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On Sri Lanka, UN's Ban Praises “Whitewash” Report That Is Still Not Public

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, March 3 – A week after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accepted a Sri Lanka whitewash report from five Ambassadors following a photo op covered by Inner City Press, the first media question to Ban in Geneva was about Sri Lanka.

   Ban answered by prasing the report, which despite requests from Inner City Press neither he nor the whitewashing Ambassadors have released to the public.

 Ban said of the hand-over, " I recognized through our meeting with them the important steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka since the end of the conflict." What steps?

   While the UN says that after its inaction in Sri Lanka while 40,000 were killed in 2009 it is now studying the “lessons learned,” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on February 22 met with Sri Lankan Ambassador Palitha Kohona and four other Permanent Representatives to accept a quite contrary report.

   Before Inner City Press was asked to leave the conference room, Japan's Permanent Representative Tsuneo Nishida told Ban that “Sri Lanka is an important country” and “this morning we would like to present our report.” Then the meeting was closed; in fact, no topic was ever listed for the meeting. Inner City Press was the only media there.

  Click here to view short YouTube video here, on channel of Inner City Press, and embedded below. See tweeted photo of Ban & Kohona, here.

   Some wondered if Ban would hold such a meeting, for example, with Syria's Permanent Representative Bashar Ja'afari and four other supportive Permanent Representatives, who could certainly be found. The answer would appear to be “no.” So why on Sri Lanka?

  Now it's worse: Ban not only formally accepted the whitewash report while not making public - he now cites the withheld report as showing accountability in Sri Lanka when asked about a "strong statement demanding the Human Rights Council to ask for an international and independent investigation. Do you support this request?"

 From the UN's March 1 transcript:

SG Ban Ki-moon: I have consistently underlined the critical importance of addressing accountability in Sri Lanka through a genuine and comprehensive national process achieving national reconciliation. Last week in New York I have received the Japanese ambassador who led the accountability assessment mission to Sri Lanka where representatives of Bangladesh, Nigeria, Rumania [sic], Sri Lanka and a Colombia University professor participated in an observation project to Sri Lanka last December. I recognized through our meeting with them the important steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka since the end of the conflict and strongly underlined the need to address the remaining challenges particularly on issues relating to reconciliation and accountability. I highlighted the importance for the Government of Sri Lanka to work constructively with the international community towards that end. Thank you.

  Rebuffed in getting a copy of the report Ban now replies on from the UN itself, Inner City Press asked one of the hand-over Permanent Representatives, who passed the buck to another of the Perm Reps. This PR, when Inner City Press asked on February 28, declined saying Inner City Press' February 22 story had not been "friendly."

   Now as separately reported today the UN is telling Inner City Press it is deeply disappointed with its reporting, particularly its use of quotes even though on the record, and naming of names. Click here for that. 

   Inner City Press asked the UN about Sri Lanka on February 20. As news of the summary execution of a 12 year old boy by the Sri Lankan Army in May 2009 spreads worldwide, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesman about it, citing Ban's “two reports and a third one still ongoing.

  Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky began with a correction, saying that this third report “is an internal task force looking at how recommendations will be carried out in the UN... it's not to do with looking into the actual events in Sri Lanka.”

  But Ban was willing to accept a counter report on Sri Lanka two days later, with former UN official Palitha Kohona grinningly present.

  Some wonder how the UN can fully assess its inaction in Sri Lanka without taking into account new evidence of war crimes, including the murder of children in the days the UN was playing middleman for surrenders which ended in summary executions.

  Nesirky went on to say “we are aware of the video footage and reports about it,” but he had “no specific comment” beyond Ban's general statement on the “importance of accountability.”

   He again referred to a “national process,” when it is clear to many that has not and will not happen in the run-up to the UN Human Rights Council session in March.

   In Sri Lanka, the release of e-mails from Stratfor, the privately owned intelligence company, has sparked a controversy regarding  Reuters' bureau chief there, Bryson Hull.

   One 2010 e-mail depicts Hull promoting his “ace-in-the-hole analyst, Reva Bhalla of Stratfor... a consummate information dealer... we had a very successful relationship during the end of the war in Sri Lanka.”

   Groundviews has been asking Hull to explain the e-mail. (Inner City Press has learned from some Hull reports in the past, for example in 2012 on the Maldives.) Hull has replied, among other things, that Reva Bhalla "was quoted by name in a Reuters story.”

   That would be far better than Reuters' UN bureau, whose chief Louis Charbonneau in 2012 played a leading role in a campaign to try to oust Inner City Press first from the UN Correspondents Association then from the UN as a whole.

   Triggering the campaign was a story Inner City Press wrote about Sri Lanka, war crimes and conflicts of interest - click here for the account of the UK-based Sri Lanka campaign, chaired by Kofi Annan's former communications chief Edward Mortimer.

   Most troubling, when the UNCA proceeding Reuters' Charbonneau was pushing led to Inner City Press receiving death threats from extremist supporters of Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa government, Charbonneau refused to stop or even suspend the proceedings. “Go to the New York Police Department,” he said dismissively.

  The campaign only stopped when Inner City Press requested then obtained documents from Voice of America, which reflected among other things Reuters support for VOA's June 20 request to the UN to “review” Inner City Press' accreditation, and Reuters contemplating a (SLAPP) lawsuit against Inner City Press.

Inner City Press wrote several times to the top editors at Reuters, Stephen J. Adler, Walden Siew, and Paul Ingrassia, trying to make them aware of the death threats that were triggered by the actions of their UN bureau chief.

   But as reflected in the documents obtained from VOA under FOIA, Reuters had adopted and apparently continues a policy of not responding to any issue raised by Inner City Press -- including the receipt of death threats.

   On October 2012, Charbonneau was asked in writing to explain some of the documents obtained under FOIA; he made no response.

   Charbonneau remains in 2013 the first vice president of UNCA, which in connected to several anonymous social media accounts which have said without any basis that Inner City Press is funded by Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers.

  Reuters' record of using, even stoking, extremism in Sri Lanka goes well beyond the Wikileaked email of Bryson Hull about Stratfor. But who will answer for it? Watch this site.

Footnote: Ban has a meeting on March 4 at which one would expect his troubling response in Geneva to be raised. (Despite HRW's blind spots on UN drones and Ban's Haiti cholera dismissal, we like to give credit where it's due.) But will that Ban-HRW meeting, too, be kept secret, in the name of (non) access?

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