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UN: Sri Lanka


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Inner City Press Asked UN of Vetting of Sri Lanka Soldiers But This Answer 4 Days Late As SG Bans Press

By Matthew Russell Lee, video here

UNITED NATIONS, July 21 – UN Peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix has been multiply informed that the Sri Lanka government vetting of peacekeepers the UN has relied on has not been complied with, regarding at least 49 soldiers now "serving" the UN in Lebanon. Inner City Press was sent a copy of the letters, and published them - then asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric for the UN's response. [See latest July 21 response, below.] All he said, at noon on April 6, is that he would check to see that the letter has been received. More than 72 hours later, he had not provided even that confirmation. On July 17, after Lacroix' and Dujarric's boss Antonio Guterres had twice ousted and now banned Inner City Press from the UN for two weeks and counting, Fox News story here, GAP blogs I and II, Independent here, arrogant July 20 no answer here. Independent here, arrogant July 20 no answer here, Inner City Press in writing asked Dujarric and his deputy Farhan Haq, "please provide an update on the (second tier of) vetting of Sri Lanka troops whose deployment was reportedly deployed. Relatedly, confirm or deny that the Indian army unit based in Uri that was struck and struck Kashmir is no longer being deployed to MONUSCO, and the UN's reasoning." The noon briefing Inner City Press was banned from had few questions, none like this, further showing the decline of Guterres' spokesmen's full access colloquy partner, here; three days later Haq had not provided any written answer. (But, while Guterres refused to answer on his ban of Inner City Press after saying "bonnes vacances" to Lacroix, the latter remained chatting with UK Ambassador Karen Pierce on 44th Street, pointedly not responding to a statement about sexual exploitation and abuse by the peacekeepers he is responsible for, video here. On July 21, Inner City Press raised the lack of answers, and asked where Guterres is going for weeks: "July 21-1: where will the UN Secretary General be from July 23 through August 3? How much is it costing the public? USG Smale, also now on three week vacation, has claimed that the SG's spokesmen are answering Inner City Press' email questions. First, for example, none of the four questions submitted yesterday morning, 24 hours ago, has been answered. Second, even if these e-mailed questions were all being answered it does not make up for denying Inner City Press the right not only to attend the noon briefing and other press conferences, but the stakeouts at the Security Council and elsewhere, such as the Budget Committee meeting stakeout I was physically ousted from on July 3. It's 18 days of outright censorship, and counting." Six hours later, only a response on Sri Lanka, four days after that question was asked. Here it is: "Regarding your question on Sri Lankan troops, we can say the following: The Secretariat (DPKO-DFS and OHCHR) is working with the Government of Sri Lanka and all stakeholders, in particular the national Human Rights Commission, to facilitate the establishment of a domestic screening process that complies with the requirements of the Policy on Human Rights Screening of United Nations Personnel. In this regard, DPKO met with Sri Lankan stakeholders in Colombo last month. Compliance with the policy requirements is necessary before the UN can receive any further deployments or rotations from Sri Lanka. It is important that all necessary procedures and institutional arrangements are in place so that the domestic screening process can meet these requirements. National stakeholders are working on finalizing and formally approving their standard operating procedures in line with these requirements, and we are supporting them in this."  The UN under Guterres is failing. On May 16, Inner City Press asked Dujarric's deputy Farhan Haq and there was something of an answer. Video here; UN transcript here: Inner City Press:  there has been a long, outstanding issue raised to DPKO about Sri Lankans that were sent unvetted by the Government to Lebanon and another commander that was sent to one of the missions in Africa.  Does DPKO have an answer on that yet? Deputy Spokesman: "regarding the question of the Sri Lankans, as of the past week, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka was conducting an additional tier of vetting for 49 Sri Lankan officers who have been already deployed to the UN Mission in Lebanon, UNIFIL.  The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka is undertaking their vetting and the vetting of the remaining 101 military personnel of the unit who are scheduled to be deployed.  We are working together with the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that the screening arrangements with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka comply with UN policy.  Compliance with these arrangements will be required before the UN can receive any further deployments or rotations from Sri Lanka." But the chair of the HRCSL has questioned what the UN meant or means by "additional tier." On May 22, Inner City Press asked Guterres' spokesman Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: on Sri Lanka, on these… those who were deployed without being vetted, it was said, I think it was last week, that somehow an additional tier of… of vetting is going to be done by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.  They've said — this is a direct quote by the Chairperson — that they don't know what the UN means by an additional tier since there was… had been no vetting whatsoever to begin with, and so they're… it's unclear to them…

