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UN: Sri Lanka


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As Sri Lanka Bans Investigators, ICP Asks How UN Will Protect Witnesses

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 27 -- While the UN says it will be investigating Sri Lanka war crimes, the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has said it will no allow the investigators in. On August 27 Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric what precedents or procedures the UN has for protecting witnesses, those giving information to this inquiry? Video here.

  Dujarric said he would look into precedents, and we'll look forward to that. But already, when Inner City Press and others raised concerns that the email submission procedures for the inquiry does not involve encryption, nothing has yet been done. It still should be.

The UN is hosting non-governmental organizations from all over the world this week, for the 65th Annual United Nations DPI/NGO Conference from August 27 to 29. But a question related to the above has arisen: what does the UN do to defend and ensure access for NGOs?

  At a UN press conference on August 25, Inner City Press put these and other questions to Maher Nasser, the Acting Head of the UN Department of Public Information. Video here. Earlier this summer, for example, the government of Sri Lanka ordered NGOs to stop holding press conferences or otherwise interacting with the media. Click here for that.

  Inner City Press asked Nasser what the UN, whose UN Information Center in Colombo has been promoting this week's New York conference, actually does for NGOs in Sri Lanka amid this crackdown. Nasser cited UNESCO and the UN's human rights entities.

  Given the UN's troubling silence in Sri Lanka amid mass killings in 2009, which has given rise to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's “Rights Up Front” initiative, perhaps DPI where applicable should speak up on such restrictions put on NGOs.

Background: After Sri Lanka's Minister of "Defense and Urban Development" issued an order banning all non-governmental organizations from press conferences, workshops, training for journalists, and dissemination of press releases which is beyond their mandate," and the UN declined comment or passed the buck, the US and now the human rights group FIDH have expressed concern.

  The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights said, "The Observatory is concerned by these attempts by the Sri Lankan Government to curtail the freedom of association, assembly, and expression of human rights defenders , which seem to be aimed at undermining the legitimacy of their peaceful activities. The Observatory calls upon the authorities of Sri Lanka to withdraw the above-mentioned notice immediately and to put an immediate end to the harassment against all human rights defenders."

   On July 7,  Inner City Press  asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq about it. Video here, on Inner City Press' YouTube channel.

  Inner City Press asked, since UN envoy Oscar Fernandez Taranco was recently in Sri Lanka, had he spoken to the Rajapaksa government about this crack-down, or did he have any comment now?

  Haq replied, "We'll have to study what this particular injunction was... we'll have to evaluate that." 

  But 24 hours later on July 8, after lead UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric had already belatedly begun the day's noon briefing -- and after 5 pm in Geneva -- the Spokesperson's Office sent Inner City Press this:

Date: Tue, Jul 8, 2014 at 12:18 PM
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Subject: Your question on Sri Lanka.
To: Matthew.Lee [at]

Regarding Sri Lanka, please kindly direct your question from yesterday's noon briefing to OHCHR.

   So this was the result of the UN Secretariat's "evaluation" -- to pass the buck to Navi Pillay's office?

  Meanwhile media in Sri Lanka had reported that Haq's office would be making a comment; a press freedom organization there consulted by the Free UN Coalition for Access complained the order would chill the freedom to report. What was the purpose of the UN's Oscar Fernandez Tarando's trip to Sri Lanka? What does Ban's "Rights Up Front" policy, announced after systemic failure in Sri Lanka, really mean?

After UN official Oscar Fernandez Taranco visited Sri Lanka but has refused to take Press questions upon his return to New York, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on June 25 about a protest, video here:

Inner City Press: There’s a protest scheduled for today at 1 p.m. on 47th Street of mostly people from Sri Lanka and elsewhere about the violence there. And they’ve said that they intend to hand a letter to the Secretariat, seeking action against the action there. I wanted to know: is this going to be possible? Is Mr. [Oscar Fernandez-] Taranco... it’s great that Mr. Šimonovic will brief on Burundi. It seems like it’s a kind of a similar situation. And is the UN aware of this? And what has been the reaction to the upswing in violence in Sri Lanka?

Spokesman Dujarric: I think we’ve spoken about this from this podium. We’ve condemned the violence that we’ve seen recently. And obviously, the Secretary-General fully backs the efforts of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As for the demonstration, I was unaware of it. If I have any information, I will let you know.

Inner City Press: That panel is about war crimes at the end of the conflict on both sides, whereas this is something that’s actually taking place currently. That’s why I’m sort of asking, like, did Mr. Taranco deal with this issue while he was there?

Spokesman Dujarric: As I said, I shared with you what I had on Mr. Taranco’s visit.

   The protest took place: see Inner City Press tweeted photo here.

  In a previous protest by Sri Lankan Tamils, the UN sent a lower level functionary who told the protesters the letter would be rejected if they told the Press about it. Dujarric said he would check.

 The UN has essentially stonewalled Press questions about the new White Flag killings report and the light it sheds on current UN official Vijay Nambiar and former UN official, now Sri Lankan Ambassador Palitha Kohona.

  It was about a past financial relationship between Kohona and the president of the UN Correspondents Association, who then agreed to an UNCA screening of a Rajapaksa government movie denying war crimes that UNCA tried to censor.

When Inner City Press reported on the background to Kohona getting the Rajapaksa government's denial of war crimes, “Lies Agreed To,” screened in the Dag Hammarjkold Library auditorium, the reaction from the then-president and executive committee of the United Nations Correspondents Association are summarized here.

  Now the new Free UN Coalition for Access opposes all of this, and attacks on media work both inside the UN both further afield and as close at 47th Street, west of First Avenue. Watch this site.


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