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In UN Council, Japan Works on Sri Lanka Issue, "Ongoing Engagement" of UN, Says Official Coomaraswamy

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, February 9, updated -- Whether and how Sri Lanka will be presented in the UN Security Council is an issue currently being "mediated" by this month's Council president, Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan, he confirmed on the record to Inner City Press on Monday. Video here from Minute from Minute 1:46. 

  In Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's closed-door briefing to the Council on Monday afternoon, Sri Lanka came up, UK Ambassador John Sawers confirmed after the meeting (see below).

    Meanwhile, senior UN official Radhika Coomaraswamy told Inner City Press that while Sri Lanka is "a new place for them" at the UN, "there is now an ongoing engagement." Video here, from Minute 48:56.

  Last week, Inner City Press exclusively reported that Security Council member Mexico had on February 3 asked that the Council get a briefing about Sri Lanka, and that Russia had blocked it, saying that Sri Lanka is not on the Council's agenda. Click here for that February 5 story, which was picked up in Sri Lanka's Sunday Times which in turn reported that

"a senior Foreign Ministry official in Colombo said that what Mexico had suggested was at an informal meeting... However, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, Sri Lanka's Permanent representative to the UN in New York, would meet the Mexican representative and brief him 'adequately' on the situation in Sri Lanka, he said. 'Ambassador Palihakkara will handle the situation. We are confident the issue will not come up at the Security Council,' the official said. The UN-based Inner City Press reported that this month's Council president, Yukio Takasu, had said he would engage the two sides -- Mexico and Russia -- in bilateral consultations on the issue."

   Because of the pressure being brought to bear on Mexico and others, Inner City Press on Monday sought further confirmation that the issue is "live" in the Council. Even the Permanent Representative of a north African country not on the Council told Inner City Press he was aware of the discussions in the Council. Another Council member said that beyond Russia, others of the Permanent Five members -- the UK, France, US and China -- are against having a briefing.

   On camera, Inner City Press asked Ambassador Takasu to confirm Mexico's request and where things stand. "I cannot confirm who said what," Takasu replied, "but this issue has been the matter of consultations I have accepted to take. And I am talking to the people among themselves, but no decision is made yet." Video here from Minute from Minute 1:46.

Amb. Takasu with the President of the UN General Assembly, outcome on Sri Lanka not shown

  Inner City Press asked, is the upsurge in fighting in Sri Lanka an appropriate issue for consideration by the Council, given the effect on civilians? Ambassador Takasu said "among Council members there are different views. There is the strong view that is interested in hearing about the humanitarian situation in that country.  But at the same time some other members are saying that it is purely an internal matter, that the Council has no agenda yet. That is why they are putting myself in consultations to come up with a common understanding." Video here, from Minute 2:19.

  There are other Council members who are supportive of Mexico's request. But it is the position of the Permanent Five that is dispositive in the Council. Last week, when Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador John Sawers -- who did not participate in Monday's Council session, instead squiring Lord Mark Malloch Brown around to meetings -- why he was not proposing to discuss the impact on civilians of the government operations against the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka in the Council, while proposing a new Presidential Statement on Sudan's impact while fighting the Justice and Equality Movement, Sawers replied:

"Well, the situation in Sri Lanka is entirely different. We do have concerns about the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. We have urged the government of Sri Lanka to have everything in count to bring an end to the hostilities so that humanitarian relief can be extended to the civilians.... The Tamil Tigers are a proscribed organization and the government of Sri Lanka has long been blighted by the activities of the Tamil Tigers. We want these to be brought to an end."

  So it appears to some that since the UK and many others want the Tamil Tigers "brought to an end," they are looking the other way on a level of civilian casualties not seen in many of the other situations which they talk about at length in the Security Council.

Update: now it's said that the UK Mission to the UN's position is that if a formal request were made for a Council briefing on Sri Lanka, the UK would not oppose it, even, would be supportive. But they will not make the request: over-worked, apparently, or delegating to Mexico on the issue.

Further update: following Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's closed-door briefing to the Council on Monday afternoon, Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Sawers, "Did Sri Lanka come up?" Sawers answered, "Yes," and then left. Watch this site.

   In the Sri Lankan press, following Inner City Press' exclusive report on Mexico's request and Russia's negative response, there has been discussion of why Mexico and Russia are interested. Click here for some discussion. Of the latter, it must be noted that Russia often opposes new items being brought before the Council, on the theory that some of their "internal" conflicts could then make an appearance.

  The UN and the Security Council should strive to be objective, as regards consideration of humanitarian suffering, and not only focus where Permanent Five members want to. To request a briefing on Sri Lanka is not to support the Tamil Tigers. Many of those countries which expressed concern about Gaza at the same time criticize Hamas, for example. Russia, as Inner City Press has reported here, raised in the Council the issue of the Coalition's killing of civilians in Afghanistan, and that was not seen as support for Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Then again, Afghanistan was already on the Security Council's agenda...

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

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

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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