Spokesman:  Let me look into it." Hours later, nothing.  Earlier in the process, Dujarric stonewalled on human rights and corruption issues by withholding confirmation for three days, despite written questions each day from Inner City Press, while continuing restrictions on the Press. On April 12, Inner City Press asked yet another, in person at the noon briefing. And hours after that, this written answer came from the UN Office of the Spokesperson - Do Not Reply, presumably from Dujarric given the first person pronoun: "I can confirm that DPKO has received this letter. The Secretariat is committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the highest standards of conduct, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights. Member States that provide personnel to UN peacekeeping operations have the responsibility to certify that all these personnel have not been involved, by act or omission, in violations of international humanitarian law or human rights law, and have not been repatriated on disciplinary grounds from a UN operation. In the case of Sri Lanka where there are specific human rights concerns, we put in place additional screening measures in 2016 to help ensure that deployed personnel meet our standards. Prior to their deployment to UNIFIL, the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka provided an attestation certifying that the contingent had not been involved in any violations. However, in February 2018, we learned that the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission - which the Government of Sri Lanka had agreed it would undertake human rights screening of all Sri Lankan personnel - had not yet completed the screening when the rotation of the unit in UNIFIL started. UN Peacekeeping immediately raised this with the Sri Lankan authorities and the deployment was stopped. DPKO has requested that the Sri Lankan government immediately prioritize the completion of the screening for the 49 officers already deployed to UNIFIL. If concerns arise regarding the 49 personnel already deployed to UNIFIL, DPKO may request that they be repatriated and replaced at the Government’s cost. Meanwhile, we’ve asked the Government of Sri Lanka to formalize the screening arrangements with the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission. Compliance with these arrangements will be required before the UN can receive any further deployments or rotations from Sri Lanka. The Government is cooperating with us in this regard." So the Government violated the procedure, after other substantive violations, but the UN says it is cooperating? We'll have more on this. Here is the text of the letter sent to Lacroix, to the UN in Geneva and to Inner City Press:

OHCHR, Geneva
Inner City Press

6 April 2018

Dear Mr. Lacroix,


We write to draw your attention to allegations that the Sri Lankan Army has deployed UN peacekeepers in violation of the vetting agreement it reached with the National Human Rights Commission, as well as their obligation to conduct their own due diligence process to ensure that those who may constitute a risk to peacekeeping are not sent out. The failure to abide by these commitments constitutes a mockery of the whole process. Below are also a few remedial steps we think should be taken now.

The complaint regarding the vetting comes from no less than the country’s National Human Rights Commission (HRCSL), a body appointed by the Government itself. You can see this complaint in a Sinhala letter from the HRCSL to the President of Sri Lanka in his capacity as commander in chief on the HRCSL website. The gist of it has been reported in English by exiled Sri Lankan journalists. It says that the HRCSL and the Sri Lankan Army signed an agreement in 2016 for the HRCSL to vet Sri Lanka’s peacekeepers but the Army deployed 49 of them to Lebanon on 18 February 2018 before this process was complete and they had handed over all the information on them requested by the HRCSL. Indeed, some of the information requested by the HRCSL is said to be still pending.

Ultimately the responsibility lies with your department for the vetting process in terms of the Secretary General’s ‘Zero Tolerance” policy on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) as well as his new policy statement which he announced in 2017 “Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse:  A New Approach”, which has clearly failed spectacularly again in Sri Lanka.  According to the UN, it seeks to ensure that only “individuals with the highest standards of integrity, competence and efficiency” are hired – this has not been the record with regard to Sri Lanka. You will note that to date there has been no criminal accountability for the 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers sent home from Haiti in connection with systematic child sexual exploitation from 2004-7, which was confirmed by an OIOS investigation.

