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On Sri Lanka, UN Funds Now Flooded Internment Camps, Still Silent on ACF Killings

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 16 -- As the Sri Lankan government conducts extraordinary renditions and declares itself the winner of elections in Jaffna, weeks after it cleared itself and declared over an investigation into killings including of 17 Action Contre La Faim aid workers, the UN in New York still has nothing to say.

   Inner City Press on August 10 asked Deputy UN Humanitarian chief Catherine Bragg about the ending of the investigation into the slaughter of the 17 ACF workers. Ms. Bragg said that "we have only seen bits and pieces of the report... we would like to ask the government for the whole report." One wag asked, you'd like to ask the government -- but have you? another week has passed, and still the UN has said nothing.

   But as the internment camps that it funds are flooded, and the government blames the UN, one expects the UN to belatedly speak out this week. Back on August 10, Ms. Bragg was more decisive is answering that from the government's detention camps, the "rate of return is very low" and that the government should "allow freedom of movement." But the UN keep raising money for the internment camps. So why should the government change what it is doing? In fact, the government now blames the UN for the flooding.

Flooded camps in Sri Lanka, government blames UN

   Inner City Press asked UNICEF to "describe and quantify UNICEF's work in the IDP camps, described as without freedom of movement for IDPs, in Northern Sri Lanka, including what if anything UNICEF is doing to ensure that its assistance is not supporting a violation of international law and human rights, the involuntary confinement of IDPs." After two days, UNICEF replied that "we have contacted our country office for information on those questions. We will get back to you as soon as possible."

   We will report the response upon receipt. So too the upcoming return to the UN of Sri Lanka's new Ambassador, Palitha Kohona. Despite his hard to understand statement this year that the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay somehow did not represent the UN system in her criticism of his government, Kohona previously served as the head of UN's Treaty Section. At that time, sources tell Inner City Press, Kohona was not Sri Lankan, but rather a citizen of Australia. Expect ever greater contentiousness. Outgoing Ambassador H.M.S Paliakara stopped to say goodbye to Inner City Press, saying he is off to write his memoirs. We'll wait to fact check them.

On August 12, Inner asked about extraordinary rendition, a topic on which the UN system has spoke in other circumstances:

Inner City Press: Sri Lanka has arrested, either in Malaysia or in Thailand, it’s unclear, an opposition leader Mr. (Patmen?), also known as KP. [inaudible] may extraordinary rendition, i.e., he was arrested, there was no extradition trial and now he is back in the country. Has the UN said, some people say he’s been tortured but, does the UN have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t think we’ve received ay reports on that, but we’ll look into that for you.

   No response has been provided, even though a senior Ban advisor from the 38th floor unprompted told Inner City Press that they had been expecting the question about Pathmanathan and extraordinary rendition. And so it goes with the UN.

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On Sri Lanka, As UN's Ban Speaks of IDPs' Comfort, UN Dismissive of Abductions

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 29 -- While UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had said he would closely monitor Sri Lanka's compliance with the commitments made while he was there in May, for example to release by the end of the year 80% of the 280,000 Tamils it has detained, and to end impunity, the UN and Mr. Ban have had little to nothing to say on these topics in last two weeks.
  Meanwhile, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has reduced the 80% commitment to a 60% "target," and his government has disbanded a commission of inquiry into killings, including of 17 aid workers from Action Contre La Faim, unilaterally declaring itself exonerated. Tellingly, two UN system staff members who were disappeared in white vans by the government say they were tortured while in government detention.

  On July 29, at what appears to be Ban's press availability before he goes on summer vacation in South Korea, his spokesperson Michele Montas gave questions to 15 journalists. While several were repetitive, none was on Sri Lanka. At the conclusion of the press conference, as Ms. Montas declared it over, Inner City Press asked "what follow-up have you made on the commitments of the joint statement that you received from [President] Rajapaksa?"

  Referring to written notes, Ban stated that he had raised the issue with Chinese officials during his recent four day trip there, and that he spoke about Sri Lanka with India's Prime Minister during the G-8 meeting in Italy. As to what Ban said to President Rajapakse, rather than the release of detained people, he emphasized that the conditions in the detention camps should be improved. He did not mention the UN staff who were abducted and they say tortured. Video here, from Minute 44:28.

   Ban's answer was clearly scripted. Therefore we report on some of the recent comments of one of Ban's advisors, which more candidly reflect the UN's views on Sri Lanka. This official told Inner City Press for example that the UN is not concerned with what the Tamil diaspora says -- "they left when the going was good," he said. The official argued that Ban has, in fact, stood up to the Rajapakses during his meeting with them in Kandy. "He said, 'Please don't interrupt me,' and you don't say that to a president."

   But the reason for not raising the issue of the detained UN staff, it appears, is the position that they do not have immunity. "If they work for us nine to five and then for the LTTE," the official said dismissive, "if they need to be hauled up for questioning, the UN can't tell the government you can't do that."

   Inner City Press said, but the government threw them into a white van.

   "They don't need to ask your permission to paint their van," the UN official told Inner City Press.

UN's Ban on July 29, tortured UN staff and dismissive advisor(s) not shown

  He went on to argue that "there are double standards everywhere. Iraq -- who said anything? Or about China? Now there is noise about human rights."

The UN official was openly skeptical of the number of civilians killed. "There are sixty million Tamils in Tamil Nadu," he said. "If they are not agitated there must be some reason. If 20,000 people died, do you think Tamil Nadu would not be agitated? In 1983, there were reports of a a major killing of Tamils... Mrs. Gandhi sent a message overnight that it must stop, and it did. She didn't get the information from the RAW, but from Tamil Nadu politicians, they have family there."

   Strangely, this UN official who said the UN should not listen to the Tamil diaspora based his argument to dismiss the UN's own casualty figures on what he call the lack of agitation in Tamil Nadu. It reflects how this UN has been making and will continue to make its decisions. Watch this site.

From the July 29, 2009 transcript:

Inner City Press: What follow-up have you made on the commitments of the joint statement that you received from [Sri Lankan President Mahinda] Rajapaksa?

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: In the margins of the Non-Aligned Meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, I had a bilateral meeting with President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka. There again, we reviewed what we had discussed during my visit [to Sri Lanka], and I urged him to take the necessary measures, first of all, to improve the conditions of IDP [internally displaced persons] camps, so that they can have freer movement. And, as far as the freedom of movement of the humanitarian workers, I think we have ensured that freedom. And there needs to be more freedom for those people living in camps – their living conditions should be improved. And I also strongly urged him to reach out to minority groups, like the Tamils, and to take the necessary measures to look for this accountability process. Those are three points on which I have strongly urged him, and he committed to me that he will abide by all pledges that he made during my visit.

  And I had an opportunity of discussing this matter with some key players, like China and India, during my visit to China. And during the time of the G-8 Summit Meeting, I had a talk with the Indian Prime Minister, so that they could do all that they can. I have also discussed with the Japanese Prime Minister and many other world leaders on these issues. I am going to continue.

   So are we, going to continue. 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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