on his trip, asked Holmes what safeguards the UN has that aid money
and debt relief are not diverted into Sri Lanka's war effort or the
movement of people on an ethnic basis. “We do our best,” Holmes
said. His answer focused on post-Tsunami aid, but Inner City Press is
told that there were few to no safeguards that money freed up by debt
relief was not devoted to the war in the north.
City Press asked about reports that doctors previously in the “No
Fire” zone had been detained by the government for having reported
casualty figures. Holmes answered that “I am aware of stories”
the doctors were “somehow segregated, I can't confirm them, I
believe they may be in the camps.” Video here,
from Minute 35:40.
But Sri Lankan
authorities have confirmed that they have arrested the
doctors, charging them with providing false information. Now what
will the UN do?
Holmes' rosy assumption, since disproved, that the doctors were still
in the general IDP camps, one is not sure what weight to give to his
and the UN's assumption that no live but wounded civilians remain in
the conflict zone. This assumption, as now reported elsewhere in the
media, appears based on Sri Lankan's military drone footage shown to
the UN. And the clock is ticking.
UN's Ban happy in Laos last month, Sri Lanka
May 22-3 not yet shown
Holmes' press conference, Inner City Press sought comment from an NGO
long active in northern Sri Lanka. Nimmi Gowrinathan of Operation USA
told Inner City Press that
“in the coming weeks
the impact on Tamil
civilians of the UN's failure to act will be come increasingly clear.
The UN should act immediately to protect the lives of physicians
currently in military custody and push for a humanitarian
intervention to prevent any further loss of life... Reports claim
that over 20,000 civilians are in need of urgent medical care.
should be given to medical teams of the ICRC, now
waiting just outside of Mullativu. While the longer term issues of
reconstruction and rehabilitation should be addressed, urgent
attention should be paid to the civilian population that now has no
access to proper medical care.”
UN envoy Vijay Nambiar remains in Sri Lanka, it was not clear Monday
what he was doing or raising. Inner City Press asked Deputy UN
Spokesperson Marie Okabe if Nambiar was raising the now-confirmed
issue of the detained doctors. From the UN's
May 18 noon briefing transcript:
City Press: on Mr. Nambiar. Can you say whether while he is there
the issue...there are some saying that there are many people that are
now injured in the (inaudible) care in what had been called the no
fire zone; and that the ICRC has no access. Is this something
that...is this in the case there some doctors who used to report on
the casualty figures who have gone missing as reported in the
Guardian and the Independent. Are these issues, I mean you mentioned
he’s talking about the IDPs instead of post-conflict; what about
people that are actually at this moment sort of dying without medical
Spokesperson Okabe: Well, that’s the subject that I think John
Holmes is going to come and talk to you about right now.
City Press: Burt can you say whether Mr. Nambiar, I guess I am just
wondering... -- John Holmes is not there, Mr. Nambiar is -- is this
an issue that the UN is urgently raising with the Government or not?
Spokesperson Okabe: The Chef de Cabinet’s visit, as we mentioned
to you, focuses exactly on the same issues that I just mentioned;
which are the United Nations’ and the Secretary-General’s
concern. Now, obviously the immediate humanitarian needs on the
ground are the utmost priority for all of us.
what about the doctors? Watch this site – on May 19, Inner City
Press has been told by the UN to seek a visa from the Sri Lankan
Mission in New York.
Ambulance aflame in "No Fire" Zone, May 13, 2009
In the final week of
fighting we ran this message, from Dr. Sathiyamoorthy
Sir / Madam,
battle started since 5.30 am. Many wounded civilians were brought to
hospital and hospital is not providing services because hospital was
under shell attack. Few staff reported duty. nearly thousand patients
are waiting to get daily treatment. But even simple wound
dressing and giving antibiotics problems. So many wounded have to
die. In the ward among patients many death bodies are there.
Looking hospital seen and
hearing the civilians cry really disaster. Did
they make any mistake do the world by the innocent. But the
important sta[keholders] are just listening the situation and not
helping the people.
director of Health Services
(Now at No Fire Zone)
From the UN's
May 14 transcript:
Spokesperson Okabe: ...the very fact
that he’s sending his Chef de Cabinet again to underscore his message I
speaks loudly on what the Secretary-General in his personal capacity is
to do to bring an end to the situation on the ground.
