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Sri Lanka Shelling of No Fire Zone Noted at UN, Claims Pillay is Not UN

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 24 -- While in the UN Security Council the request of Mexico, the United States and the European Union members for a briefing on Sri Lanka remains pending, top UN Humanitarian John Holmes on Tuesday told the Press there is evidence of government shelling of the supposed No Fire Zone which, along with Tamil Tiger firing, "needs to stop." Video here, from Minute 49:45.

    Inner City Press asked Holmes about the document leaked to Inner City Press from his Office describing 2,683 killings of civilians between January 20 and March 7. "You've seen that internal document," Holmes conceded, noting that the figures used by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay were "roughly comparable."

  Ms. Pillay has said there is evidence of war crimes by both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government.  Within the UN, surprise at some Security Council members' opposition to even hearing a briefing about the conflict and over 2,600 deaths continues to mount.

    In Sri Lanka, Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona has been quoted in a pro-government newspaper that

"the UN has never come out with any allegations against the government on how it conducts the war. There are 193 countries in the UN and we haven’t heard any one of these members say anything to that effect either. It is wrong to make these statements as those reflective of the UN. Ms. Pillay is only the High Commissioner for Human Rights. She is not the UN."

  Ban Ki-moon's spokespeople say he has told Sri Lanka's president, in telephone conversations, that the killing of civilians must stop. At the UN, when one asked the spokespeople for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon certain questions, they refer the question to their "colleagues" at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As recently as March 23, Inner City Press asked Ban's Associate Spokesperson

Inner City Press: There are increasing reports that in the Gambia up to 1,000 people have been arrested and charged with witchcraft.  Some of them disappeared.  Amnesty International has issued a report about it.  I haven’t seen this either from the Human Rights Commissioner or from the Secretariat.  Has anyone from the UN system taken note of this development and had anything to say about it?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re aware of those developments.  We don’t have any comment on that.  If you want anything further, you might want to follow up with our colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

  So the claim that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights "is not the UN" is ludicrous. 

UN's Ban and UN(HCHR) Pillay, Sri Lanka spin not shown

  Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona further claims that as long as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council wants to block a briefing on Sri Lanka, a briefing cannot happen. This is not true, as the Council's proceedings on Zimbabwe for example show. 

  Minister Kohona has said that

"There is no way you can compare our situation to what happened in Zimbabwe, and the situation would have to be so dire and every other option eliminated before one would get to that. The main mandate of the UN is of international peace and security, and the member countries have expressed confidence that the situation in Sri Lanka doesn’t call for such concern. The situation in Sri Lanka is not anywhere near a threat to international peace and security. The only one posing such a threat is the LTTE."

  On the civilian killed figures, Sri Lanka already surpasses Zimbabwe, which was deemed a threat to international peace and security. Much less deadly Haiti, too, is on the Security Council's agenda. It is the "situation" that is considered, and if even one party, as conceded above, is called such a threat, the legal threshold is met.

  UNICEF, which Inner City Press asked last week about funding for government-run detention camps, has now responded:

Subj: Sri Lanka
From: UNICEF spokesman
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 3/24/2009 1:24:43 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time

   In response to your oral questions about Sri Lanka late last week, UNICEF’s focus at present is on providing assistance to thousands of children who are in need of humanitarian support. UNICEF is working with partners to ensure that the 40,000 IDPs who have left the conflict zone have access to:

   * safe water and proper sanitation;

   * nutrition support for children and pregnant and lactating women;

   * temporary learning spaces, so children can continue their schooling;

   * psychosocial support for children who need it; and

   * urgent assistance for unaccompanied or separated children.

 Many of these children have been through very difficult experiences.  Some have been displaced multiple times in the past 12 months.  UNICEF currently has access to children in the camps.

   The issue of freedom of movement was raised by USG Holmes last week and is being discussed with the Government by the UN's Country Team in Sri Lanka. Whilst these discussions continue, UNICEF will continue its efforts to meet the emergency needs of a growing number of children.

  While understanding UNICEF's logic, the fact remains that the agency is participating in what many called internment camps. Watch this site.

Footnotes: from mail received, and for example Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona's above-quoted statements, one infers a blinding rage, not unlike from some in another recently conflict, that any focus on civilian deaths only helped a group called terrorist. It is ironic that some of those supporting the Sri Lankan government's attempt to block any UN Security Council hearing of the issue were loudly concerned with the other situation, and chided the UN for not doing enough.

  Human Rights Watch, citing Inner City Press' publication of the leaked January 20-March 7 UN casualty figures, reported an updated that "a copy of the patient list from the makeshift hospital in Putumattalan on file with Human Rights Watch contains the names of 978 people brought to the hospital from March 1 to March 10. According to the list, 79 adults and 40 children died, while 646 adults and 213 children were injured."

  Viewed through the prism of another conflict, while the UN due to pushing from the US and UK and others was quick to release casualty figures for Darfur, it has tried to withhold its Sri Lanka casualty figures, until they were leaked to Inner City Press. Does this mean that the UK and US are, despite public claims to the contrary, not pushing very hard? Watch this site, including on issues surrounding the proposed IMF loan to Sri Lanka, including to “continue with the resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the Northern Province.” The Sri Lankan government has asked the IMF to finalize negotiations on the loan by March 31...

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.

* * *

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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