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UN: Sri Lanka


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As UN Hosts NGOs, Talk of Transparency for IMF But Not UN Itself

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 29 -- The UN hosted non-governmental organizations from all over the world from August 27 to 29 for the 65th Annual United Nations DPI/NGO Conference.

  After the Outcome Document was agreed to, Inner City Press asked if there had been discussion of the UN's transparency, given for example that unlike many governments the UN does not have any Freedom of Information law or procedure. 

 Panelist Maruxa Cardama of Communitas said no written recommendation had been made on that; there were critiques of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

 As an issue of access, on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, Inner City Press asked about complaints FUNCA received from NGOs who waited up to five hours to register. It was explained that on August 26 the computer system had problems, but it was fixed after that.  The panel was not able to say what percentage of attendees came from the United States.

  The outcome document is here. FUNCA is still seeking answers to the question it asked two days before the conference started: what does the UN do to defend and ensure access for NGOs?

   On August 25, Inner City Press put these and other questions to Maher Nasser, the Acting Head of the UN Department of Public Information. Video here. Earlier this summer, for example, the government of Sri Lanka ordered NGOs to stop holding press conferences or otherwise interacting with the media. Click here for that.

  Inner City Press asked Nasser what the UN, whose UN Information Center in Colombo has been promoting this week's New York conference, actually does for NGOs in Sri Lanka amid this crackdown. Nasser cited UNESCO and the UN's human rights entities.

  Given the UN's troubling silence in Sri Lanka amid mass killings in 2009, which has given rise to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's “Rights Up Front” initiative, perhaps DPI where applicable should speak up on such restrictions put on NGOs.

Background: After Sri Lanka's Minister of "Defense and Urban Development" issued an order banning all non-governmental organizations from press conferences, workshops, training for journalists, and dissemination of press releases which is beyond their mandate," and the UN declined comment or passed the buck, the US and the human rights group FIDH has expressed concern.

   On July 7,  Inner City Press  asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq about it. Video here, on Inner City Press' YouTube channel.

  Inner City Press asked, since UN envoy Oscar Fernandez Taranco was recently in Sri Lanka, had he spoken to the Rajapaksa government about this crack-down, or did he have any comment now?

  Haq replied, "We'll have to study what this particular injunction was... we'll have to evaluate that."  Apparently the evaluation is still ongoing.

 Regarding Sri Lanka the UN has essentially stonewalled Press questions about the White Flag killings report and the light it sheds on current UN official Vijay Nambiar and former UN official, now Sri Lankan Ambassador Palitha Kohona.

  It was about a past financial relationship between Kohona and the president of the UN Correspondents Association, who then agreed to an UNCA screening of a Rajapaksa government movie denying war crimes that UNCA tried to censor.

When Inner City Press reported on the background to Kohona getting the Rajapaksa government's denial of war crimes, “Lies Agreed To,” screened in the Dag Hammarjkold Library auditorium, the reaction from the then-president and executive committee of the United Nations Correspondents Association are summarized here.

   Now starting September 3, this UNCA says it will use the large room the UN gives it to host "diplomats" and the journalists which pay it money.  The first guest, at the same time as a Press Briefing Room session about the Security Council's work for September, is not named or disclosed. Given the past, might it be Kohona, whose financial relationship with UNCA's president the UNCA Executive Committee tried to censor?

  The new Free UN Coalition for Access opposes all of this, and attacks on media work both inside the UN both further afield and as close at 47th Street, west of First Avenue. Watch this site.


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