Sri Lanka, UN's Ban Speaks But No Questions Allowed, Pascoe Spin
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, September 17 -- Having been widely criticized for weak
handling of civilian deaths and detentions in Sri Lanka, the UN
administration of Ban Ki-moon now seeks to control its message and
limit questions, to turn the tide of negative coverage in the run-up
to next week's General Assembly meeting.
unscripted questions and answer session with the UN press corps on
Thursday, Ban Ki-moon began by reading out a statement, including on
Sri Lanka. But then no questions on Sri Lanka were taken or allowed
by Ban's Spokesperson Michele Montas.
obvious that if an
issue is deemed important enough by the UN, even belatedly as with
Sri Lanka, to be one of the few country specific issues in the
Secretary General's opening statement, a question should be taken on
the issue. Ban's opening statement did not mention, as he himself has
not, the video that emerged weeks ago depicting the Sri Lankan Army
performing summary executions. Inner City Press has asked his
Spokesperson's Office for his response, and received only indirect,
statement did not mention a story that came out well in advance of
Ban's statement, that even of the 10,000 people recently removed from
the internment camps in Vavuniya, half of them were merely moved to
other camps further away.
UN's Ban on Sri Lanka government sign in May
in the UK Guardian the day before Ban's statement recited
of the camps that
was there when the UN secretary Ban Ki-moon came in. He stayed there
for about 10 minutes and just went. Why didn't he go into the camp
and talk to the people and spend some time asking them what their
problems were? I thought he has a responsibility and people were
expecting something from him. They expected much from him and he just
spent 10 minutes and that's it."
Ban has sent
his head of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe to Sri Lanka. The UN
Center dutifully churns out stories of concern:
Pascoe, accompanied by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Hussein Bhaila, visited Mannar, where he witnessed preparations to
construct a water reservoir for resettled communities, and received a
briefing and demonstration by the armed forces on progress in
clearing mines from the surrounding Mannar Rice Bowl region....
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today voiced his concern about
developments regarding the IDPs, as well as the political process and
a possible accountability mechanism for alleged human rights
violations committed during the armed conflict. Speaking at his
monthly news conference in New York, Mr. Ban said he had discussed
these issues with President Mahinda Rajapaksa."
the cited "news
conference," Ban read out a statement about Sri Lanka but took no
questions on this, his one country-specific critique... In his previous
two news conference, Sri Lanka questions got in only because a TV
correspondent voluntarily transferred the question he was given. Will
tightly controlled spin be enough to bury the issue during the
General Assembly meetings? We'll see. Watch this site.
* * *
Bloodbath on the Beach, Sri Lanka Offers Fish Balls with a View of UN
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, September 17 -- It was a night of fish balls and denials,
high above the UN. In a 38th floor that the government of Sri Lanka
has rented for seven years now, the country's new Ambassador to the
UN Palitha Kohona invited and greeted members of the UN press corps,
urging them to eat his chips and fish balls, drink wine red or white
or orange juice.
Inner City Press attended as one might a car crash:
it was impossible, after seeing the barbed wire rings camps of
Vavuniya and the bombed-out bloodbath on the beach not to accept an
invitation to see the Sri Lankan government's other Janus face.
for over an hour, telling the same story more than once. He recounted
how good the view had been when he worked for the UN, on the 32nd
floor in the Treaty Section. He didn't do it for a salary, he said,
but rather for the feeling of knowing he was helping a child
somewhere in the world.
asked how long the people in the camps would remain locked up. Let me
tell you, Kohona said, the bulk of them will be home by the end of
the year. What about reports that of the 10,000 who recently left
Manik Farms, over half were simply taking to other camps? Kohona
called that mischievous, of course there are interim camps. He asked
pointedly about the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the U.S., those
still not returned home.
Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has said both sides in Sri
Lanka may have committed war crimes. Even after that, Kohona claimed
that no one in the UN system had criticized Sri Lanka. Inner City
Press asked him, isn't the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights part
of the UN? No, Kohona answered, she has a different status. What
about UN children and armed conflict adviser Radhika Coomaraswamy?
She is closer to the UN, Kohona said. There are rules about what she
Top UN humanitarian John Holmes, when he went to Sri Lanka
early in his term, was called a "terrorist." His statements, it seems,
changed after that. Kohona spoke about the meetings in Kandy in May,
which Inner City Press witnesses, when cameramen told John Holmes to
sit down and not block the view of the Rajapaksa brothers and of Ban
Ki-moon. He's not used to that, Kohona said. He's not only a UN
official but also a Sir, Sir John Holmes.
despite the view, had a looted feeling. There was empty spaces on the
walls with electrical outlets behind them. I am bringing my
belongings, Kohona said, referring to a sound system. He denied that
the UK had refused him a visa. He justified the government's
expulsion of UNICEF Spokesman James Elder, an Australian, saying
Elder violated UN rules by speaking out. Some say Sri Lanka listens
in on the UN. We will have more on this and other on-the-ground
developments in Sri Lanka. This article strives to just describe a
surreal evening in UN world.
