In Sri Lanka, UN Knows of 2,683 Civilian Killings
This Year, Leaked Documents Show
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of
Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
March 17 -- The UN now admits that the
"minimum number of documented civilian casualties since 20 January
as of 7 March 2009 in the conflict area of Mullaitivu Region [is] 9,924
including 2,683 deaths and 7,241 injuries," in a leaked document of
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs obtained by Inner
official John Holmes, as well as spokespeople for UN Secretary
General Ban Ki-moon, have repeatedly denied that the UN has such
figures. Now it appears that unlike in
other conflicts from Darfur to Gaza, the UN withheld the Sri Lanka
effect protecting the Sri Lankan government from criticism.
February 17, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban
spokesperson Michele Montas for the UN's estimate of civilian deaths,
it was higher or lower than 1200. Ms Montas replied that "we are trying
save people, not count bodies." Video here,
from Minute 22:48.
March 17, Inner
City Press cited the just-obtained
internal OCHA casualty figure of 9,924
including 2,683 deaths to the Ambassador of a European country active
OCHA, asking if Holmes had disclosed this number in the two
"classified" briefings on Sri Lanka the Ambassador had mentioned.
"Everyone knows the figures are controversial," the Ambassador said,
insisting that he not be identified by name or country. "You won't hear
these figures from OCHA." But internally, they are in writing.
UN documents published today by Inner City Press show that the UN
its own figures for the number of civilians trapped between the Sri
military and the Tamil Tigers, more than twice as high as the
claimed numbers. The UN document put the number of internally displaced
in Mullaitivu at 150,000 to 190,00, and says that the International
of the Red Cross agrees. The UN then dryly but telling reports on
-- the number of IDPs in Mullaitivu according to the Government of Sri
In the conflict zone in Sri Lanka, UN assistance not shown
Lankan government in fact contests any numbers, and most statements,
put out by
the UN. The Sri Lankan government
previous accused John Holmes of being a terrorist, for calling the
dangerous for humanitarian workers. Holmes apparently internalized the
criticism, and now has refused to publicly disclose these UN figures,
admit that they exist, unlike his repeated listing of casualty figures
Darfur and Gaza. (Neither the governments of Sudan or Israel even
a terrorist -- they now may wish to do so.)
City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Marie Okabe for the UN's
response to reports of 500 additional deaths due to lack of medicine in
conflict zone -- "is the United Nations or specialized agencies or OCHA
aware of this?" -- and about a published
threat by the "National Freedom Front" to
surround the UN in Colombo if any action is taken on UN High
Human Rights Navanethem Pillai's report connecting the government, as
the Tamil Tigers, to war crimes.
Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: What
I can tell you about Sri Lanka is that
the humanitarian workers on the ground are obviously doing their best
to try to
assist the most vulnerable on the ground. The
Secretary-General just spoke with the President
of Sri Lanka, during
which he appealed for, expressed his concern for, the safety of the
especially those trapped in Vanni.
Inner City Press: See, that’s
what he said. Did he get any commitments
back from the
Spokesperson Okabe: My understanding
is that the President did
express his cooperation. But the
Secretary-General, as I mentioned, did express his strong concerns for
civilian population on the ground.
While it took several
rounds of questions
before Ban belated called for a suspension of fighting, so far his
have not been acted on by the Sri Lankan government. Some say the UN
withholding its civilian casualty figures to help it convince the Sri
government to suspend bombing, as the UN has asked both Israel and
Sri Lanka, more than either Israel in Gaza or Sudan in, most recently,
in South Darfur, has ignored the UN's calls. Now with the OCHA
public, how will the Sri Lankan government react?
Footnote: As the
NFF threats to
"surround" the UN in Colombo, supporters of the Sri Lankan government
have written to the UN, with a copy to Inner City Press, asking that
Inner City Press be "disbarred"
for asking questions about government military action in Sri Lanka. How
far would the UN go to
placate the Sri Lankan government and its supporters?
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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for a Reuters
AlertNet piece by this correspondent
about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click
for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali
Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an
undefined trust fund. Video
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earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available
in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.
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