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UN: Sri Lanka


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On Sri Lanka, No Specific UN Comment on Censorship, Rights Up Front Sans LKA

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 28 -- While Sri Lanka's Mahinda Rajapaksa claims his government does not block websites, the Colombo Telegraph says (and shows) different. At the UN, Inner City Press on February 28 asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's outgoing spokesperson Martin Nesirky if Ban or the UN Country Team has any view in this regard. Video here.

  Nesirky replied that he doesn't have a directly link to the Country Team, which will be reporting back, and that he would not characterize Ban's view on this particular matter -- this blocking from the Internet.

  But, Nesirky continues, generally freedom of expression "we consider very important," including free access to the Web and information on it.

  (It was hard not to compare this to the banning from Google's Search of an anti-Press complaint to the UN Media Accreditation official set to become Ban's new spokesperson on March 10, click here for that.)

  On February 27 in a memorial of the Rwanda genocide, Ban brought up his "Rights Up Front" plan - without a single mention of the failure in Sri Lanka that led to it. Can you say, in denial?

  As Inner City Press and others reported earlier this month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is calling for an independent, international inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka. Here are three paragraphs from her report, just online by the UN today, here

new evidence -- including witness testimony, video and photographic material -- continues to emerge on the events that took place in the final stages of the armed conflict. Human remains are also still being discovered, for instance in Matale, in November 2012, and Mannar, in December 2013.

72. As the emblematic cases highlighted above show, national mechanisms have consistently failed to establish the truth and achieve justice. The High Commissioner believes this can no longer be explained as a function of time or technical capacity, but that it is fundamentally a question of political will. The Secretary-Generalís Panel of Experts and the initiatives taken by international non-governmental organizations have shown that witnesses are willing to come forward to testify to international inquiry mechanisms that they trust and can guarantee their protection. For this reason, the High Commissioner remains convinced that an independent, international inquiry would play a positive role in eliciting new information and establishing the truth where domestic inquiry mechanisms have failed. In the absence of a credible national process, she believes the international community has a duty to take further steps, which will advance the right to truth for all in Sri Lanka and create further opportunities for justice, accountability and redress.

73. The High Commissioner reiterates her concern at the continuing trend of attacks on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, particularly against human rights defenders, journalists and families of victims, the rising levels of religious intolerance, and continued militarization, which continue to undermine the environment where accountability and reconciliation can be achieved. She therefore reiterates and updates the recommendations made in her previous report to the Human Rights Council, most of which remain unimplemented.

Where is the UN Secretariat on this? When last Inner City Press asked, Ban Ki-moon's office of the spokesperson said it is up to member states.

This UN remains shrouded in mystery, some say, worse. After Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Sri Lankan Youth and Skills Development Minister Dullas Alahapperuma and Ambassador Palitha Kohona on February 18, Inner City Press on February 19 asked Ban's outgoing spokesperson Martin Nesirky if Alahapperuma had invited Ban to Colombo in May for a youth conference. Video here and embedded below.

  Nesirky said among other things that the UN is not in the habit of disclosing what its interlocutors say. (The UN refused the request at the beginning of 2014 of the Free UN Coalition for Access for a read out of even Ban's side of his call to the president of his native South Korea, and its more recent request for a tape of Ban's Q&A with the board of the United Nations Correspondents Association.)

  Later on Feburary 19, Inner City Press asked Alahapperuma himself: did you invite Ban to Colombo? The answer was, Yes. Some ask, why wouldn't the UN just say it? To protect Sri Lanka?

 On February 18 Inner City Press attended the photo op, as sole independent media. Before Inner City Press was spirited out of the meeting room, Ban asked the Sri Lankan delegation about President Mahinda Rajapaksa. See video here and embedded below.

 Back on February 6, Inner City Press asked Ban's acting deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about Sri Lanka: (Haq's line "whether there's any wrongdoing" was picked up in the Sri Lankan media, for example here)

Inner City Press: I wanted to know whether the Secretariat has seen this report out of a human rights group in Australia, essentially saying that during the Sri Lanka event, in the final stages of the conflict, that there was a destruction and concealment of mass graves and also that its beenÖ on a list of countries in which mass atrocities are still quite possible. I wanted to know, given the Secretariatís interest in 2009 and this Rights Up Front project, whatís the response to this new study?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: Weíve made it clear that there needs to be more done to get at the heart of what happened in Sri Lanka. Youíve seen what the Secretary-Generalís reports on the situation have said and itís clear that there continues to be a need for all the facts to be learned and for there to be a study of whether thereís any wrongdoing thatís occurred in the course of the final phases of the Sri Lankan conflict. The Secretary-General has said that repeatedly and we continue to hold by that.

Inner City Press: An international process? Just one follow-up, because itís been a number of years now: Is a national process still credible or should it be done in Geneva?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: Ultimately, itís up to different Member States to determine whether there will be an international process. We have presented information to them and weíve made clear what we believe is the need for accountability and we rely on the Member Statesí judgment to follow through.

So the claim is that Ban wants facts and accountability. Did either come up in his meeting with the Sri Lankan minister and ambassador?

  Eighteen days after Inner City Press asked about the detailed report on Sri Lanka, there's still no UN Secretariat comment. But on February 18, Ban Ki-moon through spokesperson Martin Nesirky said he is "deeply disturbed" by... North Korea.

  On February 12, Tamils protested across from the UN, chanting, "Shame on you, Ban Ki-moon," watched over by a Sinhalese UN Security officer who asked a photographer, member of the Free UN Coalition for Access, for his photographs of the protest.

  FUNCA was formed after the board of the old UN Correspondents Association screened inside the UN the Rajapaksa government's film denying the war crimes charges in "Lies Agreed To," which was not shown in the UN. When Inner City Press reported on the past financial relationship of Sri Lankan ambassador Palitha Kohona with UNCA's then president, there were demands that the article be taken off the Internet, followed by requests from within the UNCA board that Inner City Press be thrown out of the UN. Click here, here for a story from earlier today, including about the UN making it hard to cover a UN peacekeeping advisory meeting involving Shavendra Silva.

Here's the UN's read out - no mention of accountability:

The Secretary-General met today with H.E. Mr. Dullas Alahapperuma, Minister for Youth Affairs and Skills Development of Sri Lanka.

The Secretary-General and the Minister discussed the importance of advancing the global agenda for and on behalf of youth, and the importance of youth participation in efforts to tackle major global challenges, including unemployment. The Secretary-General drew particular attention to the role of the youth in peace, reconciliation and ending violence.

They also discussed the upcoming World Conference on Youth, to be held in May in Colombo, and its potential contribution to the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Talk about undercutting the move toward accountability being attempted in Geneva in March. Watch this site.


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