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On Sri Lanka, UN Has No Comment on Anti-Terror Law, Ban's Freetown Rep Not Worried By Protest

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 9 -- As UN money supports internment camps in northern Sri Lanka, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that he is closely monitoring compliance with the Joint Statement he signed with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

  But on June 9, in a UN noon briefing with no real time pressure and only three journalists in the room, Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe first tried to shift directly from a twelve minute read out of press releases to a guest about Sierra Leone, then begrudgingly agreed to take Inner City Press' "daily two questions."

  Inner City Press asked if Sri Lanka's extension of its anti-terrorism laws, which allow detention with out charge and are directly disproportionately against the Tamil minority, are consistent with Ban's understanding of the Commitment, and with his call against triumphalism and for reconciliation.

  Ms. Okabe called this a mere "press report" on which the UN has no comment. For the sake of time, she said, let's turn it over to the guest. Video here, from Minute 12:39.

   First, the extension of the anti-terrorism laws was extensively reported, and is a legislative fact. Any office closely monitoring developments in Sri Lanka would be aware of it, and should be prepared to comment hours later on it -- particularly since the detained doctors who remained in the "No Fire" zone offering treatment and casualty figures, about whom Ban has expressed concern, are being held under these laws.

   Second, there was no rush to get the guest, the representative in Sierra Leone, on. The noon briefing had been reduced to a less than 15 minutes, more than 12 minutes of which consisted of Ms. Okabe reading out loud UN press releases.

  It appeared clear that Ms. Okabe simply didn't want to answer questions. To be so dismissive of Sri Lanka, a topic the Secretary General is ostensibly monitoring closely, appears to be inconsistent.

UN's Ban and troops during Africa trip, SLPP and doctors not shown

   The Sierra Leone UN representative, Michael Schulenburg, is also accused of being too close to the country's president. Inner City Press asked Schulenburg to respond to a quote from the US representative of the opposition SLPP, that Schulenburg's and Ban's report "reads more like an eulogy to President Koroma than an objective, professional, and balanced report on the fair implementation of the very communique."

   Schulenburg said that the criticism of his approach is only from "one journalist." Even Ban's high officials point the finger at three media organizations -- click here and here for that.

   Inner City Press asked Schulenburg about reports that SLPP supporters may stage protests. I don't that, Schulenburg said. "I'm not worried about this at all." Video here, from Minute 32:51.

  Schulenburg said he did not recognize the name of the US representative of the opposition SLPP. Outreach seems in order.

Footnote: In fact, with Ban Ki-moon slated to get another award, this time on June 17 at 630 p.m. at the St Regis Hotel in Manhattan, there is talk about a protest by people concerned with the UN's action and lack of action in Sri Lanka. Again, outreach -- and action, follow through -- seem in order. Watch this site.

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In Sri Lanka, UN Pays for Camps But No Legal Protections, Nor for NGOs, Will Council Hear?

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 8 -- The outgoing chief justice of Sri Lanka, Sarath Nanda Silva, said before he left that those interred in the camps in Menik Farm have no legal protections, cannot get justice for their claims before the courts that he oversaw.

  On June 8 in New York, Inner City Press asked UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq if this is the UN's understanding, given that the UN is largely paying for, and had just bragged about, the camps. Haq replied that the UN is pushing for freedom of movement, telling the government to speed up its "screening and registration."

   The screening is, in essence, political screening, to gauge whether people support not only the LTTE but also the cause of Tamil rights. Since the UN is pay for this, it seems fair to ask what legal protections are in place.

  Inner City Press asked again, in response to which Haq said, "I am not aware of the jurisdiction of the court system. I think that’s a national issue." Transcript here and below; video here, from Minute 16:38.

  But if the UN pays to lock people up, the non-existence of safeguards cannot be considered only a national issue.

  Inner City Press asked for the UN's response to the visas denied to international staff of CARE, Save the Children, NRC and others. Haq said, we continue to stress the need for humanitarian access. With whom? When NGOs were barred from Sudan, the UN Secretariat shouted. And now?

UN's Ban in Manik Farm, legal protections for IDPs not shown

  While some reported that Ban Ki-moon on June 5 called for an investigation, his actual words were far more wishy -washy: if there were violations, they should be investigated. This allows the Sri Lankan government to claim there were no violations, just as they insist against all evidence that not a single civilians was killed by their assault on the "No Fire" Zone.

  Nevertheless, when Inner City Press asked Rosemary DiCarlo of the U.S. Mission what may happen next at the UN about Sri Lanka, she said that she and the U.S. expect Ban to continue to brief the Council, on compliance with the Joint Statement he signed with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

   More skeptical observers opine that absent publicized event which shame the UN and Council into action, the agenda will continue to include Haiti and Burundi, and even Myanmar, but not Sri Lanka. We'll see.

