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With UN Silent on Sri Lanka, Swiss Amb. Maurer on Violations of International Law, IMF Loan, Internment Camps, UN Budget

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 10 -- With the UN Secretariat now refusing to comment or answer questions on the use of UN money for internment camps in Sri Lanka, Inner City Press on June 10 took the question across First Avenue, to UNICEF and a sample Permanent Representative to the UN, Switzerland's Peter Maurer.

  Ambassador Maurer was just elected the chairman of the UN General Assembly's budget committee. This winning diplomacy was not match at the UN Human Rights Council, where the Swiss introduced resolution and amendments on Sri Lanka lost out to a resolution which congratulates Sri Lanka for its military campaign in the north and does not call for an HRC investigation of war crimes. Inner City Press asked Maurer for Switzerland's reflections on Sri Lanka and the Councils.

   Maurer said that there are "strong indications that international humanitarian law was violated by both the government and the Tigers" or LTTE. He said that Sri Lanka should have been made a full agenda item of the Security Council. "If this is not an armed conflict with an impact on international peace and security," he asked, what is?

  Maurer ridiculed the Council for having its meetings on Sri Lanka informally and in the basement, saying it seemed to reflect that the Council is uncomfortable having regular meetings. He wondered why countries sent four years working to get elected to the Council only to sit back and be dictated to by the Permanent Five members.

   Maurer acknowledged that there was opposition, from advocacy groups he said, to the amendments Switzerland offered at the Human Rights Council. He said they were Switzerland's bottom line, a way they could have worked with the Sri Lankan government. He bemoaned the Sri Lankan government's win as "short sighted," a product of their connection with "the G-77 and the Global South."

   With the Sri Lankan central bank now predicting approval by the International Monetary Fund of a $1.9 billion loan by the end of June, Inner City Press asked Maurer is he thought consideration of the loan should include what Maurer had called the violations of international humanitarian law. Maurer said, "as the IMF today, you can't disregard what the conditions are, where the money goes and how it is used."

   Inner City Press asked Maurer, as it did UNICEF, whether UN system money should be used for internment camps. Maurer said that in cases of emergency, humanitarians will accept things they are not comfortable with. "That might change when you are out of the worst," he said. One might "accept more unfavorable conditions if people are dying." Ironically, the worse a government makes it for its people, by this logic, the more likely it will receive aid.

UN's Bans and Swiss president and PR Maurer

   UNICEF had scheduled a June 10 press conference with its Executive Director Ann Veneman. Inner City Press went, to ask some Sri Lanka questions. Spokesman Chris de Bono said that Ms. Veneman was dealing with the death of UNICEF staff member Perseverando So in the bombing in Peshaware, Pakistan, that the question should not be asked at the press conference but rather later and in writing. Immediately after the press conference, Inner City Press asked

What does UNICEF say to a criticism that it is funding and enabling internment camps from which people, nearly all of them of the minority Tamil group and some swept up not from the "Conflict Zone" but elsewhere in Sri Lanka cannot leave, and are being screened for political beliefs? Does UNICEF deny each of the above conditions? If not, what is UNICEF doing to counter them, or not enable them?

  Spokesman de Bono did provide an answer, just after 5 p.m. --

"UNICEF is delivering life-saving supplies to the estimated 300,000 IDPS generated by the conflict. It is delivering these supplies because vulnerable people desperately need them, and it is delivering them to whoever needs them most, wherever they are located, to the best of its ability to do so. This is UNICEF’s role and its humanitarian mission. Other parts of the UN system have different roles and duties. I suggest you direct your other questions, which are outside UNICEF’s mandate, to the relevant officials."

   Apparently, UNICEF thinks it can outsource questions of the possible enabling of ethnic cleansing to unnamed other "relevant officials." Who might these be? Questions posted to the Spokespeople for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are not given substantive answers, may not even be allowed.

   Inner City Press asked asked, "from a recent June 5 OCHA situation report, a total of 217 child surrendees have been identified and registered in IDP camps in Vavuniya. 58 of them were transferred to Ambepussa rehabilitation center at the end of April. 69 (male) are currently accommodated at Nellukulam Technical College, together with over 1,721 male adults

   "Question: is UNICEF aware of any other locations where surrendees or suspected LTTE supporters have been taken? any other surrendees or suspected LTTE supporters who were taken away before being registered?"

