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UN Says Silva "Not Participating" in SAG, But Coverage "Not Permitted"

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, April 10 -- After UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon repeatedly declined to opine on or oppose the appointment to his Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping (SAG) of Sri Lankan General Shavendra Silva, whose 58th Division is depicted in Ban's own Panel of Experts report as engaged in war crimes, the SAG chair Louise Frechette herself ruled Silva inappropriate.

  On April 9, Sri Lanka Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona  told Inner City Press that the only reason Silva did not attend is that "he's not here, Mr. Silva is out of the country... Two points, one is, it's illegal, this is inconsistent with the resolution. The chair has no right to say I don't like your face. Second, the chair can't tell the Asia Group who to send. This is insulting and humiliating to the Asians."

  It seems obvious in this context that to journalistically cover this issue requires going to observe if Silva attends or does not attend the UN SAG meetings.

   But earlier this month the SAG's "organizers," Inner City Press was told, "did not give their permission for press coverage." Ban's UN Secretariat, citing a meeting with the UN Correspondents' Association, said that the Press cannot go try to see if Silva attends the meetings, at least not without a minder.

   This followed Inner City Press going on April 2 to see if Silva would attend the SAG meeting, which was held in the UN rented building at 380 Madison Avenue. Several members of the SAG spoke with Inner City Press, but again, Ban's Secretariat claims that "the organizers" don't want this -- without identifying who the organizers are.

   Inner City Press wrote to the spokesman of UN Peacekeeping asking

"on the Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations, you circulated Ms. Frechette's statement but said she doesn't have a spokesperson, does she now or please ask and get answer to: what is Shavendra Silva's current status with the SAG? Was the Asia Group represented at April 2-3 SAG meetings? I've been told SAG 'organizers' do not give their permission for press coverage -- is Frechette that organizer? Who are the organizers, and why do they seek in inhibit press coverage? On deadline."

  The next day, not having any response to or support on this, Inner City Press put the questions to Ban's spokesman: (video here)

Inner City Press: This has to do with the Senior Advisory Group on peacekeeping operations, they met April 2 and 3, and I went to try and cover it, it appears that Shavendra Silva who appears in Ban Ki-moon’s report about this Panel of Experts, his division is depicted engaged in war crimes, did not attend. If I can just get a confirmation from the UN system that he didn’t attend. I am told by the Sri Lankans that the only reason he didn’t attend is that he was out of town. What bothered me the most I heard from Media Accreditation here that the organizers did not give permission for press coverage of the meeting, and it was unclear to me, number one, if that in the UN system people have to give permission for press coverage, but more substantially, I don’t know who the organizers are. Is it a panel? Ban Ki-moon appointed some people, regional groups appointed others, who makes that decision? Who are the organizers, because a number of the Member States on it did not only permit, but invited press coverage, and so I want to know, it may seem like a little bit kind of a logistical question, but since it is something that I was trying to cover, it’s a committee that advises Ban Ki-moon and I am told I can’t cover it without their permission, I would like to know what the position is.

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky : Well, I think there is a difference between covering it and seeking access to a building without being accompanied by an official from the Media and Accreditation Liaison Unit, which is standard procedure. And as I understand it, MALU, the Unit in question, has made it very clear what the rules are, but also their readiness to help you to be able to have access to parts of the UN premises that are off campus, if you wish, to be able to cover an event. So, that’s the technical part of it. On the other bits, let me find out.

Inner City Press: The problem that I have here is that, if they are saying that the organizers, and I don’t know who they are, don’t permit press coverage, it seems strange. I’m going to cover it the next time they meet, I intend to cover it. The question becomes they said yes, we’ll escort you into the building, but does this require [the permission of] the undisclosed and unnamed organizers who I don’t know who they are, and I would like to know if the Secretariat is some part of it--

Spokesperson: Well if…

Inner City Press: the other part of the question, if I can just say this…

Spokesperson: Yeah.

Question: I hate to say this, but [garbled by UN - the word "minders" was used]

Spokesperson: Well, if you hate to say it, why are you saying it?

Question: Okay, does MALU report any information to the rest of the Secretariat? I am a reporter trying to get information --

Spokesperson: Matthew, can I just interrupt you?

Correspondent: Please.

Spokesperson: For one second?

Correspondent: Yes.

Spokesperson: Which I don’t do terribly often, but…

Correspondent: Okay, I understa… no, I [inaudible].

Spokesperson: But, let me just say, I think that this is a conversation that is best carried on off-line rather than taking up the time of the briefing on what is very much an individual request, which I respect, which I respect, but I think that we can deal with it off-line. So let me just — I know you have a question on Congo — but I want to see if other people have other questions first. No, they don’t.

This is typical. The spokesman cuts off a question about the Secretariat's own performance by claiming that there are other questions -- only, there aren't any other questions. The UN transcript intentionally garbles the questions, and cuts out words like "minder."  Compare to video, here.

  Nevertheless, after the above exchange, UN Peacekeeping's spokesman replied with this:

Subject: Reply ... on / for Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping
From: Kieran Dwyer [at]
Date: Tue, Apr 10, 2012 at 6:03 PM
To: matthew.lee[at], cc: Andre-Michel Essoungou [at]

Dear Matthew, In response to your question about the Senior Advisory Group, I have the following information - I am following this up to facilitate your query but I am not the spokesperson for this advisory group which is not part of DPKO. The Senior Advisory Group (SAG) does not have a spokesperson or media officer. I am advised that the SAG is continuing its assessment of troop cost reimbursement issues. Once the Group has finished this assessment, I understand that it will deliver its report to the General Assembly through the Secretary-General, as mandated in its founding resolution. I am advised that General Silva is not participating in the Group, and that the Chair's previous statement on this matter stands. There are nineteen other SAG members, including several from the Asia-Pacific region. I am continuing to follow up on your other questions.

  It's appreciated. The other questions concern, among other things, the UN's seeming use of mercenaries...

Footnote: there has been no help from the Correspondents' Association. To the contrary, an officer of the Association on April 9 emailed other members of the Executive Committee -- of which Inner City Press is an elected member -- seeking to exclude Inner City Press from future meetings, all without sending a copy to Inner City Press, amid without apparent irony references to journalistic ethics.

  When confronted, the officer said "there was no meeting, do your homework." Indeed. The issue is not as claimed describing any purportedly confidential Correspondents' Association meeting -- with MALU, one that the officer in question didn't even take the time to attend -- but rather that the current Ban-era Association, supposed to be supporting journalists to be able to physically cover the UN, in fact seeks to engage in censorship, then to censor any reports of its own actions, and to exhort in its own meetings "more positive coverage of the UN."

 While a diversion, we can have more on this. Watch this site.

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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

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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