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On Sri Lanka, Uganda Says Urgent, Dutch Dodge EU Tariffs and Rights, Ban Waits

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, May 12 -- As the bombs fall in northern Sri Lanka, the assumption is that the Western members of are doing what they can to help civilians, while developing countries don't care. While it may be, as it seems, that neither care enough, on Tuesday night the Permanent Representative of Security Council member Uganda told Inner City Press of Sri Lanka that for his country "there would be no problem to discuss it in the Council... There is urgency to do something about it."

  This is counter to the common wisdom at the UN, that those Council members opposing addressing Sri Lanka include not only China, Russia, Viet Nam and Libya, but also Burkina Faso and Uganda, and Turkey and Japan (the latter two, it is predicted, would abstain). Now, Uganda has said it would have not problem having Sri Lanka on the Security Council's agenda. So why are those countries which supposedly care waiting?

  At a panel discussion Tuesday on the European Union and Human Rights, Inner City Press asked the Netherlands' deputy Permanent Representative Piet de Klerk what the EU is going about following up on its favorable tariff treatment to Sri Lankan textiles under the GSP Plus program, on which the EU purportedly considers human rights. DPR de Klerk said he didn't think that human rights were "applicable to this sort of situation." If the killing of thousands of civilians, hundreds in the last weekend alone, does not implicate the EU's notions of human rights, perhaps these notions are bankrupt.

  In fact, the EU session was sponsored by and held in a facility of Banco Santander, which beyond financial problems was identified as having laundered money, with Riggs Bank, for Chilean human rights violator Agusto Pinochet. 

Dutch DPR de Klerk, human rights "not applicable" to Sri Lanka, GSP+ not shown

   And while the Ugandan Ambassador speaks of the "urgency" of the situation in Sri Lanka, well placed sources tell Inner City Press that while Ban Ki-moon still says he is considering going to Sri Lanka, it would be in days or weeks, when the final offensive is done. As Inner City Press has told senior Ban advisers, that would be too late. If Ban wants to turn over a new leaf or be perceived differently, now is the time.

  But at Tuesday's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban's Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press:  In Sri Lanka there was this television exposé of how the UN-funded camps involve starvation deaths and disappearance of women.  The journalist who filmed that, I asked about it and I think Michèle said that it hadn’t been seen by the UN, that the UN had no response to that exposé.  The journalist that filmed it has since been expelled by the Government.  Does the UN have any, in terms of either press freedom or a desire to know what’s done with its money in Sri Lanka, have any comment either on the footage or on the expulsion of the journalist who filmed it?

Associate Spokesperson Haq:  We do not actually have comment on the footage.  We’d need to be able to see that first-hand.  Obviously we support the freedom of the press throughout the world, but we don’t have anything specific to say about this particular incident.

Question: Just a question on the Secretary-General had mentioned last week that if he thought he could make a difference in Sri Lanka in terms of bringing an end to the human suffering going on there, has he rearranged his thoughts at all after this weekend’s events and the ongoing crisis there?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think his thoughts are expressed in the statement that we issued yesterday, which we read out just at the top of today’s briefing, and that position stands as his position.  We don’t have anything further to say about any travel plans.  So our position remains that he believes, that if he believes that it can make a difference, he certainly will go.

Question:  But just a quick follow-up, then.  In terms of where -- is this something that he is considering, or is it just something that is out there, that journalists are talking about, but it’s really not an option that is being considered right now?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s something that he is considering, but there is no final decision to make on that.

  He better hurry up...

 On Thursday May 7, Inner City Press asked Associate UUN Spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask about this invitation that’s been made to the Secretary-General to visit Sri Lanka. First I wanted to ask if on Monday when he met with the Ambassador of Japan, whether he was briefed on a visit by Mr. [Yasushi] Akashi to Sri Lanka and was urged by Japan that he should take this visit. And I also wanted to know whether he would be in New York 11 May for the Middle East debate, and 15 May to meet with the Chinese diplomats, that in fact this is one reason that he is considering not going, as I have been told by senior Secretariat staff.

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Well, first of all, we don’t announce the trips of the Secretary-General until they are close to occurring. And in that regard, I don’t have anything to announce about a trip to Sri Lanka at this stage. At the same time, as Michèle told you yesterday, and is still true for today, if the Secretary-General believes that visiting Sri Lanka can have an impact in terms of saving lives there, he will certainly try to go. So he is considering that. But part of what he is studying is what the impact of a potential trip would be.

Inner City Press: But if he had that belief, that would be without regard to attending the 11 May Middle East thing or the 15 May meeting with the Chinese diplomats? I am told that’s a major factor in his planning.

Associate Spokesperson: Scheduling is a separate issue. What we’re talking about is the decision of whether or not to go. And certainly if he can make a difference and can save civilian lives, which is what his priority has been on this case, then he will go. At present, we don’t have anything to announce at all in this regard, though.

Question: Just one last one on that. I wanted to know, can you at least confirm that he met with Ambassador Takasu on Monday in his office inside the Security Council? Can you give a read-out of that meeting and say why it wasn’t on his public schedule?

Associate Spokesperson: I can confirm that he met with the Permanent Representative of Japan. He did that, yes. It was in his office in the Security Council. We don’t provide readouts of meetings with ambassadors.

Question: And why wasn’t it on the schedule?

Associate Spokesperson: It came up all of a sudden when he had a bit of free time in between other appointments on a fairly hectic day.

  While Ban Ki-moon is working on his issues as a trip to Manama, Bahrain, after a news-less trip to Malta, the killing of civilians accelerates in Sri Lanka. On Friday May 8, Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Okabe:

Inner City Press: On the invitation by the Government of Sri Lanka to the Secretary-General to visit, is there any progress in thinking? In the alternative, is the Secretary-General, is he considering invoking Article 99 or responsibility to protect or making some other move of some type on the situation in Sri Lanka?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond what we’ve been saying from this podium this week on Sri Lanka, including what the Secretary-General himself has said earlier this week.

   What Ban said did not involve calling for a cease-fire, did not respond to the invitation to visit Sri Lanka, or the accelerating rate of civilians death over the weekend, during which no statement issued about Sri Lanka. Watch this site.

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  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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