UN's Ban and Sri Lanka's Kohona on Sept. 11, video
naturalized as Australian, and was seconded to the UN by that
country's foreign service. After four year he was supposed to return,
but he says his boss Hans Corell urged him to stay. He did, for
another six years until Mahinda Rajapaksa invited him to return from
the diaspora to "live in a gilded cage, surrounded by guards" and put
words on his final assault. There are stories
still circulating in the UN, which will be told another time.
Thursday how he put the treaties online. It is password protected,
some pointed out, but they are online. Inner City Press asked about
about the Convention on the safety of UN Staff members, referring to
the UN system staff detained and they say tortured. Kohona did not
answer. He chatted up interns, he glad handed long time
correspondents. It seems light years away from the video
the Sri Lankan Army performing summary executions. It was talk of
views, or carrots and dip and fish balls. Take one, Kohona said.
They are a Sri Lankan delicacy. He said he will be UN active. This is
something we will cover.
* * *
Sri Lanka, Speed Up All Removals from IDP Camps, UN's Holmes Says, of
Due Process and Dolphin Vans Dismissed
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, September 16 -- In Sri Lanka, the UN funds and works in what
the government calls welfare centers and others characterize as
internment camps. From these camps, the government removes people it
thinks have supported the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels.
Also, according to BBC
and others, pro-government militia groups
"disappear" internees in what are called dolphin vans. The
UN's positions on these issues are not clear.
news conference, Inner City Press asked top UN humanitarian John
Holmes if there are militias in the camps, and if it knows and tries
to raise toward international standards the government's protocols
for grabbing, arresting and taking away people in UN-funded IDP
camps. Video here,
from Minute 31:58.
while allegations about disappearances are made in the media, they
are not heard from UN agencies or "from NGOs." This last
seemed strange, since Inner City Press has been told about the
disappearances by just such civil society sources. Given the
government's willingness to deport NGO staff and even UNICEF's
Colombo based spokesman, these groups are afraid to speak.
is the UN
itself investigating the troubling allegations? It is not clear. Even
on the incontrovertible process of "screening" and
removing people from the IDP camps, Holmes said the UN can do little.
It is their right, he said, referring to the Sri Lankan government.
seemed to only be asking that the detentions and removal proceed more
rapidly, so that "legitimate" IDPs can go and stay with
He said there
are at least 10,000 people in "rehabilitiation" camps, and he claimed
that the Red Cross can visit all of them, something that's disputed on
Sri Lankan camps after first rains, dolphin vans not shown
Lankan government has vigorously pressed the UN to acknowledge that
can do whatever it wants, up to and reportedly including detaining
and torturing UN system staff members. Now we have reached a point
where the UN defers from even commenting on due process for people in
UN-funded IDP camps, and only says that the government should do its
culling more speedily -- that is, in a sense, with even less due
process. Send in the dolphin vans!
Sri Lanka Detentions, UN's Top Lawyer Won't Opine, of Privileges and
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, September 16 -- While two UN system staff members remain
incarcerated in Sri Lanka after what they say was government torture,
in New York the UN is preparing for more countries to sign more
treaties and conventions during next week's General Assembly. Inner
City Press asked top UN lawyer Patricia O'Brien, during her news
conference Wednesday promoting the treaty event, about the two UN
system staffers. Video here,
from Minute 42:01.
booklet distributed at the UN lists the Convention on the Privileges
and Immunities of the UN and the Convention on the Safety of UN and
Associated Personnel. Sri Lanka has acceded to both of them, during
the General Assembly meetings in 2003. But are they being complied
with and enforced?
am not here
to speak about enforcement" of the Conventions, Ms. O'Brien
said. She referred to the UN's ironically titled "depository"
role, and that she also advised the Secretary General on the
"application of treaties."
where do these
interpretations go? In Sri Lanka, the country head for the UN made
belated statements about the disappeared staff that many thought
ignored the government's responsibility under the Conventions. Amin
Awad did not assert that the staffers were immune, at least within
the scope of their work for the UN, but only that the government
should inform the UN of the detention.
going to get into interpreting specific provisions," Ms. O'Brien
General Ban Ki-moon, under fire for weak performance including in Sri
Lanka, convened his Under Secretaries Generals including Ms. O'Brien
and her Political Affairs and Peacekeeping counterparts.
Press was told that these USGs will be taking questions more often,
to explain the UN's positions. Some thought this responded to a part
in the leaked memo by Norwegian diplomat Mona Juul, that Ban has
chosen weak or faceless USGs.
if the UN wants
to get its position out, how can its top lawyer try to limit a rare
press conference to the treaty event, not even the treaties
themselves? There are also questions about the UN's involvement in
the Cambodia genocide tribunal, Somalia piracy enforcement, policing
the (further) abuse of the UN's name, including for commercial gain,
and of the UN's and OLA's commitment to freedom of speech and of the
press. To run from these questions, news conferences are now
UN's Ban and Ms. O'Brien, UN position on detained
and tortured staff not shown
the end, Ms.
