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After Sri Lanka Samarasinghe Rebuffs Pillay, UN Tells ICP Ban Wants Cooperation

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 1 -- While UN Secretary General had no comment last week on restrictions on human rights defenders in Sri Lanka (and previously accepted controversial military figure Shavendra Silva as an adviser, telling Inner City Press it was entirely up to the member states), on April 1 Ban through his deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq gave a pre-prepared answer to Inner City Press' question.

   After Sri Lanka's Mahinda Samarasinghe, whom Ban met on October 16, 2012, said that the government will not cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commission on Human Rights probe included in the Human Rights Council resolution adopted last week 23-12-12, Inner City Press on April 1 asked Haq if Ban had any comment.

  He did. Haq replied that "the Secretary General has underlined importance of accountability [and] welcomes determination of the High Commission on Human Rights [and] calls on gov to constructive engage and cooperate in implementation of the resolution," citing President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his own joint statement in May 2009.  Video here.
  From the UN's April 1, 2014 transcript:

Inner City Press: you mention the Rights Up Front plan that the Secretary-General has spoken about. Since there was a resolution passed last week in Geneva at the Human Rights Council calling for an independent, international investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka. Since then, Mahinda Samarasinghe, who the Secretary-General has met with in the past, has said that Sri Lanka will not participate in any way, will not corporate, and essentially won’t allow these investigators into the country. And I wanted to know if the Secretary-General or the Secretariat has any response to that.

Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq: Yes, the Secretary-General has consistently underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Sri Lanka. He welcomes the determination by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to advance accountability and promote lasting peace and reconciliation in the country. The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to constructively engage and cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner on the implementation of the resolution adopted last week by the Human Rights Council. He recalls the commitments made to him on accountability by the President of Sri Lanka in their Joint Statement of 2009. The United Nations will remain engaged with Sri Lanka to support Sri Lanka’s efforts to make progress in accountability, reconciliation and a lasting political solution. Have a good afternoon, everyone.

  Back on March 28 when there was testimony that two human rights defenders were prohibited from traveling or speaking with the media:

Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about the restrictions:

Inner City Press: On Sri Lanka, there were these two human right defenders, Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan, who were taken into custody during the pendency of the resolution in Geneva. And although they’ve been released, it was said at the Geneva hearing yesterday that both are subject to travel, can’t travel and can’t speak to the media. And I wanted to know — is that something that the UN Secretariat would be concerned about?

Deputy Spokesman Haq: Well, I think first and foremost, that would be an issue for the Human Rights mechanisms in Geneva, specifically the office dealing with human rights defenders. So, I think you should ask them how they’re following up on this, because they’re the ones who’ve been expressing their concerns about this case.

  This passing the buck now seems at odds with Haq's April 1 answer as well as to his March 28 answer about Ukraine: when asked about journalists there, Haq said that's why we, Ban's UN, wants to and is deploying a human rights monitoring team to Ukraine. Video here.

   Is this human rights, or politics? How long and how will Ban's UN's strange relationship with Sri Lanka continue?

  Later on March 28 Ban Ki-moon mentioned his "Rights Up Front" plan, without mentioning its roots in his UN's failure in Sri Lanka, and without taking any questions on this. Ban (or Haq) chose four questions from AP, CBS / UNCA, Bloomberg and Voice of America (which asked Ban's spokesperson to "review" the UN accreditation of Inner City Press, here).

   On March 27 in Geneva when the Sri Lanka draft resolution came up for the vote, or votes, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 27, the US spoke in favor, as did Karen Pierce of the UK.

   Then came a series of speakers in opposition, including Pakistan proposing a vote to strip Operative Paragraph 10, and before that for a no-action motion since, it argued, the $1.4 million needed was not (yet) in the regular budget.

  India gave a long speech, concluded that it would abstain.

  The no-action motion failed 16 for, 25 against. On Pakistan's request for a separate vote on OP10, the paragraph stayed in, 23 in favor, 14 against and 10 abstaining.

  Then the resolution as a whole passed: 23 for, 12 against, 12 abstentions.

  Back on March 26, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay introduced her report to the Council, followed by three-minute speeches. The UK's Karen Pierce stressed the need for an investigation; the US cited undue military influence. But why then was demilitarization dropped from the draft?

  Back on March 24, UK Minister of State Hugo Swire was asked, Will you call for demilitarization from Tamils land which can prevent many Sri Lanka issues?