Furthermore, if your department allows peacekeepers from any country to deploy before the vetting process in place is complete, then you are complicit in undermining the vetting process.

We, therefore, call on DPKO:

1.     To confirm whether (a) the 49 peacekeepers from Sri Lanka were indeed deployed on 18 February 2018 without being vetted and (b) explain how this was possible and (c) what you will do to prevent this reoccurring.

2.     To confirm that the deployment constitutes a violation of the Memorandum of Understanding between Troop Contributing Countries and DPKO in respect of vetting.

3.     To inform us whether the HRCSL raised objections about contingent commander Lt. Col Hewage’s deployment before we raised this issue with you in our letter of 14th February. We understand (from the HRCSL letter online) that they had the PHP forms for the 204 Lebanon-bound soldiers from 21 December 2017 so should have been able to identify the problems regarding the contingent commander that we ourselves identified from a quick online search once his name was made public.  Specifically, were concerns raised by the HRCSL before the 18 February 2018 deployment of the 49 men? Their letter suggests they didn’t know the men were about to be deployed, despite the issue being raised by us and being published officially on the army’s website.

4.     To make public the vetting/due diligence criteria used by the HRCSL/OHCHR to screen soldiers. This should not be a secret.

5.     To conduct a retrospective vetting of all other Sri Lankan peacekeepers currently deployed – other than the 200 that went to Mali who were vetted by OHCHR in Geneva.  We know Sri Lankan peacekeepers are currently deployed in many other countries and it’s probable they haven’t been properly vetted for their human rights record."

 So what will the UN do? On the morning of April 6, Secretary General Antonio Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric who evicted Inner City Press from the UN Press Briefing Room where the UN Correspondents Association was meeting blithely said, just go to UNCA. Well, no - Sri Lanka history here. Back in February 2018 Lacroix was informed of the troubling past history in 2008 in Sri Lanka of a commander that country is seeking to deploy to the UN in Lebanon as early as February 18,
Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage, Inner City Press was informed and exclusively reported on February 14, and got confirmed from the UN on February 15. Now on February 19, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that following questions, the deployment of Hewage has been suspended. Video here; transcript: "We were asked last week about a Sri Lankan officer who was scheduled to deploy to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.  I can confirm that the officer’s deployment is on hold pending a review of the matter.  A decision regarding deployment of this officer will be made once the review is complete. We are in communication with the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka regarding the officer’s background and Sri Lanka is cooperating fully with our inquiries. The United Nations takes reports of potential human rights violations very seriously.  As a matter of policy, we are committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights." But why not canceled, given his record? We'll have more on this.

When Lacroix held a rare press conference on January 24, Inner City Press asked him how the UN is vetting “peacekeepers” from Cameroon, as that country's army is burning down whole villages in the Anglophone zones. Lacroix insisted that vetting is intensive. Inner City Press asked about what sources tell it, that the ostensibly vetting of troops from Sri Lanka, after the bloodbath on the beach there, consists of one OHCHR staffer in Geneva. Lacroix said he wasn't sure on that. Video here.

After the press conference Inner City Press was contacted, and ultimately copied on a letter to Lacroix, below. On February 15, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: there's been a letter sent by… by a number of Tamil Sri Lankan groups to Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix about the… the impending… I guess, some type of a commander in UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], Mr. [Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara] Hewage.  And they've documented to him — he's supposed to deploy on Sunday — that, in fact, he was present during 2008 in Kilinochchi, 2009 in PTK.  These were, you know, highly controversial military actions.  So, their complaint is that, in the past, Office of Human Rights of the UN would vet people, and now that doesn't appear to be the case anymore just by…  Have you seen that letter? Spokesman:  We've… DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] has, indeed, received the letter you mentioned.  They are looking into the case of the gentleman that you mentioned with… who's scheduled be deployed to Lebanon.  As a matter of policy, we're committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights.  In accordance with existing policy, the UN should neither select nor deploy for service any individual who has been involved in violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.  In reviewing the background of personnel to be deployed, we consider available information from within and outside of the UN system, thus, will review carefully the information that has been provided to us.  Member States that provide UN personnel to peacekeeping operations also have the responsibility to certify that the personnel they nominate have not been involved, by act or omission, in violations of international humanitarian or human rights law or have been repatriated on disciplinary grounds from any UN operation.  In cases where we have concerns regarding the human rights record of specific troop-contributing countries, we put in place additional measures to ensure that the personnel deployed is in line with the UN human rights screening policy. Inner City Press: one follow-up, because I remember Mr. Lacroix specifically commented on this when he did his press conference.  Seems like these… these… these groups are saying that, in the past, the UN review these in Geneva, and now they're relying on Sri Lanka's own human rights commission, and they say the last people were deployed… Spokesman:  I think from what I understood of what I just said, we review both what the Government tells us and external and internal sources." We'll see. Here was the letter, c/o Debbie Berman, Copy to OHCHR, Geneva and InnerCityPress:

