Sri Lanka, UN Has No Comment on Prison Labor, New GA President Will
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
NATIONS, June 12 -- The UN at all levels demonstrates blindness with
respect to Sri Lanka, from the use of prison labor in the now emptied
out north to even recognizing the name of the country. Incoming
General Assembly president Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya on Friday
took questions from the Press.
Inner City Press asked him about two
countries, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. To the latter, Libya agreed to a
$500 million loan, to make up for the $1.9 billion loan from the
International Monetary Fund delayed by reports of mistreatment of
civilians. Inner City Press asked Treki, since Libya was among those
blocking Security Council action, if he could imagine Sri Lanka being
taken up in the General Assembly, as Myanmar has been. Video here,
from Minute 17:46.
Treki latched on to the Myanmar part of the question, praising the
UN's envoy to that country Ibrahim Gambari, whom he said he knew when
Gambari was the foreign minister of the Sani Abacha administration in
Nigeria. He said he would meet with Gambari on Friday afternoon to
get a report about Myanmar. About Sri Lanka, Treki said nothing,
then moved on to another questioner.
City Press followed up, asking why Libya didn't view the conflict in
Sri Lanka as impacting international peace and security. Treki said
it "interests the world, the human rights aspect," but that
what "Asia says is very important, they tell us if what goes on
in Myanmar" effects peace and security. Video here,
had Treki simply refused to answer about Sri Lanka? He will be
president of the UN General Assembly from September 2009 through
UN's Ban and Libya's Ali Treki, action on Sri
Lanka and prison labor not shown
at the UN's noon media briefing on June 12, asked Ban Ki-moon's
Spokesperson Michele Montas had read out a statement that access to
the camps in Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka is getting better and new
camps are being built -- internment camps, with UN money -- Inner
City Press asked for the UN's response to Sri Lankan authorities'
statement that they will use prison labor in the north.
said "no comment at this point, maybe later we will see how the
issue is being discussed." Video here,
from Minute 18:39.
Ms Montas' office sent Inner City Press the following response:
Response from OCHA on your question at the noon briefing
unspokesperson-donotreply [at] un.org
Inner City Press
6/12/2009 12:43:56 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
use of prison labour in reconstruction in Sri Lanka, we have not
heard these allegations and have no information.
the UN's "close monitoring" of Sri Lanka doesn't even read
from Colombo, with quotes from government officials:
inmates to be deployed for the redevelopment process in Sri Lanka's
Jun 11, 2009, 11:51 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.
11, Colombo: Sri Lanka government is planning to deploy prison
inmates for the redevelopment process in the liberated areas of the
Commissioner General, Major General V.R Silva told the media that
this would be an appropriate decision to develop the liberated areas
to statistics there are nearly 30,000 inmates are in the prisons at
the moment. Most of them are able bodied people with various skills,
the skills of those in jail, including for violent crime, are those
the Sri Lankan government is unleashing in the north. And the
They "have not heard these allegations and have no information." Watch
* * *
Sri Lanka, UN's
Holmes Contradicts His Colleague's Caution, Sudan Double Standard?
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
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.
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.
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.
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
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
internment camps have no protection from Sri Lanka's courts. That's a
national issue, was the answer of Ban's spokespeople.
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")
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.