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UN: Sri Lanka


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On Sri Lanka Banning NGOs Communicating with Press, Ban Passes Buck

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 8 -- 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," Inner City Press on July 7 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 (or Hak'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. This comes amid much hypocrisy at the UN. 

 The UN has entirely 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. One wag wondered whether the 2009 Bloodbath on the Beach has now been echoed as Blowhards on the Beach, here.

   In Sri Lanka now the Rajapaksa government blocks websites it doesn't like. The UNCA board asked that Inner City Press articles be removed from the internet. This was refused. One UNCA board member claimed to Google that his “for the record” complaint to the UN trying to get Inner City Press thrown out was in fact private and “copyrighted.”  Here is a response from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

   This got it banned from Google's Search, under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which threatens to be globalized through the Trans Pacific Partnership. Who said there is not censorship in the UN, and in the United States?

  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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