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At UN, Sri Lanka Panel Stalled on Staffing, Rajapaksa's RSVP for September, Rice and Kyrgyz Constrasts

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 1 -- The UN's panel of experts on Sri Lanka war crimes and accountability has still not officially begun its work. Why not?

  Inner City Press is told that the hang up is the staffing for the panel. It has been confirmed that the initial plan was for the chief of staff to be Jessica Neuwirth, close ally and friend of UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.

  But after reports alleging, at best, nepotism it was decided to switch to Richard Barrett, a staffer without similar connections. The fig leaf now is that Neuwirth's time on a UN system contract had expired -- true, that was the reason to find her a new job -- and that she is now a “consultant.” With the UN or its Human Rights Commission? That's a separate inquiry.

On the panel itself, its four month time line does not begin until it is fully staffed. So are the three experts not yet working, then? If so, did they start getting paid by the UN when they met at the UN back in July or not? The hotel rooms -- “at UN rates” -- were certainly paid by the UN. So it is hard to argue they are not yet working for the UN.

On the UN's schedule for its upcoming General Debate in September, Mahinda Rajapaksa is listed as attending. If he does, this would be a perfect time for the panel to interview him. His embattled minister of external affairs G.L. Peiris has already said the panel will not get visa to visit Sri Lanka. So let Mahinda cooperate with the panel while he is in New York. If, that is, he comes to New York.

Outgoing Japanese Ambassador Yuki Takasu, when asked on July 27 by Inner City Press to describe innovations during his time in charge of the Security Council's working methods, listed the Council's informal basement meetings on Sri Lanka, in the final stages of the conflict.

  Given the level of civilian killing, it is still not clear what those meetings accomplished. But now even Japan, through foreign minister Okada, has urged Sri Lanka to cooperate with the UN panel. Will it?

Later on July 27 at Takasu's farewell reception at his residence, Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative worked the crowd, including his U.S. counterpart Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice has claimed, contrary to her State Department colleague on Sudan Scott Gration, that accountability for war crimes is at the top of the Administration's agenda. Sri Lanka is a test.

Mahinda and Wimal Weerawansa, UN in September not shown

The approach not only of Ambassador Rice and Ban Ki-moon but others to this mere Sri Lanka panel stands in contrast to the unequivocal way the UN says it will participate in any independent international investigation into the causes of the recent violence in Southern Kyrgyzstan. From last week's UN transcripts, first of July 26:

Inner City Press: On Kyrgyzstan, the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative, Kimo Kiljunen, he said there’s going to be an investigation conducted by his organ… by a commission, international commission, of the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. And he also said that the United Nations would be involved in the commission. So, I wanted to know, is that the case? What will be the United Nations role in an international investigation of the causes of violence in southern Kyrgyzstan?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Let me find out. Just a general point, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is not the same thing as the OSCE itself, as I’m sure you understand. So we would need to see precisely what the composition, the intended composition, would be. But the other more general point is that we’ve said already that there should be an independent investigation into the events that took place in Osh and Jalalabad and in the south of Kyrgyzstan. So let me get back to you on that, okay?

Having heard nothing back, Inner City Press asked again on July 30:

Inner City Press: you’d said you would find out, and I wanted to ask whether you have. One is, what is the UN’s role in any possible investigation into the causes of violence in southern Kyrgyzstan?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: As I mentioned to you, that is a work in progress amongst different international organizations. It is being actively looked at, and I know that my colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs are keeping a close eye and talking to their colleagues, as is Mr. Jenca, the Special Representative for Central Asia, Miroslav Jenca. No firm words yet. But, as I’ve said to you before, this is an area where we have been very closely watching. And not just watching, but involved in bringing people together, monitoring and reporting what’s been happening...

And on Sri Lanka?

The Sri Lankan Mission to the UN's outgoing Deputy Permanent Representative, who came in with a flurry of accusatory letters and leaves accused himself of sexual harassment of a Mission staffer, may be providing some views early this week. We hope they are on the record. Watch this site.

* * *

As Sri Lanka Panel Meets With Nambiar, 4 Month Clock Frozen, Pillay's Office Will Staff

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 20 -- While the UN Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka war crimes did, the UN confirmed on July 20, have the first of three days of meetings in New York on July 19, the UN now says that the four month clock for the Panel's report will not beginning in these three days. The UN would not say when it would begin.

  On June 22, UN Spokesman Nesirky said the Panel would finish "within four months of the commencement of its work." So are these three days of meeting not "work"?

On July 19, Inner City Press observed and exclusively reported on the Panel's three members meeting in the UN's North Lawn building, with Lynn Pascoe, Nicholas Haysom and then across First Avenue in the UN's DC-1 building. Inner City Press quoted panel member Steven Ratner than no further “UN permission” will be needed for the panel to seek to travel to Sri Lanka.

At the UN's July 20 noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Spokesman Martin Nesirky for confirmation, including that the four month reporting clock had started, about who else the Panel met with and how the Panel will be staffed.

Mr. Nesirky, after congratulating Inner City Press for its observation of the panel, add that the members will also meet with the Croatian Assistant Secretary General representing Navi Pillay in New York, with Under Secretaries General John Holmes and Patricia O'Brien and, it emerges, with “chef de cabinet” Vijay Nambiar.

