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UN's and Ban's Backing-Down to Sri Lanka Questioned by NGOs, IMF Delay Praised

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 22 -- The lead-up to the "bloodbath on the beach" in Sri Lanka was the barring from the northern part of the country of not only journalists but also non-governmental organizations. Wednesday several prominent NGOs had a briefing at the UN, and they were asked why not only the UN but also they had not said more. Joseph Cornelius Donnelly of CARITAS International replied that fear of losing all access to the country, as with the UN, weighed on the side of keeping quiet.

   Nimmi Gowrinathan of Operation USA pointed out that as an American NGO, the Patriot Act and the Material Support of Terrorism Act problematized some of their activities in north and east Sri Lanka. The group's president, she said, went to Colombo to meet with U.S. Ambassador Robert O. Blake, but a decision was made not to speak up in such a way as to "bring in Homeless Security" to see what they were doing. Video here, from Minute 50:21.

   Inner City Press asked the groups to assess the UN's performance, in withholding casualty figures and refusing to call for a cease-fire. Anna Neistat from Human Rights Watch said that more journalists should have pushed the UN to give out the figures. She referred to the March 2009 document which Inner City Press obtained and published: at that time, 2683 dead, now risen past 4500.

  The UN played scared, said Robert Templer of the International Crisis Group, and ended up with the worst of both worlds: no full access to the camps, and complicity in not speaking up about casualties caused by the government. The UN "should have been more forthright," he said. Video here, from Minute 29:55.

Annan biographer Traub, UN's "Best Intentions" on Sri Lanka not shown

  Also taking questions on the panel was James Traub, policy director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect and biographer of -- some say apologist for -- Kofi Annan. After Traub had praised Annan's successor Ban Ki-moon for "very intense telephone" advocacy leading to the government's call for a two day holiday lull, Inner City Press asked him to comment on Ban's refusal to call for a cease-fire, and failure to speak out about the detention of UN staff without freedom of movement in government IDP camps.

  "I can give a very satisfactory answer," Traub said, because "I don't know the underlying facts you cited to me." He went on to muse that Ban's failure to call for a cease-fire might have been a question of "nomenclature," that he was willing to call for a pause but not a cease-fire. But why? While appropriately also laying blame at the feet of member states, Traub conceded that the UN "is too institutionally inclined to say yes to retaining access, and no to speaking out publicly."  Video here, from Minute 53.

  But the problem is not only institutional. Even Kofi Annan, one surmises, would have said more in this case, when the UN's own reports showed 2,683 civilians killed between January 20 and March 7. HRW's Anna Neistat posed a question that remains to be answered: how could Sri Lanka so intimidate the UN, when it has so little leverage? She said she doubts Sri Lanka can even afford to throw out humanitarian groups. Why did the UN back down so cravenly?  This remains to be answered.

   One development was praised at Wednesday's session, the delay at the International Monetary Fund of Sri Lanka's request for a $1.9 billion loan. It was supposed to be approved weeks ago, HRW's Anna Neistat said when asked by a correspondent from Xinhua. Video here from Minute 49:09.  In mid-March, when Inner City Press asked the IMF's spokesman if any conditions would be attached, he said it was still being negotiated.

   While Neistat said that human rights conditions can't be attached to loans, early in the the week at the UN, Jo-Marie Griesgraber from New Rules for Global Finance responded to Inner City Press' question about Sri Lanka's loan request by noting that under Michel Camdessus, military over-expenditure can be to considered a "non productive expenditure."  Video here, from Minute 33:14.

   And is the building of detention camps, now being funded by the UN, a legitimate "humanitarian" expenditure? To be continued.

Footnote: We continue to wait for the UK's formal answer to the first of the two questions which Inner City Press asked the UK Mission to the UN two questions on Sri Lanka early on April 15:

Does the UK believe that international law and the rights of UN humanitarian staff are being violated by the now-acknowledged detention of UN staff in the Sri Lankan government's “IDP” camps?

It has been reported this morning that Sri Lanka's “minister also told the British Foreign Secretary that there was concern that the LTTE would continue to consolidate its fortification of the No-Fire Zone.” Please confirm the accuracy of that, and of this and if so, does the UK interpret it as saying that an offensive on the No-Fire Zone and the civilians in it will begin? What did the UK Foreign Secretary say?

  As of this press time a week later, the formal answer has been referral to Minister Miliband's April 12 statement, and this. Tuesday, Inner City Press put the question to U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, whose spokesman on Wednesday cleared this response:  "UN personnel should have freedom of movement and be treated with respect." As more answers arrive or are released we will report them on 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.

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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

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