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On War Crimes Experts, UN Waits for "Sham"Sri Lankan Panel, Hiding Behind Rice

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 11 -- The UN's statement on May 10 that on naming a panel of experts on war crimes in Sri Lanka Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's wheels are turning -- or spinning -- was amplified to Inner City Press on Tuesday by a senior Ban official. "Now they've come out with theirs," the UN official said, referring to the Rajapaksa administration's announcement of a "mechanism."

  "It will be a sham," the UN official continues. Inner City Press asked, but how long will it take the UN to reach that conclusion? The UN official shrugged. "They have to appoint the members." He paused. "Susan Rice did a very good thing," he said, referring to US Ambassador Rice's May 10 statement on Sri Lanka.

  "She welcomed it but listed expectations which they will never meet," the UN official said.

  Inner City Press asked the official, as it has now asked the US State Department, what ever came of the committee the Rajapaksa administration named in November 2009. The official shrugged. "There is an EU statement coming," he said.

  Earlier on May 11, as US Ambassador Susan Rice entered the Security Council for a meeting on terrorism sanctions, Inner City Press began to ask for a question about the statement issued in her name the previous day - what does it mean for the U.S.' support of Ban Ki-moon intention announced on March 5 to name a panel of experts to advice him on accountability in Sri Lanka?

  Ambassador Rice indicated she was busy. Later a genial Mission staffer came to asked what the question was -- Inner City Press rephrased it -- and said he would go in and get an answer. But leaving the Council along with Ambassador Rice, he said he'd have to check with the "Sri Lanka people."

   Hours later in the UN's North Lawn building he again promised an answer. But still as of close of business and deadline, none was provided. Inner City Press sent this and other questions to an Assistant Secretary of State in Washington. Watch this site.

UN's Ban and Susan Rice, experts on war crimes not shown

From the UN's May 10 transcript:

Inner City Press: There is a report in Sri Lanka that the visit of Lynn Pascoe has been delayed by the Government; that the request was made that it be in mid-May. The Government said no. Now dates in June have been proposed, and this article.. seems to link Pascoe’s visit with the appointment of this Panel of Experts to advise the Secretary-General on accountability -- meaning they wouldn’t be named until his visit. And now the visit, according to this, has been put off to June. Does the UN disagree with this portrayal? What is the connection between his visit and the naming of the panel? And is the visit not, in fact, going to take place in May despite the wheels that you described being motion?

UN Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Well, thank you for prompting me; the wheels are still in motion on both the visit by Mr. Pascoe…

Inner City Press: Does the Government have the brakes on your wheels?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, that’s for you to ask the Government of Sri Lanka. What I can tell you is that the UN wheels are definitely turning, and they’re well-oiled. And what they’re turning towards is, one, a visit by Mr. Pascoe, and, two, for the Panel of Experts that we’ve discussed many times here.

Inner City Press: This article says that there are some connections between the two; that that the panel would not be named before the visit is made. I have been told by the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka that, given changes on the ground there, no panel is needed and he predicts that no panel will be named. So, is there any connection at all between Mr. Pascoe’s visit and the naming of the panel that’s now been delayed more than two months? Or not been delayed; it’s been two months since it was announced it would happen.

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, I don’t think that we should draw a line between the two or to see this as cause and effect. The visit and the composition and naming of the panel -- these are two separate matters.

Footnote: another reason clarification of Ambassador Rice's statement, is sought is the re-emergence in State Department of Samantha "Problem from Hell" Power, who wrote the -- well, a -- book on the lack accountability for war crimes. What does she think of the statement?


May 10, 2010


Statement by US Ambassador Susan E. Rice on Sri Lanka's Announcement of a Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation

The U.S. Government welcomes President Rajapaksa's announcement of his intention to establish a Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation to examine key aspects of the recently ended conflict in Sri Lanka and his acknowledgment in doing so that accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law is a crucial pillar of national reconciliation and the rule of law. Experience in other countries has shown that commissions of inquiry can play a valuable role in advancing accountability when they are appropriately constituted and enjoy broad public support. Particularly important in this regard, broad experience has shown that to be effective in advancing accountability and reconciliation, commission members should be and be perceived as independent, impartial and competent; their mandate should enable them fully to investigate serious allegations of violations and to make public recommendations; commission members and potential witnesses must enjoy adequate and effective protection; the commission must receive adequate resources to carry out its mandate; and the Government should undertake to give serious consideration to its recommendations. We hope the commission will also reflect the desires and requests of the citizens of Sri Lanka, who were the primary victims of the conflict. Being responsive to their needs will be an important measure of the commission's success. In light of these general principles, we would welcome the Sri Lankan Government's commitment to give the Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation a mandate to probe violations of international standards during the final stages of the conflict and to identify those responsible and, we would expect, to make appropriate public recommendations based on its findings.

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN Soft Pedals Humanitarian Law, Still No War Crimes Panel for Ban Ki-moon after Gota Rajapaksa Threats

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 9, updated -- On Sri Lanka, more than two months after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he would name a group of expert to advise him on possible war crimes, still no panel has been named. Now, the Rajapaksa government of Sri Lanka has announced its own "mechanism."

