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On Sri Lanka, UN's Holmes Contradicts His Colleague's Caution, Sudan Double Standard?

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 11 -- During the bloody conflict and humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka this year, most often UN Headquarters, personified by humanitarian chief John Holmes, has sounded more cautionary notes about government conduct than has UN staff in Colombo, who face deportation or denial of visa renewals.

  On Thursday, however, Holmes was decidedly more pro-government than the UN's local spokespeople, at least Mark Cutts, who expressed concern that now people will be kept in the UN-funded internment camps for up to a year. Inner City Press asked Holmes, who chose to disagree.

  "I don't think anything has changed," Holmes said, repeating the government's statement that 80% of those detained will be allowed out of the camps by the end of 2009.

  Holmes told Inner City Press that there have for months been some semi-permanent structures in the Manik Farm camps, made of "zinc sheeting, you probably saw them yourself when you were there." Inner City Press did see the zinc structures, along with barbed wire and armed guards.

   Holmes had been briefing the UN Security Council about the situation in Sudan, with a focus on the international NGOs whose international staff members were ordered out on March 4, after Sudan's president Omar al Bashir was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. When Holmes came to speak to the Press, his assistant announced that questions should "keep to Sudan, wider issues will be address by the Secretary General in his press conference later."

   As Inner City Press has reported in recent days, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokespeople now say they will not comment on developments in Sri Lanka such as the deporting of Canadian MP Bob Rae, the extension of state of emergency anti-terror laws, and the country's outgoing chief justice's statement that those in the UN-funded internment camps have no protection from Sri Lanka's courts. That's a national issue, was the answer of Ban's spokespeople.

    Since Holmes focused, to the Council and press, on NGOs in Sudan, Inner City Press asked about the recent expulsion or exclusion from Sri Lanka of international staff from the Norwegian Refugee Council, Forut, CARE and Save the Children, among others. Holmes had just mentioned moves to re-admit both CARE and Save the Children (as well as Mercy Corps and "something not really an NGO, called PADCO") to Sudan.

   "It is hard to make comparisons between the two," Holmes said, apparently referring to restrictions in Sudan and Sri Lanka. "NGOs have not been expelled from Sri Lanka... There have been some visa issues for some members of NGOs' staff which we take up with the government."

   Holmes said UN agencies "have difficulties from time to time." Among those difficulties was the detention by the government of Sri Lanka of UN staff and their families, something Sudan has not done.

UN's Holmes in Sudan, Sri Lanka staff not shown
  Whistleblowers raised the issue to Inner City Press, after which Holmes said the UN had been complaining behind the scenes. In Sudan, the UN complains publicly. In fact, the government of Sri Lanka stated that the UN had not complained about its detained staff until after the issue was raised publicly by the Press in New York.

   It is hard to make comparisons between the two -- the UN is loud in its criticism of any move against UN staff in Sudan, while it stayed silent as UN staff were held in detention by the government of Sri Lanka. How then to read Holmes' upbeat assessment on Thursday? We will continue to inquire.

  Footnotes: Regarding Sudan, Inner City Press asked Holmes why UN envoy Chissano has ended his attempt to solve the problem of the Lord's Resistance Army. Holmes said Chissano "will end or has ended" this work because it is "not a very realistic hope" that Kony will sign a peace deal with the Yoweri Museveni government of Uganda. What next?

   Inner City Press is informed that, in closed door consultations, Western Council members such as Croatia insisted that there is a wider "humanitarian gap" in Sudan than even Holmes would portray. Holmes and the UN apparently feel no such pressure regarding the situation in Sri Lanka, and therefore revert to the path of least resistance, trying to not criticize the government despite what's happening to civilians. Watch this site.

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With UN Silent on Sri Lanka, Swiss 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.

 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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