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On Sri Lanka, UN's Ban Was Lied To, But Pascoe Trip Delay, of Job Requests

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 3 -- The UN's failure to follow through even on what few commitments it made about Sri Lanka became clearer this week. So too did the UN's refusal to answer about the perception of conflict of interest by the Secretary General's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, named in an Australian documentary, even as he reportedly fielded a request from Sri Lanka's foreign minister to give a job to his son.

  In the week of Mahinda Rajapaksa's arrest of opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka, Inner City Press had asked for the UN's response. The response was that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's top political advisor Lynn Pascoe would be sent to Sri Lanka by the end of the month, February.

  But as the month was almost over, Inner City Press asked, what of the visit? Spokesman Martin Nesirky said he would check. Days later on March 2, Inner City Press asked again:

Inner City Press: I know time is limited. So, I wanted to ask you the question about Sri Lanka, if I could. It has been… the President there, [Mahinda] Rajapaksa, has extended emergency rule even though this is months after the internal war is supposedly over. He has extended emergency rule. Former UN spokesman Gordon Weiss has been quoted in an Australian TV programme that just aired as saying essentially that the Secretary-General was lied to by the President. What he says, and it seems important to nail this down, he says, for months the Secretary-General was told by the President, of heavy weapons: “We are not using them. There are no heavy weapons used. When one leader speaks to another you speak in good faith and accept assurances. If you are told a barefaced lie, it is very difficult to work against that.” What I am wondering is, given that the Secretary-General has said he’s considering appointing some panel for accountability, he was considering, I believe, if I understand you correctly, in February, sending Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe there. Where do things stand, particularly given the UN’s own former spokesman for Sri Lanka saying that the UN was lied to, essentially?

Spokesperson: Where things stand [are] where they were before, and what I mean by that is that, firstly, the Secretary-General has indeed made it clear that he is looking into the possibility of there being an independent commission to help [advise the Secretary-General and] the Sri Lankan authorities to look into the allegations that there are. The second is on Mr. Pascoe’s announced visit, as it were. We’re still waiting to find out exactly what the dates are for that.

Inner City Press: Is there any response to what Gordon Weiss has said, that the communication to the Secretary-General turned out to be patently false?

Spokesperson: I am not going to comment on that.

  Mahinda Rajapaksa also spoke with Ban Ki-moon about investigating war crimes, but nothing has been done. Still, Ban has done nothing about it.

UN's Ban and Nambiar, follow through on Sri Lanka not shown

  Now comes a report in the Colombo media that "a senior Cabinet minister who has been interacting with the UN during the recent confrontations has written to a high-ranking UN official -- and on an official ministry letter head -- soliciting a job for his son in the UN secretariat."

  Inner City Press has spoken with sources extremely informed about that above quote, who say it was Sri Lanka's foreign minister, writing to Vijay Nambiar. On March 3, spokesman Nesirky made a point of disallowing Inner City Press a second question.
  Later on March 3, well placed UN sources said the push is on for Nambiar to have to leave the chief of staff post, to be farmed out to covering Myanmar. That would be bad enough, according to Burma focused NGOs. But to continue to be involved in any way in Sri Lanka? Watch this site.

* * *

Amid Tear Gas, UN Lets Stand Sri Lanka Claim of Its Congratulations, UN's "Good Journalism" Guide

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 11 -- As in Sri Lanka the Rajapaksa administration deploys tear gas against those protesting its arrest of Sarath Fonseka, in New York Inner City Press asked if the UN had any comment. Video here, from Minute 8:46.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky reiterated his version of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's telephone call to Mahinda Rajapaksa. But then did the UN or Mr. Ban, Inner City Press asked, take issue with the Sri Lankan government's press release about the call, that it involved Ban congratulating Mahinda Rajapaka, without any mention of the arrest of Fonseka or the tear gassing of his supporters? Video here, from Minute 8:46.

  "Governments will characterize... as they see fit," Nesirky said.

  But what if the press coverage adopts the government's version of the call, and the UN is portrayed as totally (and not just partially) in bed with human rights abuses?

  Inner City Press mentioned instances where the UN, even under Ban, has taken issue with statements by governments, of Sudan and Zimbabwe for example. So does the silence now mean the UN and Ban are satisfied with the Rajapaksas' summary?

"That's not what I said, don't put words in my mouth," Nesirky protested. Video here, from Minute 10:44.

Another journalist asked Nesirky for a more "philosophical" response about when governments mis-use their communications or even photo ops with the UN.

  "I am not a philosopher," Nesirky. He then returned to the Sri Lanka issue, saying that "the coverage was rather balanced," including both the read out of the Secretary General and the government. Mr. Nesirky said pointedly, "That's what good journalists do." Video here, from Minute 12:40.

  Leaving aside the question of whether the UN and its spokesman should be opining on what and how journalists should report, it seems strange for anyone to equate "good journalism" with merely presenting side by side the UN's version and the government's version, that Ban congratulated Rajapaksa while he cracked down on his opponents and the independent press. Does that mean both versions are equally true?

Sri Lankan forces use batons on protesters, UN "congratulations" not shown

  It is a win - win situation then. Ban can say he spoke about due process, and Mahinda Rajapaksa can say he was congratulated by the UN while cracking down on his opponents. Each side gets what it wants. Could this be Ban's UN kabuki theater?

Footnotes: Ban's versions is that he called for due process. But after the call, presidential brother and Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that Fonseka "is guilty" of treason, predicting a five year sentence. When the president's brother declares a person guilty before any trial or even showing of evidence, it doesn't sound like "good" due process. Will the UN have anything to say?

  Again, on both February 8 and 9, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky if Vijay Nambiar is, officially or de facto, now in charge of the UN's Sri Lanka policy, given reports that calls from the Rajapaksa administration to Mr. Ban were referred to Mr. Nambiar. (It concerned trying to cancel a UN press conference by Philip Alston, about summary executions by the Sri Lankan army.)

Numerous observers, most recently a forthcoming TV documentary, have opined that Nambiar's involvement in Sri Lanka in 2009 was inappropriately pro-Rajapaksa, and worse.  Nesirky at the Monday and Tuesday noon briefings this week has said he would get to the bottom of the question of the call and roles, but has not. On Wednesday there was no noon briefing due to snow. On Thursday, still no answer was given. And the Rajapaksa administration's trumpeting of Ban's congratulations circulated worldwide, with no protest or correction by Ban's UN. Watch this site.

 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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