A follow-up on the Chef de Cabinet. There
has been substantial criticism, not just that
because Mr. Nambiar
comes from India, but because his brother, an Indian
General [Satish] Nambiar
recently wrote an op-ed praising the offensive of the Sri Lankan Army
north and General [Sarath] Fonseca who’s led it.
Is the Secretariat aware of this criticism
and how does it address it? Also, that
Mr. Nambiar went before he got a commitment to visit an open conflict
it never took place. What’s the, I
guess, the response and why isn’t Ban Ki-moon himself going if he’s
the French and others have said he should go ASAP?
Spokesperson Okabe: Matthew, as you know
the Secretary-General’s position on going to Sri Lanka has been
this podium many times this week. And
the fact that Mr. Nambiar happens to be of a nationality does not in
get in the way of his work as a UN official. As
you know, everybody from the UN does come from
one country or
another; but once they sign on to work at the UN they go as UN
Isn’t there generally a sort of an unwritten rule of not, for example,
when Mr. Gambari was going to do Nigeria, are you unaware that they see
within diplomats in the UN often say that a person from a country too
a conflict is not the right person to be sent.
Spokesperson Okabe: Mr. Nambiar is not
from Sri Lanka.
May 7, Inner City Press
asked Associate UN Spokesperson Farhan Haq:
City Press: I wanted to ask about this invitation that’s been made
to the Secretary-General to visit Sri Lanka. First I wanted to ask
if on Monday when he met with the Ambassador of Japan, whether he was
briefed on a visit by Mr. [Yasushi] Akashi to Sri Lanka and was urged
by Japan that he should take this visit. And I also wanted to know
whether he would be in New York 11 May for the Middle East debate,
and 15 May to meet with the Chinese diplomats, that in fact this is
one reason that he is considering not going, as I have been told by
senior Secretariat staff.
Spokesperson Haq: Well, first of all, we don’t announce the trips
of the Secretary-General until they are close to occurring. And in
that regard, I don’t have anything to announce about a trip to Sri
Lanka at this stage. At the same time, as Michèle told you
yesterday, and is still true for today, if the Secretary-General
believes that visiting Sri Lanka can have an impact in terms of
saving lives there, he will certainly try to go. So he is
considering that. But part of what he is studying is what the impact
of a potential trip would be.
City Press: But if he had that belief, that would be without regard
to attending the 11 May Middle East thing or the 15 May meeting with
the Chinese diplomats? I am told that’s a major factor in his
Spokesperson: Scheduling is a separate issue. What we’re talking
about is the decision of whether or not to go. And certainly if he
can make a difference and can save civilian lives, which is what his
priority has been on this case, then he will go. At present, we
don’t have anything to announce at all in this regard, though.
Question: Just one last
one on that. I wanted to know, can you at least
confirm that he met with Ambassador Takasu on Monday in his office
inside the Security Council? Can you give a read-out of that meeting
and say why it wasn’t on his public schedule?
Spokesperson: I can confirm that he met with the Permanent
Representative of Japan. He did that, yes. It was in his office in
the Security Council. We don’t provide readouts of meetings with
Question: And why wasn’t
it on the schedule?
Spokesperson: It came up all of a sudden when he had a bit of free
time in between other appointments on a fairly hectic day.
May 8, Inner City Press asked Deputy
City Press: On the invitation by the Government of Sri Lanka to the
Secretary-General to visit, is there any progress in thinking? In
the alternative, is the Secretary-General, is he considering invoking
Article 99 or responsibility to protect or making some other move of
some type on the situation in Sri Lanka?
Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond what we’ve been saying from
this podium this week on Sri Lanka, including what the
Secretary-General himself has said earlier this week.
What Ban said
did not involve calling for a cease-fire. Watch this site.
4 in the UK with allegations of rape and
for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters
footage, about civilian
in Sri Lanka.
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Press' March 27 UN debate
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