Dear Mr. Lacroix, STOP DEPLOYMEMNT OF UN PEACEKEEPER WITH FRONTLINE COMBAT EXPERIENCE IN SRI LANKA’S 2009 WAR - This is to request you to stop the planned deployment to Lebanon on Sunday 18 February 2018 of a Sri Lankan contingent commander with frontline combat command
experience in the final phase of the civil war in 2008-9. We believe that under the UN’s current vetting criteria, this commander should have been screened out of all UN peacekeeping duties. We note that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has been asked to vet UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka but consider that ultimately the responsibility lies with your department, as according to the UN, it seeks to ensure that only “individuals with the highest standards of integrity, competence and efficiency” are hired. The Sri Lankan Army says Lt. Col. Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage is due to head the 12th Force Protection Company (FPC) for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) An online search of Lt. Col. Hewage reveals he was involved in the assault on Kilinochchi town in Northern Sri Lanka on 22 December 2008 and located in PTK in late February 2009."

Inner City Press accompanied and covered Ban Ki-moon's trip to Sri Lanka in 2009, and subsequent acceptance of Shavendra Silva as a senior UN Peacekeeping adviser. After Inner City Press published how Palitha Kohona got his former landlord to sponsor, on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, a screening of the government's genocide denial film "Lies Agreed To," Inner City Press was threatened with ouster from the UN, which occurred, and Inner City Press is still restricted to minders under the Department of Public Information run by British Alison Smale. Meanwhile as noted in the letter, the UN does less and less human rights vetting. We'll have more on this.