  To this Swire replied, "Resolution is a result of negotiations. Current resolution text has impact and calls for international inquiry."

  Inner City Press directed a question at Swire: "What does UK think of UN Peacekeeping continued use of Sri Lanka troops, & Shavendra Silva as advisor?"

   This, Swire did not answer. It is noteworthy that alongside its work on the Sri Lanka issue in Geneva, at the UN in New York where the UK has a Permanent Five seat on the Security Council that it uses on such issues as Syria and now Ukraine, the UK has by comparison done little.

  While David Cameron did use the CHOGM in Sri Lanka to use raises, recently the UK co-sponsored a Commonwealth event in New York with Sri Lanka, without a word.  What explains this?

  Sri Lanka currently holds the chair of the UN General Assembly's Sixth (Legal) Committee.  Its controversial military figure Shavendra Silva was put on the Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations with little said by the UK.

  It was, in the first instance, other South Asian countries which tried to avoid what one of them called a "travesty." UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon played no role, telling Inner City Press it is entirely up to member states. Rights Up Front?

  On March 26, France cited crack down on the media. But at the UN in New York its Permanent Representative Gerard Araud has moved past French official Herve Ladsous to issue threats to sue, in order to silence, on Western Sahara and a New York Police Department document about France's now consul to San Francisco Romain Serman - a document on which the French mission refused to provide comment, only threats.

The only response to attempts to censor is continued digging and publication.

  Likewise, the old UN Correspondents Association at the UN in New York screened the Sri Lankan government's denial of war crimes, then tried to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN after it reported on conflicts of interest in this regard. The UNCA president at the time has resurfaced in charge of the group's award. So who will they or he give a prize to: Mahinda Rajapaksa?

  On Sunday March 23, the US television network CBS, employer of UNCA's new president, broadcast an hour-long mockumentary called "The Amazing Race" filmed in Sri Lanka, at a Buddhist temple and an apparel factory with nary a word about war crimes or GPS Plus. A CBS correspondent leads the UN Correspondents Association, following another who rented one of his apartments to Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN, then tried to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN for reporting it. The UNCA role and trolling have revived.)

   After the government arrested two human rights defenders, Ruki Fernando and Praveen Mahesahn, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's new spokesperson Stephane Dujarric about these arrests.

  On March 17, Dujarric said the UN had seen the reports but had no comment. He noted Ban's statement in [May] 2009 with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. But when Inner City Press asked how that relates or is applied to these arrests, Dujarric said that was the entirety of the response. Video here.

  Inner City Press asked who in the UN Secretariat is now monitoring Sri Lanka. Before, it was Vijay Nambiar and others. Now what?

  Dujarric replied that "like any country," Sri Lanka is monitored by the UN. Not too closely, it seems...

  Meanwhile in the Human Rights Council on March 17, Sri Lanka cynically praised a country for inviting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay -- even as the Sri Lankan government trashes her for proposing an international accountability mechanism.

  Only days ago near Kilinochchi an outspoken mother of the disappeared, Belendran Jeyakumari, was arrested by the government.

  She protested when UK prime minister David Cameron traveled to the North last November. Now what?

   Sri Lankan state television has run the photographs of leaders of non-governmental organizations which dared speak up about conditions in the country. Video here, from Minute 11:15. (The state TV mistakenly says the concurrent debate about Ukraine is about "Slovenia," too.)

  Dead seriously, on Channel 4 a week ago a damning new video of Sri Lankan Army war crimes was released. Click here; warning: graphic.

  But when Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's new spokesperson Stephane Dujarric about it back on March 10, he replied, "I haven't seen the video." He said that his predecessor had spoken clearly on Sri Lanka in the last few days. See Inner City Press YouTube of the exchange, here.

   Five days later, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Dujarric has still not provided any UN comment on the video, nor on the crackdown in Sri Lanka. On a parallel track, Ban's senior advisor Vijay Nambiar has invited Myanmar to contribute "peacekeepers" to the UN. Under Dujarric's previously boss, a country was blocked from getting paid for any new peacekeepers after a coup d'etat. But this is what the UN has become.

  Most recently Ban's office was UNclear about whether the Rajapaksa government has invited him to Colombo in May for a youth conference. When asked about accountability, the answer was it is up to member states, just as Ban said about accepting military figure Shavendra Silva as an advisor on peacekeeping.

  On the revised draft resolution, a negotiating session is slated in Geneva for March 18 in Room XXII; the vote seems set for March 26...


