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In Sri Lanka, UN Staff Denied "Freedom of Movement" But UN Won't Name Them

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 14 -- The UN on Tuesday refused to confirm the names of UN staff members held "without freedom of movement" in Sri Lankan government camps, and refused to explain why the UN said nothing about their detention until asked about it by Inner City Press on April 13. UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq said that "while the government repeatedly assured" that freedom of movement would be restored, the UN "staff remain in the camps."

  Inner City Press asked if this does not violate international law, in that UN staff have functional immunity. Haq did not answer this question, nor explain why the UN had said nothing. He began his reading of his response to Inner City Press' question by saying, "the UN does not disclose the name or location of its staff of their dependents." 

  But in other cases where UN staff have been detained -- while high profile, consider the UNHCR official taken in Pakistan -- the UN loudly demands their freedom of movement be restored, and in doing so provides their names if not locations. One reporter listening to Haq on Tuesday wondered if he was in fact saying that the UN fears that the Sri Lankan government would affirmative target it UN staff members it holds, if it were sure who they were.

UN's Ban, Ann Veneman, Coomaraswamy and Heller: who knew what when?

  Since Haq on Tuesday acknowledged that assurances the UN has "repeatedly" gotten from the Sri Lankan government have been false, one wonders how Ban Ki-moon and other UN officials have continued to recite the assurances they have gotten that the government is not or will not use heavy weapons in the so-called No Fire Zone.

 The spokesman for UNICEF director Ann Veneman sent Inner City Press a written response on Tuesday, that

Subj: Re: Q re if there are staff in "IDP" camps in Sri Lanka
From: [Spokesman at]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 4/14/2009 5:09:12 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time

Re. your questions yesterday I can confirm that there are UNICEF staff in the camps. UNICEF has access to the camps so we are able to contact them. UNICEF and UN system colleagues are currently in discussions with authorities about their situation. We will not confirm the names of those staff affected.

  Inner City Press has been provided with some names, along with requests that they be published, but holds off for now. Watch this space.

OCHA spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker yesterday replied:

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. 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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