O'Brien tried to explain her refusal to answer basic policy questions
by saying since she advise Ban on some matters, it is all cover by
attorney client privilege. This is not a defense or justification
used by the chief legal officers of other international
organizations, and it ill-serves the UN, human rights -- and UN staff
and the rule of law. Watch this site.
on the lighter side, Inner City Press asked Ms. O'Brien about the
incident in July in which William Kennedy Smith, at the event at
which the U.S. signed the Disabilities Convention, asked for the
ceremonial pen. He was refused and told that the UN has only one pen.
Inner City Press asked, does the UN have only one pen? Video here,
from Minute 44:28.
that the UN does not have a budget to give pens, not of this quality,
but might seek a budget allocation. William Kennedy Smith actually
offered to buy the pen, right there. Would that comply with the law?
As on so many other things, the UN's top lawyer has no comment.
* * *
Sri Lanka Call, UN's Ban Sends Pascoe Not Nambiar, Internal
"Accountability" on Agenda
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, September 14 -- On issues ranging from the detention of UN
system Sri Lankan staff to the continuing detentions in the camps in
Vavuniya, UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn
Pascoe is traveling to Colombo on September 15. Inner City Press
asked Pascoe if, for example, he would also raise the video footage
depicting the Sri Lankan Army conducting summary executions, and if
he had seen the footage. Pascoe said yes, he has seen the film, and
that issues of "accountability" will be raised. Video of
press briefing here,
from Minute 38:02.
accountability and investigations are "all best done if done
internally." But the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has ended the
investigation of the killing of 17 Action
Contre La Faim aid workers,
and immediately denied the video the day that it first aired. So what
internal "accountability mechanisms" will Pascoe be
suggesting? Pascoe said that the "range of human rights issues"
need to be discussed, and that there is blame on all sides, "there
is enough to go around."
City Press asked Pascoe if he will be traveling to the internment
camps at Manik Farm, and who will be accompanying him. He said his
"program" is still being negotiated, and that people from
his Department of Political Affairs and the UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will join him.
the press conference or in response in the hall afterwards was
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, whose
objectivity was question in connection with his early trips to Sri
Lanka, particularly after his brother Satish wrote an op-ed praising
the strategies and acts of Sri Lankan General Fonseka, who led what
even the UN's John Holmes characterized as a "bloodbath on the
said his visit would follow up on "earlier
trips by John Holmes and others" -- notably omitting Nambiar's
sudden trip seems not unrelated to recent criticism of Ban Ki-moon's
performance, including in the leaked memo of Norway's Deputy
Permanent Representative to the UN Mona Juul.
UN's Pascoe faces taped questions on
plane to Sri Lanka in May, is internal accountability best?
On Sri Lanka,
the Juul memo said
example of weak handling from the Secretary-General’s side is the
war in Sri Lanka. The Secretary-General was a powerless observer to
civilians in their thousands losing their lives and being driven from
their homes. The authorities in Colombo refused to receive the
Secretary-General while the war was going on, but he was an honored
guest -- and he accepted the invitation -- once the war had been
“won.” Even though the UN’s humanitarian effort had been active
and honorable enough, the Secretary-General’s moral voice and
authority have been absent.
criticized Ban for choosing weak Under Secretaries General and not
allowing them to talk. Suddenly, this week there are press briefings
by Pascoe, Alain Le Roy and Susana Malcorra. Two other Ban advisers
spoke Friday, but only on background. And still not Gregory Staff of
UN Security, nor UNDP's Helen Clark nor Ann Veneman of UNICEF, whose
Colombo based spokesman James Elder is being thrown out.
and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, unlike Ban and Myanmar Senior General
Than Shwe, agreed in advance to some photogenic win-win
outcome of Pascoe's trip? Perhaps for Elder to be able to remain, or
some symbolic release of some of the detained, albeit not to the
regions they came from? We'll see -- Pascoe said to ask him "Friday or
Saturday," so the UN should provide a read-out then. Watch this site.
Pascoe spoke, Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe answered yes when
Inner City Press asked for on the record confirmation of its earlier
story of Ban's telephone call to Rajapaksa. Pascoe then
described the call as straight forward, saying that Ban and Rajapaksa
"have a very good relationship."
City Press' June 18 debate on Sri Lanka, click here
for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters
footage, about civilian
in Sri Lanka.
Click here for Inner City
Press' March 27 UN debate
Click here for Inner City
Press March 12 UN (and AIG
Click here for Inner City
Press' Feb 26 UN debate
12 debate on Sri Lanka http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17772?in=11:33&out=32:56
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.
* * *
usually also available through Google
News and on Lexis-Nexis.
for a Reuters
AlertNet piece by this correspondent
about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click
for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali
Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an
undefined trust fund. Video
Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017
earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available
in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.
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