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On Sri Lanka, US' Rice Joins Call for UN Council Briefing, ICC's Ocampo Queried, UNESCO Silent

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 20 -- With the plight of more than 100,000 civilians trapped in Sri Lanka's conflict zone worsening, at the UN on March 20 U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told the Press that "the United States feels strongly about and concerned about Sri Lanka and we support the provision of it to the Council- a full and updated information on the humanitarian situation." Transcript here, video here.

   Inner City Press had asked, at the Security Council stakeout microphone after a US-requested meeting on Darfur, if the U.S. was considering evacuation of the civilians trapped in fighting between the Sri Lanka government and the Tamil Tigers, being "fired on from both sides."  Ambassador Rice did not directly address this point, but rather expressed support for a Security Council meeting.

  On March 19, UK Ambassador John Sawers told Inner City Press that the "European Union members" of the Council have made a request for a meeting in the Council on the topic of Sri Lanka. The Mexican and Costa Rican Ambassador have indicted they are actively supporting the request. China, described as "vehemently" opposing any Sri Lanka briefing, was said Friday by a Western diplomat to be asking for more time, "delaying the process."

  Close observers of the Council note that even if China remains opposed, a meeting can scheduled by a procedural vote, on which China's veto rights would not prevail. The US and UK have used this procedure before, for example as noted by one observer in the case of Zimbabwe, which China and Russia likewise called only an internal matter, as they call Sri Lanka.

UN's Susan Rice outside the Council, Sri Lanka meeting not yet shown

  One wag noted that this standard of only meeting on "threats to international peace and security" give a perverse incentive to groups like the Tamil Tigers to internationalize their conflicts, by striking outside the national borders.

   All this takes place two days after the UN involuntarily admitted counting 2,683 civilian killings in Sri Lanka from January 20 to March 7 of this year, in a UN document leaked to and published by Inner City Press. The document, placed online here, is now in the possession of the numerous Council diplomats and Ambassadors, and of senior UN political and human rights officials.

    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay recently said that war crimes may be being committed in Sri Lanka by both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government.  Outside the Security Council's meeting Friday on Sudan, whose president Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, Inner City Press got the chance to ask ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo if, following Ms. Pillay's analysis, he is considering action on Sri Lanka. They are not a state party [to the ICC's Rome Statute], Ocampo replied. He has been criticized, most recently by the President of the UN General Assembly Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, for seeking war crimes indictments only in Africa. 

   An ICC staffer traveling with Ocampo told Inner City Press that following Ms. Pillay's public statement about war crimes in Sri Lanka, the ICC opened a file, or database. But she repeated that Sri Lanka not being a member of the ICC creates jurisdiction problems, and noted that the Tamils have not even, as for example the Palestinians have, made a formal request for jurisdiction.

  The Security Council members headed from their meeting to a weekend retreat with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has previously without effect called for a suspension of fighting. They will be back for Council meetings on Monday. Watch this site.

Footnote: at the UN noon briefing on March 18, nner City Press asked UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Education Nicholas Burnett why his agency, while condemning crackdowns on the press in the Philippines and elsewhere, has said nothing about the newspaper editors locked up during the current conflict in Sri Lanka, and journalists previously killed. Mr. Burnett said, I can get you an answer. Video here, from Minute 18:36.  Three hours later his spokesperson asked Inner City Press to email the questions, which was done:

As I asked at the briefing earlier today, what has UNESCO had to say about the recent imprisonment of two journalists in Sri Lanka, on which RSF is requesting UN action

  This is a specific request, also, for comment on 1) the killing of a journalist described at

and 2) on the comments which the Sri Lankan President’s brother, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa made about Vithyatharan in an interview for ... Australia's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). “He is involved in the recent air attack and I am telling you if you try to give cover-up for that person you have blood in your hands,” Rajapaksa said. “And if someone says he is arrested because he is in media, that person also has blood on his hands.”

  UNESCO's answers, not received in the two days the question was asked at noon, will be published on this site after they are received.

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN 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.

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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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