   UNICEF's Mr. de Bono responded, "I am not aware of any such locations and UNICEF does not conduct registrations in the IDP camps....On your other questions I will need to consult my colleagues in the field." Watch this site.

Footnotes: the questions UNICEF did allow on June 10 were about Swaziland and Football Club Barcelona, which wears the UNICEF logo on its jersey and donates $1.5 million euros a year. Inner City Press asked how the global financial crisis is impacting given to UNICEF's programs, and the situation in Swaziland. UNICEF's representative in the country, Jama Gulaid, said that some promises are not materializing, and that costs for the poor are going up. He noted that Swaziland is considered a middle income country and therefore receives less aid.

   UNICEF's head of private sector funding Philip O'Brien said corporate giving, purchase of cards and products, is down, but that many donors are staying the court. FC Barcelona President Laporta said that FCB may even expand its giving. He was asked about Samuel Eto and Manchester United, which recently switched the corporate logo on its jerseys from AIG to AON. On sports and politics, Sri Lankan cricketeers are facing protests. And so it goes.

Financial footnote: while the UN's budget committee continues to fight over the 2.5% cut in peacekeeping operations proposed by the US, Japan, South Korea and European Union, Inner City Press on June 10 asked Swiss Ambassador Peter Maurer, the incoming chair of the committee, for his country's thoughts on the controversy. Maurer confirmed that Switzerland had not joined the EU position, but then explained why not. "Sometimes it is allowed to sort of take a back seat," he said.

   While he was standing for election as Fifth Committee chair, "it was not the right moment to express a position in a controversial discussion." Now that he is elected, he diplomatically let it be known that in Switzerland, there have been cuts of five, seven and even ten percent. "Administrations can take cuts," he said.

   But was Colombo listening? Watch this site.

* * *

As Sri Lanka Deports Canadian MP, UN Has No Comment, Controls Questions To Be Asked

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 10 -- Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General who declined to visit Sri Lanka until after the government's assault on the "No Fire" Zone had been reached its deadly conclusion, has said he is closely monitoring "post-conflict" developments in the country. On June 10, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe if Ban or the UN had any comment on the Sri Lankan government deporting a member of parliament from Canada, Bob Rae.

   Ms. Okabe said she and Ban have no comment. "Again," she said, "I am not going to have reactions to everything you read in the newspaper about Sri Lanka.." Video here, from Minute 11:16. The question and non-answer are not included in the UN's summary of the briefing.

  This new approach appears to be designed to have the Sri Lanka issue fall off not only the radar of the UN Security Council -- a seemingly final "informal interactive dialogue was held on June 5 -- but of the wider UN. Journalists are allowed to ask persistent daily questions about many situations, without a similar reaction from Ban's Spokesperson's office: for example on the Middle East, Sudan or Pakistan. They try now however to make Sri Lanka off limits, to discourage even any questions being asked.

   Ms. Okabe went on to imply that rather than ask questions, the Press should simply wait to see if and when Ban issues statements. "As he sees fit, he will be responding," Ms. Okabe said. Ban chose in recent days to comment on the death of Gabonese strongman Omar Bongo, and to praise President Obama's speech (whether he will do that for the other 191 heads of state's speeches is not clear). But apparently he did not see fit to respond to Sri Lanka extending anti-terror laws and deporting a Canadian elected official.

UN's Ban in IDP camp in Sri Lanka, response to deporting Canadian MP not shown

   Later on June 10, Inner City Press posed the same question to a senior political adviser to Ban, who expressed frustration. He said, "we had predicted what two things would be asked today, and we said it would be the barring of Bob Rae" -- a longtime observers of Sri Lanka whom the adviser called fair -- "and the extension of the state of emergency anti terrorism laws."

  About the latter, Inner City Press asked on June 9, and Ms. Okabe had no comment on that, either. The Ban adviser told Inner City Press that he would have said, of the blocking of Bob Rae, what while the UN usually does not comment on such actions, "it is not helpful."

   So who is running the show at the UN? Does Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson's Office actually speak for him? On June 11, Mr. Ban holds a press conference, at which he will offer his own answers to the questions which are allowed by his Spokesperson. While some questions are sure to focus on a range of initiatives and meetings by Ban's highest officials which many see as anti-press, the questions about Sri Lanka should, one imagines, be allowed. Watch this site.

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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.

 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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