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As Sri Lanka Taxes and Cuts NGOs, Parades the Detained Doctors, UN Has Nothing to Say

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 9 -- As the Rajapaksa administration orders the Red Cross and other international non-governmental organizations to close offices and scale down their operations in eastern and northern Sri Lanka, the UN and its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs so far have said nothing.

    Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas on July 9 about the Red Cross, for example, being forced to close its operations in Trincomalee and Batticaloa where it has 150 staff members. When Sudan threw out some 200 staff from Darfur, the UN criticized it immediately and loudly. Here, the UN said nothing and, when asked, Ms. Montas said "we are trying to get more information." Video here, from Minute 15:18.

   On July 8, the Sri Lankan Army put on display the doctors, imprisoned for seven weeks, who had remained in the northern conflict zone offering treatment and casualty figures. Again, the UN had nothing to say. Ban Ki-moon and his top humanitarian aide John Holmes had both in the past spoken about the doctors and their treatment. But confronted with the grotesque display of imprisoned and presumptively threatened humanitarians being forced to make pro-government statement the UN -- a club of governments -- had nothing to say.

   Inner City Press on July 9 asked Ban's spokesperson about the doctors. She said, there were their statements earlier and then their statements when they got "out of jail... I can't say what is true." Amnesty International and others have said that statements after detention like this are not credible. But the UN apparently no longer cares what the doctors say.

   Inner City Press asked if Ban is requesting that they not be put on trial. Ms. Montas said "he didn't mention trial because there was no question of trial...As far as I know they've been released."

   The UN is trying and largely succeeding, for now, in putting into the past its shameful inaction during the carnage in Sri Lanka.

UN's Ban in Sri Lanka, doctors and Red Cross not shown
   In recent days the UN has promised but not delivered answers on a series of troubling developments in Sri Lanka.

   Inner City Press asked about reports of government soldiers firing their weapons in the UN-funded internment camps in Vavuniya. We don't know about that, Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas said, we just don't have access. Inner City Press asked why the UN provides funds if it cannot verify and answer for its use. Ms. Montas said she would look into how it works. But after that, no information or answers were provided.

    Nor did the UN's Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have anything to say when asked about the Sri Lankan government taxing NGOs, which is otherwise only done in Burma. Now, no comment on the government's order to the Red Cross and others to scale back their operations. Even in following up on the Joint Statement Ban issued with Mahinda Rajapaksa, the UN has no follow through. Watch this site.

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In Sri Lanka, UN Hires Lawyer for Arrested Staff, But Will It Protect Anyone?

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 1 -- After more than a week of silence by the UN about two of its staff members grabbed up by Sri Lanka's government, on July 1 Inner City Press again asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas about their fate. This time, Ms. Montas had an answer. The UN has "hired a lawyer who has visited" the UN staff, who are "still detained in Colombo." Video here, from Minute 21:15.

  The head of the UN Refugee Agency in Sri Lanka Amin Awad issued a strange statement saying in essence that the government is free to detain staff as long as procedures are followed. But despite top UN humanitarian John Holmes' statement that unlike international staff, national staff members of the UN are not immune, the Staff Union disagrees. They criticize Awad's statement, and counter that national staff have immunity within the scope of their work.

  Troublingly, sources in Sri Lanka describe to Inner City Press even the torture of UN staff, and of doctors disappeared by the government after remaining in the conflict zone offering treatment and casualty figures. A Red Cross worker who had been in the conflict zone has been killed in Jaffna, where now newspaper editors face death threats.

   Is all of this consistent with Ban Ki-moon and Majinda Rajapaksa's Joint Statement? At the UN, answers like the hiring of a lawyer to work on the case of grabbed-up staff are only given if the questions keep being asked. Apparently, the UN would rather the questions stopped.

UN's Amin Awad, grabbed-up UN staff not shown

  In fact, lawyers in Sri Lanka who represent those accused of Tamil Tiger sympathies have themselves been labeled as traitors by the country's military. The UN has already shown it cannot protect its own staff in Sri Lanka. Can it even protect the lawyers it hires for its staff? Watch this site.

Footnote: Inner City Press asked outgoing Turkish Ambassador and Security Council president Baki Ilkin if he thought the Council's sessions on Sri Lanka, held in the UN's basement, had helped in any way to protect civilians in Vanni. "There is no gauge," he said, but :"everything the Security Council does or says -- or doesn't do or say -- has an impact." Video here, from Minute 2:33.

  In one view, the Council's refusal to put Sri Lanka on its agenda, and relegation of the issue to ill-attended basement session has the impact of emboldening the Rajapaksa government to make its final assault in the Vanni, and to now use UN funds to detain Tamils in camps and grab up UN staff. Everything not done or not said has an effect. Watch this site.

Inner City Press' June 18 debate on Sri Lanka, click here

 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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