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In Sri Lanka, UN Staff Detained in IDP Camps, Names Provided to UNICEF and OCHA, Double Standard Alleged

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 13 -- As the Sri Lankan government's detention camps for those leaving the northern conflict zone have become the subject of international controversy, quietly staff members of the United Nations and their families have themselves been interred in the camps, with the UN saying nothing until asked, it emerged on Monday. Inner City Press at the April 13 UN noon briefing asked spokesman Farhan Haq, video here from Minute 13:36 --

Inner City Press: This is on Sri Lanka.  There have been some reports that in the camps that have been set up outside the conflict zone from which people can’t leave and can’t receive visitors, that there are some UN staff in these camps -- from OCHA [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and some of the specialized funds programs and agencies.  Is the UN aware of any of its staff members that are either held incommunicado or are in camps that they can’t leave from?  And if they’re aware, what’s the UN doing about securing their freedom of movement and release from these camps?

Associate Spokesperson Haq:  I am not aware of that one, but we’ll check with OCHA and see what they have to say on that.

   Inner City Press then e-mailed the spokespeople for OCHA and UNICEF, repeating the question. OCHA spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker replied first:

Subj: Re: Q if there are UN system staff / family in Sri Lankan government's "IDP" camps, and if so...
From: [OCHA at]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 4/13/2009 3:17:39 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time

Among those tens of thousands of people who have managed to flee the No Fire Zone in northern Sri Lanka, we are aware that some UN and NGO staff and their dependents have managed to flee as well.  As far as we know, they are still in the camps for displaced people set up in the area, and we have repeatedly asked the Government of Sri Lanka to allow them freedom of movement so that they can eventually resume their role as aid workers.  While the Government has repeatedly assured us that this request would be met, the staff still remain in the camps. [Inserted into UN transcript here.]

   Inner City Press' sources in Sri Lanka say that OCHA chief John Holmes was informed of these people while he was in Sri Lanka, that local staff dissatisfaction with his public silence about it has been growing.

UN OCHA's Holmes in IDP camp, still-detailed UN and OCHA staff not shown

 Some there ask, if the government of Sudan for example interred UN staff members, OCHA and Ban Ki-moon, to say nothing of the U.S., France and UK on the Security Council, would surely loudly scream. Why not in Sri Lanka?

   Inner City Press has been provided by local sources with names of staff on information and belief detained in the Sri Lankan government camps including in Vavuniya, even an assistant field coordinator. Inner City Press has put these names to OCHA's Ms. Bunker and to UNICEF's spokesman, who replied

"I am not aware of any UNICEF staff in this situation, but I have been away from the office for a few days. I have asked my colleagues in Sri Lanka and will respond when I get a response from them, hopefully tomorrow."

 He has been supplied for four UNICEF staff names. Watch this site.

  Click here for a new YouTube 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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