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As UN Mulls Sri Lankan Murder Video, Report on Camps Withheld, UK Passes Buck

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 26 -- When a war crime is filmed and presented to the UN, will it take action? On August 26, Inner City Press asked three officials at the UN about the now widely circulated video clip depicting Sri Lankan soldiers shooting naked, blindfolded victims in the head.

  At the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesperson Michele Montas about "footage of what appears to be Sri Lankan soldiers shooting naked, bound, unarmed people [inaudible]. Is there any response by the UN to that footage?" There was not.

   Later another UN official said that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is considering how to authenticate the footage, perhaps with outside experts, in order to act on it. But how?

   At the Security Council stakeout, Inner City Press asked the president of the Council for this dwindling month, the UK's John Sawers, if he'd seen the footage and what the UK proposes to do about it. He replied that "first," he was appearing as President of the Council. He said he hadn't yet seen the footage but had read about it. It does seem "disturbing," he said, adding that it should be investigated "in the first instance by the Sri Lanka authorities." Video here, from Minute 6:12.

   But the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration has already curtailed its investigation into the killing of 17 aid workers of Action Contre La Faim, and declared that its soldiers committed abuses. (Others in the administration have said that winners are never tried for war crimes.) So at this late date to defer to Sri Lanka to investigate the snuff film seems misplaced.

UN's Ban views Manik Farm camp in May, deaths not shown

  Among NGOs working in Sri Lanka, the level of disappointment at the UN and Ban Ki-moon has grown. The groups are meeting one last time with UN country representative Neil Buhne, to urge him to go public with the evidence the UN has compiled. They say that Tamil females in the camps are being used as comfort women. They say that UN has a report showing that many people will die when the monsoon season comes if they remain trapped in the camps. The UN is not releasing this report, they say, asking why Ban Ki-moon appears so beholding to Rajapaksa.

  In Sri Lanka, the administration is said to be concerned on this by only three things: Delhi's reaction, an upcoming report to the U.S. Congress, and how Rajapaksa is received at the UN General Assembly next month. Watch this site.

* * *

At UN, A Call for An Envoy for Sri Lanka, Murder as Diagnosis, Footage Emerges

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 25, updated -- People in Sri Lanka expected more from the UN than a couple of phone calls and a Joint Statement with President Rajapaksa, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Colombo-based Center for Policy Alternatives told the Press on Tuesday. Following Dr. Saravanamuttu's receipt of an anonymous death threat last week, a press conference was hastily organized inside the UN in New York. Roughly half of the questions asked by journalists concerned the death threats. Others concerned Saravanamuttu's assessment of the performance of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his chief of staff and enjoy, Vijay Nambiar.

   Diplomatically, Saravanamuttu called both of them "disappointing." He noted that no UN Security Council member had pushed hard to get the bloody conflict onto the Council's agenda. A European Council member staffer was in the audience and did not disagree, but afterwards argued to Inner City Press that even if Sri Lanka were on the agenda, action could have been blocked by a veto. The staffer also confessed to knowing little about the GPS Plus tariff dispute that triggered the death threat to Saravanamuttu.

  Saravanamuttu mentioned the roles of Russia and China, and non-Council member India. Asked why the UK, France and U.S. had not pushed harder in the Council, Saravanamuttu said "I guess we are not that important."

   Saravanamuttu described a case pending before the Sri Lankan Supreme Court seeking to assert the human rights of the Tamils in the government's internment camps in the north. Again diplomatically, he said that the court does not share the "urgency" of the situation. An audience member, a journalist from India, asked about the recent extraordinary rendition of successor Tamil Tiger leader K.P. from Malaysia. Saravanamuttu said that little is known about how the seizure was done. Could one bring a habeus corpus like petition before the court? The Supreme Court, he said, would have to give leave to proceed.

  Several of the attendees expressed surprise at how "moderate" Saravanamuttu was. He repeatedly criticized the LTTE, he called Mahinda Rajapaksa "his Excellency." He said he expected the government of Sri Lanka to protect him. He is on his way, after another UN visit on Wednesday, to a U.S. State Department event about Sri Lanka in Washington, an another session at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

  Also in the audience Tuesday were representatives of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as Oxfam which asked if Saravanamuttu was meeting with any UN officials while in town. I've met some in the past, Saravanamuttu said. This time, apparently not. Ban Ki-moon, who just returned from holiday in South Korean, leaves Thursday for Vienna and Norway.

Mahinda Rajapaksa in Myanmar, June 2009

  Head humanitarian John Holmes, who once spoke of the blood bath on the beach, is on vacation. "Bloody Mary on the beach," one wag snarked, while the UN-funded camps are full of excrement and the monsoons are coming. Saravanamuttu's great hope seemed to be that Ban will, as he's done with Jean-Maurice Ripert in Pakistan, name a special envoy. Let's see if he does. Watch this site.

Footnotes: Perhaps triggering an end to full impunity for the outrages of earlier this year, now video has emerged of soldiers shooting blindfolded unarmed men, click here to view. But will any tribunal or anyone in the UN system take action?

Update of 10:37 p.m. -- as the Channel 4 clip of a filmed war crime by Sri Lankan military is forwarded, Inner City Press understands that the question will arise at the August 26 U.S. State Department press briefing: watch this site.

On the death of Mahinda Rajapaksa's nephew Shyamlal Rajapaksa in Tanzania, Inner City Press' story yesterday quoting UN Spokesperson Michele Montas that the preliminary finding is that he was murdered has been picked up in the Sri Lankan press, including some denunciation of this publication. For the record, the quote that "he was murdered" is directly from UN Spokesperson Michele Montas. Video here, from Minute 10:03; transcript here and below:

Inner City Press: A cousin of the President of Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa, died in Tanzania. Was apparently an employee, or a prosecutor for the court on the Rwandan genocide. His mother has said that the UN is somehow covering it up and that there is some UN investigation of his death and some issue around the payment of the insurance. What’s the UN’s response to this, I guess, response by a relative of the President of Sri Lanka?

Spokesperson Michele Montas: Well, in this specific case, as you know, he was working for … as a prosecutor. We could only confirm that he was found dead in his home and that there were preliminary findings, police findings is that he has been murdered. This is all we know. The investigation is being done with the Tanzanian and Sri Lankan law enforcement officials. So, I really don’t have anything more to say, as long as they have not really reported to us on exactly the facts of the case.

Inner City Press: She seems to say something about insurance. Is there any difference in the payment of UN insurance based on the cause of death?

Spokesperson: Not that I know of, and I can… check that. At any rate, it is hypothetical…

Question: Sure.

Spokesperson: …to the extent that we don’t have yet the result of the investigation.

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

  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.

* * *

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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