  The country's Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona told Inner City Press he advised Colombo to better publicize the "mechanism." He predicted that Ban will never actually name a panel. He asked, smiling, "For what? For money?"

  Inner City Press on May 7 asked Ban's spokesman about the panel, and his top humanitarian official John Holmes about restrictions placed by the government, including its rejection of the UN Common Humanitarian Action Plan, which has blocked non governmental organizations from providing assistant in Vavuniya, about the lack of access to those in "rehabilitation" camps, even by the Red Cross, and other restrictions on NGOs. Video here, from Minute 39:09.

  Holmes in his careful answer several times called relations with the Rajapaksa government "difficult" but still tried to make it seem fine, that for example over 10,000 people have been incarcerated without trial or visit for more than a year. He noted that the government threw the Red Cross out of parts of the country, and said he "hoped" they could return, including so that donor money could flow for "decent rehabilitation."

  Holmes estimated the number in the "rehabilitation" camps at 11,000 to 12,000. He said there are still 80,000 in IDP camps, and some 220,000 "returnees." He did not note how few of them could vote, although he seemed to use the elections as the excuse for the lack of humanitarian access. Video here, from Minute 42:24.

UN's Holmes, humanitarian access and war crimes panel not shown

Inner City Press asked UN Spokesperson Martin Nesirky about the

Inner City Press: number of days since the Secretary-General said he was forming this panel to advise him on war crimes in Sri Lanka. In the last 24 hours the Defense Minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has said that anyone that would seek to testify about war crimes by the Sri Lankan Government should be put to death. It’s a capital offense and it’s treason. So I am wondering: this seems like a pretty extreme position in the light of international justice trying to collect evidence of war crimes anywhere. What’s the response to that and what does this “no delay” thing mean now that the panel formation was announced?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well the “no delay” thing means what it says. There is no delay. The Secretary-General is pushing ahead with putting together the panel of experts that we’ve talked about a number of times, here and elsewhere. Not only the panel, but the terms of reference; that is being actively worked on. There is no delay. Okay.

Inner City Press: And then there is no comment on Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s comment that anyone that [interrupted]

Spokesperson: Not at the moment, no.

Update: as quoted by AFP, "Any Sri Lankan promoting an agenda which is detrimental to the country is nothing but a traitor...," said Gotabhaya [Rajapaksa to Sri Lank's The Island newspaper, published May 6]."Traitors deserve capital punishment."

 Inner City Press has conveyed, to the most senior UN officials, how conclusively lame it would appear if Ban never even named this long promised panel to advise himself on possible war crimes in Sri Lanka. It is understand that Ban himself heard this on May 7. Some say the announcement is near. It has already been far too long.

And see,

* * *

On Sri Lanka, As UN's Ban Delays on Panel, Pascoe's Trip Delayed For "Goodies"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 5 -- Two months after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he would form "without delay" a panel of experts to advise him on possible war crimes in Sri Lanka, still no such panel has been named.

  In the interim, the UN has said that Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe will travel to Sri Lanka. But that has not happened or even been nailed down yet.

  A senior UN official told Inner City Press on May 5 that they think Sri Lanka is putting off the trip so that they can put certain things in place and show "goodies" to the UN. Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona continues to predict that Ban will never go forward and name the panel. "Ask them why they would name a panel," Kohona has urged Inner City Press, "for anything more than fundraising."

  Inner City Press has put Kohona's question to the senior UN official, who while not confirming that the panel idea is dead or dying, said the UN is happy to think that improvements are being made under the shadow of a visit. In fact, Inner City Press was told that an Austrians national was approached about being on the panel. But two month are two months.

UN's Ban and Pascoe in Uzbekistan, Lankan follow through not shown

  Meanwhile in Sri Lanka itself, the Red Cross still does not have access to the so-called rehabilitation centers, and there are whispers of a slew of babies being born to women who were in government detention nine months before.

  The IMF has delayed the next tranche of its loan, as the government has not followed through on its commitments.

  The so-called CHAP was rejected by presidential brother Basil Rajaksa, NGOs complain. They do not complain loudly, threatened as they are with expulsion from the country. Watch this site.

From the UN's transcript of its April 30 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: This is, it’s now been seven weeks since the Secretary-General said that without delay a panel of group of experts would be named to advise him on accountability in Sri Lanka. It was also said that Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe would be visiting the country. Has a request for Mr. Pascoe to visit been made, and what progress, if any, has there been on naming this group of experts?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: A visit by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, is in the works and is likely to take place fairly soon. We don’t have a date yet, but it’s in, if you like, an active planning phase. So that’s to answer the first point. The second point: the Secretary-General has made clear that this panel of experts will be put together without delay, and I know that that is indeed the case. People are working actively on putting that panel together. It is not complete yet, and neither are the terms of reference. But active work is being done on this and the Secretary-General is very clear that there will be no delay. But it needs to be done properly.

   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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