Staff Union Slams Sri Lanka Detentions, Cites Immunity as UN Claims
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, July 14 -- With even the funders of Sri Lanka's camps for
Tamils now calling them prison-like places of internment, UN
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been quoted about Sri Lanka that "I
should not be responsible for that." But what about the
continued detention of the UN's own staff? Two UN system employees
have grabbed up by plain clothes police in unmarked vehicles and have
yet to be released: Kandasamy "Saundi" Saundrarajan and N.
July 10 the UN
Staff Union called on Ban "to demand the Sri Lankan Government
to release all UN staff members held without charge [and] not to
restrict the movement of UN personnel."
alleges a pattern: "The recent action of Sri Lanka to detain two
national staff appears to be a campaign against UN personnel, which
is illegal under international law. Authorities have been arresting,
without explanation, UN staff members, initially refusing to provide
access to them by UN officials." Click here to
view the Staff
their statement, UN Staff Union officials expressed outrage at quotes
by the UN's Country
Representative in Sri Lanka, UNHCR's Amim Awad, that "the
acknowledges without reservation the right of the security services
of Sri Lanka to investigate any allegations of criminal wrongdoing,
including by UN staff members, and will cooperate fully to support
happened to the UN's claims, for example
in Sudan, that its staff members are immune, at least in the scope of
UN's Ban in Sri Lanka, with (some) staff, Union and
detained not shown
fact, the UN
on Sudan was taking a contrary position, that immunity
extends to national staff:
New York, U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said U.N. officials in
Khartoum had contacted authorities about Hussein to ensure a
U.N.-Sudan agreement on the status of the mission was respected 'and
that basic human rights are upheld in the context of national laws
governing such issues.' U.N. officials said the United Nations
interpreted the agreement to mean that members of the mission were
immune from judicial proceedings."
are the UN's positions in Sri Lanka and Sudan so different? Watch this
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Sri Lanka Taxes and Cuts NGOs, Parades the Detained Doctors,
UN Has Nothing to Say
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
NATIONS, July 9, updated --
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."
from Minute 15:18.
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.
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
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
Update: sources in Sri Lanka
confirm that the doctors have not been released, only paraded in front
of the media. Others fear for their safety both in or out of custody.
What will the UN do?
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.
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.
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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