  Beyond Mr. Nambiar's controversial involvement in the surrender of Tamil Tiger leaders who were subsequently murdered, Nambiar earlier this week wrote a six page defense of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, saying that he has “led from the front on important political issues from Gaza to Haiti to Sudan.” Interestingly, Sri Lanka was not listed, either because it is not deemed important, or Mr. Ban can't be said to have “led from the front.”

Nambiar's memo makes much of the UN's hiring rules. Inner City Press asked Nesirky whether UN hiring rules will apply to the staffing of the Panel of Experts.

Vijay Nambiar, Panel and commencement of its work not shown

 Nesirky replied that the staffing is being done under the aegis of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

Nesirky announced that the top staffer will not be Ms. Pillay's friend Jessica Neuwirth, as Inner City Press was previously told by both well placed UN staff and ambassadors of both Permanent Five Security Council members and impacted member states.

 Now, the top staffer will be Richard Barrett, who previously served in Nepal. “Score one against nepotism,” one of the source ambassadors told Inner City Press after Tuesday's noon briefing.

If the Panel's members are only in New York for three days and then leaving, when will they return, and when with the four month reporting clock begin?

  Again, on June 22, UN Spokesman Nesirky said the Panel would finish "within four months of the commencement of its work." Some wonder if, just as Ban Ki-moon delayed over 80 days between announcing he would name a panel and actually naming one, now there is unlimited delay in starting the four month reporting clock. Watch this site.

* * *

Sri Lanka Panel Holds 1st Meeting in NYC, "Doesn't Need UN Permission" for Colombo Visit, of Darusman Fees and Sea Bass

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 19 -- The UN Panel on Accountability in Sri Lanka began to meet on July 19, Inner City Press can report. This starts the four month time line for them to produce a report, at least on the compliance of Sri Lanka's “Lessons Learnt” panel with international standards for inquiries into war crimes.

   At 1:30 pm on July 19, panel members Marzuki Darusman, Yasmin Sooka and Steven Ratner met in the UN's North Lawn building. At that moment, at latest, the four month clock began.

  Along with chit chatting about what hotels they are staying in and where to go to dinner, Ratner noted that since UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky said it would be up to the panel whether to seek to visit Sri Lanka, “we don't have to ask the UN's permission.”

  The Rajapaksa government has already said it will deny visas, which Darusman called “unfortunate.”

   As Inner City Press has previously reported, and has now further confirmed with colleagues in Colombo, Sri Lankan government sources are pitching the tale of Darusman bickering about fees for his prior position on a Sri Lankan panel when it disbanded.

  While the motives of such pitches are clear, less clear is why the Ban Ki-moon administration or one of its advisers would have given the Rajapaksas such an easy issue to work with. We will have more on this.

  On July 19, Darusman said he was just in from Jakarta. Ratner, in from Ann Arbor, Michigan, noted that the UN listed hotels, that the UN will pay for, don't in fact have a UN rate. The Bentley, he said, is still not too expensive.

  There was a discussion of the more expensive Millennium Hotel, and of meeting over dinner in the Italian restaurant across the street.

UN's Ban, Nambiar and Haysom, permission to travel to Sri Lanka not shown

  It is Padre Figlio; inquiry by Inner City Press mid-day Monday found $86 Porterhouse steak on the menu. (In fairness, it is for two. A single portion of Chilean sea bass costs $32).

  Having met with the Department of Political Affairs of Lynn Pascoe, the panel was set to meet with Nicholas “Fink” Haysom at 2 pm. They were then observed, at 3:17 p.m., leaving the UN campus and entering the DC-1 building, with the Millennium Hotel, at 3:20 pm. The four month time clock, and expense accounts, have begun.

* * *

UN Sri Lanka Panel To Include Steven Ratner and Yasmin Sooka of S. Africa, Reconciliation or Accountability?

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive Must Credit

UNITED NATIONS, June 21 -- On Sri Lanka war crimes, sources tell Inner City Press that the three names including not only former Indonesian attorney general Darusman but also American lawyer Steven Ratner, and South Africa's Yasmin Sooka, who served on that country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who was proposed by Ban advisor Nicholas Haysom, also of South Africa.

 According to these well placed sources, and contrary to unsourced reports in the Colombo press, there will be no Austrian on the panel.

After his widely criticized "victory tour" to Sri Lanka last May, during which interned Tamil children were forced to sing for him in the Vuvuniya camp, surrounded by barbed wire, Ban has hounded by calls to follow through on his and Mahinda Rajapaksa's statement at the end of the trip.

On March 5, Ban said he would name a panel to advise him "without delay." Now, belated, he is slated to name the panel this week.

Sri Lanka's banner of UN Ban, with gun, Vavuniya camps

 Sri Lanka is lashing out in advance, even as their ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona chairs an international investigation panel about the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Can you say, hypocrisy? 

  Kohona has also been named by Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar as having provided assurances that surrendering LTTE leaders would be treated in accordance with international law -- before they were killed. Kohona disputes the timing of his communications with Nambiar. Watch 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.

* * *

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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