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Blocked from Sri Lanka, UN Panel Offers Video Conference or Written Questions

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, February 5 -- Seven weeks after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Press that his Panel on Accountability could travel to Sri Lanka due to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's “flexibility,” the UN has sunk so low as to propose a conference call by video, or even just written questions and answer, instead of any visit, Inner City Press has learned.

In interviews with different sides, Inner City Press has learned that a series of options has now been proposed, starting with a visit to New York by Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission.

Rajapaksa's LLRC has said it will only speak with the Executive Office of the Secretary General, not Ban's panel -- the Panel would “sit in” on the talks, was the Sri Lankan proposal.

The UN has also proposed a video conference call, or answers to a series of written questions about accountability. All in all, strikingly different than what Ban claimed on December 17 -- that his panel could go to Sri Lanka -- and that Ban repeated to Inner City Press on January 14.

UN's Ban and his Panel: office of video conference not shown

  After that, and after Ban's Spokesperson's Office refused repeatedly to answer questions about Ban's statement and who he'd spoken with before making them, while on his current ongoing trip Ban gave a speech at Oxford, after which he replied to a question by saying that his Panel “has not yet been able to complete its mission. They are still negotiating with the Sri Lankan Government.”

On February 4, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson's office in writing and in person to explain this statement (as well as Ban's statement that he had been in Sri Lanka twice since May 2009).

The UN did not answer the written questions -- and still hasn't -- so at the February 4 noon briefing Inner City Press asked how Ban's statement squares with the previous statement that travel to Sri Lanka, which has been blocked by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is “not essential.”

Ban's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq answered that Ban's Panel “has been discussing the proper arrangements to see if they can have such arrangements made.”

Haq said that of the Panel that “they do believe it is desirable to travel to Sri Lanka, but not essential.”

Now it seems that the UN would settle for a mere video conference call, or even written answers to questions. How could that constitute “completing the mission”?

From the UN's February 4, 2011 transcript:

Inner City Press: I want to ask on Sri Lanka; there was some quotes given out of Ban Ki-moon’s responses at his Oxford speech afterward. He was asked a question about Sri Lanka, and he said that his panel, quote, “has not been able to complete their initial stage”. I just wanted to know if that’s actually what he said and if that, how that squares with the idea that it’s not essential to go to Sri Lanka.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq: In terms of what he actually said, it’s available in our — if you go to the off-the-cuff part of our website, the questions and answers that he had at Oxford are posted there. So, you could see it that way.

Inner City Press: How does that square with the idea that travelling to Sri Lanka is not essential? Why have they not been able to complete their work, if that’s not the thing missing?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: As you are aware, the panel has been discussing proper arrangements, to see whether it can have such arrangements made. The panel has made it clear that they do believe that it is desirable to travel to Sri Lanka, but not essential. And that has been their consistent position.

  Is it consistent to now be offering video conference or written questions? Watch this site

* * *

With UN Panel Blocked from Sri Lanka, Visit Now Called “Not Essential"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 25 -- After breaking the news that the Sri Lanka Panel of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was being blocked by President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, Inner City Press has repeatedly asked Ban's Spokesperson's Office for comment.

  In particular, since Ban on December 17 and January 14 told the Press the Panel could go to Sri Lanka, Inner City Press every day asked who Ban had spoken to before saying that, and what was said.

On January 25, the UN sent the following:

From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Tue, Jan 25, 2011 at 12:02 PM
Subject: Your questions on the Sri Lanka panel
To: Inner City Press

Regarding your questions about the possible travel of the advisory panel, we have the following to say:

Discussions are ongoing. The Panel wants to engage with Sri Lankan actors relevant to the question of accountability. A visit would be useful but is not essential for the Panel to provide advice to the Secretary-General.

Ban depicted in IDP camp

  If the Panel “wants to engage with Sri Lankan actors relevant to the question of accountability” why did they not even request to interview Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Minister of Foreign Affairs G.L. Peiris, both in the United States this week? Watch this site.

* * *

With Ban Called Weak on Sri Lanka, UN Claims Unfair to Judge, Unanswered Questions

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 24, updated -- With Human Rights Watch today critiquing Ban Ki-moon for “undue faith” in his so called “quiet diplomacy” with Sri Lanka's Mahinda Rajapaksa, the UN's canned response is that Ban "appointed an advisory panel, which will present its report to the Secretary-General soon.  It would not be proper to prejudge the value of its work in promoting accountability and, more importantly, preventing human rights violations in Sri Lanka and other countries in future.  But certainly, we are at work on that."

  But Ban's Panel has been blocked from going to Sri Lanka, despite Ban's December 17 and January 14 statements to the contrary and even praise of Rajapaksa's “flexibility.”

  Ban's approach, in fact, is worse that “quiet diplomacy” - he has actively praised Mahinda Rajapaksa, even as his government blocks any inquiry into the tens of thousands of Tamil civilians it killed in 2009, as detailed for example in The New Yorker magazine.

As Inner City Press has asked questions about Ban's December 17 and then January 14 statements about Sri Lanka, Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky declared on January 21 that he would not answer any more questions from Inner City Press until it somehow “acts appropriately” -- apparently meaning not to ask questions, which is all Inner City Press did on January 21 prior to Nesirky's extraordinary statement.

Inner City Press then submitted to Nesirky and his deputy Farhan Haq a series of factual questions, including about Sri Lanka. Only one question -- not about Sri Lanka, and even then only with a peacekeeping mission's pre-existing and dubious press release -- has been answered. Nesirky did not show up for the January 24 UN briefing, leaving Haq to read out the above quoted response.

Both to what HRW calls Ban's weakness on human rights, and what many call his weakness in opposing corruption, Ban and his team, represented by the seemingly silent Nesirky, will be called on to respond. 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.

* * *

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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