  When the UN Human Rights Council speeches resumed on the morning of March 5, Sri Lanka's foreign minister G.L. Peiris denounced the report of outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the pending draft and any international inquiry.

   Peiris cited two reports that he said are to be released within weeks; he cited a railroad plan announced only yesterday. This comes after nearly five years of stonewalling and intimidation.

  At the UN, where blame for inaction in 2009 and even participation in events leading to the execution of surrenderees go to the highest levels, Sri Lanka sent military figure Shavendra Silva as its Deputy Permanent Representative.

   Under Ban Ki-moon as Secretary General, Shavendra Silva became a senior adviser to UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous, the fourth Frenchman in a row to hold that post. When Inner City Press asked, Ban said this was entirely up to member states.

   After Inner City Press wrote about the United Nations Correspondents Association screening the government's "Lies Agreed To" inside the UN, when "Killing Fields" which it purported to rebut was not shown in the UN, and noted that Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona had a prior financial relationship with the president of UNCA, a demand was made to remove the article from the Internet.

  When Inner City Press refused this censorship bid, attempts began to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN, directed to the UN official set to become Ban's new spokesperson on March 10.

  One such complaint, upon the dubious request by Reuters UN bureau chief Louis Charbonneau under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, has been banned from Google's search. (The new Free UN Coalition for Access is now combating censorship at the UN and beyond.)

   Ban Ki-moon ended up giving Pillay only half of a second term; the "Rights Up Front" plan he belatedly announced, specifically as a response to what was found to be the UN's "systemic failure" on Sri Lanka, he now presents without any reference to Sri Lanka. 

  Despite denials, Sri Lankan official tell Inner City Press when they met recently with Ban, they invited him to Colombo in May.

   Before then, it appears, a vote will be held at the 25th session of the Human Rights Council.  When HRC25 began its speeches on Monday morning the 3rd of March, Hugo Swire of the UK, Canada and others cited Sri Lanka and the need for accountability.

  US Ambassador Samantha Power, according to the UN's list of speakers, was to appear late Tuesday.

   But at 4 pm on Monday when the marked up Sri Lanka resolution was tabled, its eight operative paragraph appeared to some to simply kick the can down the road again, asking for another update from the High Commissioner for Human Rights -- who soon won't be Navi Pillay anymore. Click here for draft as provided to Inner City Press.

   Later on Monday, the US State Department announced that the US' speech would be given by another official, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall: not Power.

  During the speeches on Monday, Syria and North Korea remained in nearly every speech but Ukraine and the Central African Republic worked their way in, along with a smattering of references to Sri Lanka, where the killing of tens of thousands of civilians remains unaddressed.

  It was noted that the term of High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is almost up. But it was Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who said she'd only have one half of a second term.

  Pillay on January 20 said the France put Muslim communities at risk in CAR. How will that be acted on? She's called for a international accountability mechanism for Sri Lanka; Ban says its entirely up to member states, as he told Inner City Press regarding having controversial military figure Shavendra Silva as an adviser to UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous.

  Qatar, which sent only a "Minister's Assistant," predictable denounced Syria and also spoke for freedom of the press if not of speech. #FreeAJstaff, we and the Free UN Coalition for Access absolutely agree with. But what about Qatar having locked up the poet Ajami?

  Greece spoke on Ukraine, taking the EU line, which implies that the International Monetary Fund will save Ukraine. Has they happened in Greece? What about the protesters in Greece's squares?

  Ban Ki-moon gave a press conference, pitching for relevance and a role in Ukraine, where instead of Robert Serry he has now sent his deputy Jan Eliasson. But once it was leaked that former US now UN official Jeff Feltman "got" Ban to send Serry to Ukraine, Ban's UN being viewed as impartial is more difficult.

  It was World Wildlife Day, so Ban gave a speech on that as well. But unaddressed since Inner City Press reported and asked about it on February 28 are what UN whistleblowers say are more than 50 rapes in Eastern Congo by poacher Mai Mai Morgan. Ban will meet his Special Representatives including Martin Kobler from the Congo. What will the UN's answer be?

  UK Hugo Swire took on the Sri Lanka issue; here's his response to Pillay's report. He said it's time for international action.

 US Samantha Power won't speak until March 4, in the afternoon in Geneva so work hours in the US. Sri Lanka's G.L. Peiris on the other hand appears March 5 but 3:40 am Eastern Times. Watch this site.


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