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Sept 24, 2013

UN: Sri Lanka


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UN Suspends Deploying Sri Lanka War Figure Hewage to Lebanon, ICP Asked, Cancel?

By Matthew Russell Lee, video here, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, February 19 – UN Peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix has been informed of the troubling past history in 2008 in Sri Lanka of a commander that country is seeking to deploy to the UN in Lebanon as early as February 18, Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage, Inner City Press was informed and exclusively reported on February 14, and got confirmed from the UN on February 15. Now on February 19, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that following questions, the deployment of Hewage has been suspended. But why not canceled, given his record? We'll have more on this.

When Lacroix held a rare press conference on January 24, Inner City Press asked him how the UN is vetting “peacekeepers” from Cameroon, as that country's army is burning down whole villages in the Anglophone zones. Lacroix insisted that vetting is intensive. Inner City Press asked about what sources tell it, that the ostensibly vetting of troops from Sri Lanka, after the bloodbath on the beach there, consists of one OHCHR staffer in Geneva. Lacroix said he wasn't sure on that. Video here.

After the press conference Inner City Press was contacted, and ultimately copied on a letter to Lacroix, below. On February 15, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: there's been a letter sent by… by a number of Tamil Sri Lankan groups to Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix about the… the impending… I guess, some type of a commander in UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], Mr. [Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara] Hewage.  And they've documented to him — he's supposed to deploy on Sunday — that, in fact, he was present during 2008 in Kilinochchi, 2009 in PTK.  These were, you know, highly controversial military actions.  So, their complaint is that, in the past, Office of Human Rights of the UN would vet people, and now that doesn't appear to be the case anymore just by…  Have you seen that letter? Spokesman:  We've… DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] has, indeed, received the letter you mentioned.  They are looking into the case of the gentleman that you mentioned with… who's scheduled be deployed to Lebanon.  As a matter of policy, we're committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights.  In accordance with existing policy, the UN should neither select nor deploy for service any individual who has been involved in violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.  In reviewing the background of personnel to be deployed, we consider available information from within and outside of the UN system, thus, will review carefully the information that has been provided to us.  Member States that provide UN personnel to peacekeeping operations also have the responsibility to certify that the personnel they nominate have not been involved, by act or omission, in violations of international humanitarian or human rights law or have been repatriated on disciplinary grounds from any UN operation.  In cases where we have concerns regarding the human rights record of specific troop-contributing countries, we put in place additional measures to ensure that the personnel deployed is in line with the UN human rights screening policy. Inner City Press: one follow-up, because I remember Mr. Lacroix specifically commented on this when he did his press conference.  Seems like these… these… these groups are saying that, in the past, the UN review these in Geneva, and now they're relying on Sri Lanka's own human rights commission, and they say the last people were deployed… Spokesman:  I think from what I understood of what I just said, we review both what the Government tells us and external and internal sources." We'll see. Here was the letter, c/o Debbie Berman, Copy to OHCHR, Geneva and InnerCityPress:

Dear Mr. Lacroix, STOP DEPLOYMEMNT OF UN PEACEKEEPER WITH FRONTLINE COMBAT EXPERIENCE IN SRI LANKA’S 2009 WAR - This is to request you to stop the planned deployment to Lebanon on Sunday 18 February 2018 of a Sri Lankan contingent commander with frontline combat command
experience in the final phase of the civil war in 2008-9. We believe that under the UN’s current vetting criteria, this commander should have been screened out of all UN peacekeeping duties. We note that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has been asked to vet UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka but consider that ultimately the responsibility lies with your department, as according to the UN, it seeks to ensure that only “individuals with the highest standards of integrity, competence and efficiency” are hired. The Sri Lankan Army says Lt. Col. Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage is due to head the 12th Force Protection Company (FPC) for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) An online search of Lt. Col. Hewage reveals he was involved in the assault on Kilinochchi town in Northern Sri Lanka on 22 December 2008 and located in PTK in late February 2009."

Inner City Press accompanied and covered Ban Ki-moon's trip to Sri Lanka in 2009, and subsequent acceptance of Shavendra Silva as a senior UN Peacekeeping adviser. After Inner City Press published how Palitha Kohona got his former landlord to sponsor, on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, a screening of the government's genocide denial film "Lies Agreed To," Inner City Press was threatened with ouster from the UN, which occurred, and Inner City Press is still restricted to minders under the Department of Public Information run by British Alison Smale. Meanwhile as noted in the letter, the UN does less and less human rights vetting. We'll have more on this.


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