From the June 8 UN transcript:

Inner City Press: on Sri Lanka, the Chief Justice there has been quoted as saying that the people that are in the camps, including the 280,000 people on the Menik Farm camps were outside of the protection of the law, that the Sri Lankan justice system has no jurisdiction over them or their claims. Is that the UN’s understanding, given that it’s paying in large part for the camps? And also, the NGOs -- CARE, Save the Children, NRC -- all have had international staff refused visas, and I wondered what OCHA is doing about that.

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Well, first of all, regarding the Chief Justice’s comments, the UN at the highest levels has been insisting on the need for freedom of movement for the people in these camps since the end of the conflict. Freedom of movement for people in the IDP camps is essential. The Government is trying to expedite the screening and registration of IDPs but this needs to be done faster. The Government must allow family reunification and the issuance of ID cards and facilitate freer movement in and out of the camps. The Government needs to facilitate early return and resettlement of IDPs, while ensuring the voluntary nature of such movements.

Inner City Press: [inaudible] does the court system have jurisdiction over their claims? Is that the UN’s understanding?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: I am not aware of the jurisdiction of the court system. I think that’s a national issue.

Again, if the UN pays to lock people up, the non-existence of safeguards should not be considered only a national issue.

At UN, "Last" Sri Lanka Meeting Is Closed, "Just a Briefing," Will Ban Finally Speak?

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 5, updated live blog -- As the UN Security Council assembled in the basement for what they say will probably be their last meeting on Sri Lanka, three representatives of the Sri Lankan mission slipped into Conference Room 6. Inner City Press asked U.S. Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo if there is any chance of an outcome to the meeting, even a statement to the Press by the Council president, as April's president Claude Heller of Mexico did. No, Amb. DiCarlo indicted, "this is just a briefing."

Initially, Amb. DiCarlo asked the Press, "Is this about North Korea?" On that topic, considered upstairs in the Council chamber, Inner City Press was first to obtain and publish the new draft resolution, here.

Ban Ki-moon arrived at 3:15 p.m., flanked by his advisors Vijay Nambair, Kim Won-soo and his spokesperson Michele Montas. At Friday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked if Ban would speak to the Press after his briefing. The question was not answered.

UN's Ban on "victory tour" in Sri Lanka

European Council sources told Inner City Press is was hard even getting this "unofficial" briefing. "The conflict is over," one said. But other say, the dirty war continues, now funded by the UN. Watch this site.

Update of 4:02 p.m. -- Russian Ambassador Churkin left the meeting, a crowd of Japanese media chasing him up the stairs to ask about... the North Korea resolution.
  Chinese Deputy Lui left, jaunty as ever, but had no comment.
  Mexican Ambassador Heller left, we're sad to say, to attend a movie in the conference room next door, "Between Fire and Water." The Mission of Mexico was the sponsor, so ...

Update of 4:32 p.m. -- France's Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert left the meeting, heading straight upstairs as a reporter -- from Japnese media this time -- called after him, "On Sri Lanka?" Ripert did not stop. Some surmised that the Sri Lanka question was meant to lure Ripert in, to answer questions about North Korea....

Update of 5:04 p.m. -- one after the other, Ban Ki-moon, Japan's Ambassador Takasu and Sri Lanka's Ambassador came to the stakeout microphone. Mr. Ban said that he will push fro compliance with the Joint Statement he and President Rajapaksa signed. Inner City Press asked, what about reports of people being disappeared from the IDP camps (which are UN-funded), and about the three doctors who remained in the conflict zone offering treatment and casualty figures?
  Mr. Ban said he had raised the issue of the doctors to President Rajapaksa, and separately to Sri Lanka's foreign minister. Minutes later, Sri Lanka's ambassador said that while the ICRC has been allowed to visit the doctors, they will be subject to judicial process.

  Sri Lanka's Ambassador said he didn't know the specifics of the expulsion of the head of Norway-based NGO Forut. When Inner City Press asked about the status of the Mememordum of Understanding with NGOs, about which John Holmes in a closed door meeting (the script for which Inner City Press obtained and put on line) said was a matter of concern and would set a bad precedent, Sri Lanka's Ambassador disagreed, saying Holmes had never said that, that the only concern is that NGOs which sign may have difficulty raising money.

   Clarification should be given by Holmes. At the time, he declined to speak about the MOU, saying it had been put to the side. Apparently not anymore, according to Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN.

 Japan's Ambassador said he would speak about North Korea, and proceeded to tell the press not to mis-report that agreement has been reached among the P-5 plus 2. For Inner City Press, which put online the P-5's most recent draft, not a problem: the draft was sent to capitals of the P-5 plus 2.

  Inner City Press asked Amb. Takasu, "A question on Sri Lanka?" No, he indicated, he did not want to leave the Sri Lankan Ambassador waiting.
  And so the question would have been, why did Japan abstain on the Human Rights Council's resolution -- does Japan favor in inquiry into possible war crimes in Sri Lanka or not?

  Watch this site.

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) 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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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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