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Amid Move to Switch From Criminal Silva, Ban Dismisses Predecessor Criticism

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 3, updated Feb 10 -- For a week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office has been questioned about accepting alleged war criminal Shavendra Silva as one of Ban's Senior Advisers on Peacekeeping Operations.

  While Ban's Spokesman Martin Nesirky has insisted that Ban is powerless to stop what several member states describe as a travesty or a "new low," some states asked by Inner City Press say they are pushing Sri Lanka to pull Silva back, even if only to replace him with Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona, who also played a role in the White Flag killing of prospective surrenderees, along with Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar.

 Acts of Shavendra Silva's battalion in 2009 are described in the UN's own Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka -- for example in paragraphs 62, 90-92 and 171, shelling hospitals and the killing those seeking to surrender, in which both Kohona and Nambiar played a role -- and lawsuits have been filed against Silva for war crimes. In September 2011, Inner City Press asked Silva about them, click here for that story.

  Nesirky told Inner City Press to "ask the Asia group" about their vote; Inner City Press did, and found that there was no vote, Sri Lanka convinced Saudi Arabia and Nepal to stand down.

  Nesirky told Inner City Press to look at the General Assembly resolution, and Inner City Press has, finding that nothing in the text says that Ban has to take whomever is referred to him, whatever their record.

 In fact, Susana Malcorra Ban's head of Field Support, and prospectively his new deputy replacing Asha Rose Migiro, met with member states and laid down criteria like "senior" status.

   Why didn't she and Ban say, don't nominate alleged war criminals?

On February 3, after trying to let the issue settle for a bit, Inner City Press again asked Nesirky:

Inner City Press: it has to do with, again, Shavendra Silva, but also something new. There has been an open letter by Edward Mortimer, who used to be the Communications Director for Kofi Annan, saying and stating as a fact that the UN investigating itself under Thoraya Obaid has been disbanded, did not proceed. I wanted you to confirm if that’s true.

[Update of Feb 10: there was no answer to this question so Inner City Press asked it again on Feb 10; spokesman Nesirky said that Mr. Mortimer's assertion is false, that the review under Obaid is still ongoing. Inner City Press asks when, after all this time, it will be finished. We'll see.]

Also, the organization that Mr. Mortimer is the chair of, called the Sri Lanka Campaign, has given a quote about Silva saying that it's very surprising that the Secretary-General would accept Mr. Silva given the allegations against him of war crimes in a Secretary-General’s report that hasn’t been acted on. [Response?] You said various things before. I have actually looked at the GA resolution; it doesn’t seem to on its face say that the Secretary-General has to accept it. So I want to ask you again, given that former UN officials are saying it’s a black mark for the UN to have an alleged war criminal as an adviser on peacekeeping, what’s the thinking in the Secretariat? Is there any attempt being made to defuse this, to seek another individual from Sri Lanka, or are you simply saying we have no power, we accept it whatever the consequences?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Matthew, it is not a question of accepting or not accepting. It is a question of the Member States deciding. It is a question for the Asia group among the Member States to decide — and that was their decision. And I suggest that you take it up with them.

Inner City Press: I have, and there was no election in the Asian group, and the reason I think it’s legitimate to ask you is this is that a former UN official is saying it is surprising that Ban Ki-moon accepts this, i.e. he thinks, having had experience in the UN system, that clearly the Secretary-General, he can make calls, he can attempt... I just wanted to know, if in fact there is a switch, which may take place to Mr. Kohona, is the Secretary-General in any way involved in that or entirely [powerless]?

Spokesperson: Well, with great respect to Edward Mortimer, whom I know, he is not in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General any more. And so he cannot be privy to what may or may not take place there, at all.

   So, under Ban the Office of the Secretary-General has gotten so much weaker? That was the question, and this so far is the answer. We will have more on this, and on the Campaign.

(c) UN Photo
Mortimer, Sen & Annan: acceptingt war criminal Silva as "Senior Adviser" not shown

Here are on the record quote provided on this to Inner City Press by the director of the Sri Lanka Campaign Fred Carver:

"There are very serious allegations of war crimes leveled against Silva, allegations that the Secretary-General's expert panel has recommended be investigated - something that has not yet happened. There are also incredibly serious allegations leveled against Sri Lankan members of UN peacekeeping forces - over whom Silva would have oversight. This appointment therefore does not speak well for the UN's commitment to investigating atrocities, even when the perpetrators wear blue helmets."

And, after some back and forth, by Edward Mortimer, former Annan communications director:

It’s disgraceful that someone against whom there are strong and credible charges of war crimes should serve as Deputy Permanent Representative of his country at the UN, and even more disgraceful that the Asian Group has elected him to serve on the Secretary-General’s Special Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations – disgraceful, and insulting to the Secretary-General. I’m surprised that he puts up with it.”

That is giving Ban (too much) benefit of the doubt, and still it raises questions. Watch this site.

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Click here for Sept 23, '11 about UN General Assembly

Click for Mar 1, '11 re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption

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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

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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