While at least four countries have issued travel warnings in the wake of Bangladesh's arrest and crackdown on the resulting protests, the UN on February 8 hid from the issue, and from the need to better vet the security forces the UN is accepting from Bangladesh in light of the crackdown. Inner City Press asked, video here, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: on Bangladesh.  I mean, you had said… the arrest took place some time ago, and various countries have put out already travel warnings, so I'm wondering, at a minimum… the UN with its country team there, have they taken note of what's taking place in the street? Deputy Spokesman:  I've told you what I've got on that for now. Inner City Press: given that there's live fire, you say… very recently, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] put out a statement thanking Bangladesh for its peacekeepers, and I'm sure they've done great work, but there have been repeated issues of abuses by the security forces, or seeming abuses, killing of civilians, use of live fire on protesters.  Can you describe what vetting goes on, and… and the recent spate of… of these thank you, messages put out by DPKO, are they in any relation to… to… to the vetting process that's going on or issues that have arisen in various delegations, contingents of peacekeepers? Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq:  All peacekeepers are vetted to make sure that they have not engaged in any practices that involve the violation of human rights.  And we go through that on a country-by-country basis. Inner City Press: And so have there been any Bangladesh peacekeepers blocked in the last five years, given the events in the country in which units by name have taken place in crackdowns on their own civilians? Deputy Spokesman:  We raise all concerns with any particular members of incoming peacekeeping troops with the troop-contributing country to make sure that no one is deployed who does not meet our standards." What standards are those? In other news, with Maldives' President declaring a state of emergency, on February 5 Inner City Press  asked the spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres Stephane Dujarric about it at noon on February 5, before the US then spoke, below.  Under Guterres and his outgoing head of Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, both headed to Korea, it took the UN a full 18 hours to come out with two paragraphs on February 6, below. On February 8, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca was to brief the UN Security Council about the Maldives under "Any Other Business." But Jenca did not speak to the Press on the way in or out of the Council. Past 2 pm when Kuwait's Ambassador, the President of the Security Council for February, gave a summary of the day's meetings, Maldives wasn't on it. Inner City Press asked, loudly, but no answer; later it was explained that since AOB topics are not listed in the UN Journal, the President feels he cannot speak to it. It would be up to the Secretariat. But under Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretariat says and disclosed less and less. If a briefing on a crackdown happens but no one was speak about it, does it make a sound? Some ask, why is Guterres not sending some sort of envoy or mediator? It can't be that he feels he needs total consent: he sent Nigeria's former president Obasanjo to Kenya, where both sides said they never met with him. So why the different approach to the Maldives? We'll have more on this. The UN's statement from earlier on February 6: "The Secretary-General is seriously concerned about the unfolding situation in the Maldives, in particular the declaration of a state of emergency and the entry of security forces into the Supreme Court premises. The Secretary-General urges the Government of the Maldives to uphold the constitution and rule of law, lift the state of emergency as soon as possible, and take all measures to ensure the safety and security of the people in the country, including members of the judiciary." From the UN transcript: Inner City Press: it seems like President Abdulla Yameen [Abdul Gayoom] has not complied with releasing the opponents.  In fact, he's issued a state of emergency.  I'm wondering, is there… is DPI… is DPA (Department of Political Affairs) actually involved, or is it just… is it issuing statements from New York, or is it trying to speak with him and engage and…? Spokesman:  I think we're very concerned with the ongoing developments in the Maldives, including what we've seen in the last 24 hours.  We're following it very closely.  And I would… you know, the Secretary-General would, again, call on the Government to respect the court ruling and for restraint to be exercised.  And we… I do expect a more formal statement on this shortly." A the UN, shortly means 18 hours. How far will today's UN go to placate some countries, while ignoring others and restricting the Press? On January 26 UN "global communications" chief Alison Smale flew to Charleston, South Carolina for a photo op and UNTV video with China's Xiamen Airlines for having painting the UN's "SDGs" logo on the side of an airplane. This without having answered Press questions about her Department of Public Information's malfeasance with resources allocated by the General Assembly for Kiswahili and about the lack under her "leadership" of any content neutral UN media access rules. Afterward, when Inner City Press asked for the mp4 video of her South Carolina junket - Inner City Press is informed that the plane she celebrated could not in fact fly - it was told to "Ask UN Webcast," which is under Smale. They were asked - and have not given the video. Nor has Smale offered any response to a detailed petition two weeks ago, while re-tweeting her former employer the NYT and current boss Antonio Guterres. But who is making who look bad? And how can a former NYT editor have no content neutral media access rules, and no answers? As she restricts Inner City Press from its UN reporting on Cameroon, Myanmar, Kenya, Yemen and elsewhere? We'll have more on this. While any country would try to get the UN to promote its airline, if the UN would do it, Smale is the UN official who responsible for Inner City Press being restricted and evicted as it reports on the UN bribery scandal of Patrick Ho and China Energy Fund Committee. Smale hasn't even deigned to answer petitions in this regard, in September (she said she recognized the need for the "courtesy" of a response, never given) and in January -- too busy flying to South Carolina to promote an airline:

Today's UN of Antonio Guterres, who just met with ICC indictee Omar al Bashir, and his Deputy Amina J. Mohammed who has refused Press questions on her rosewood signatures and now the refoulement of 47 people to Cameroon from "her" Nigeria, has become a place of corruption and censorship. On January 30 as Inner City Press sought to complete its reporting for the day on Guterres' Bashir meeting and Mohammed's Cameroon no-answer, it had a problem. It was invited to the month's UN Security Council president's end of presidency reception, 6:30 to 8:30 - but with its accreditation reduced by censorship, it could not get back into the UN after 7 pm, to the already delayed UN video. It ran to at least enter the reception - but the elevator led to a jammed packed third floor, diplomats lined up to shake the outgoing UNSC president's hand. Inner City Press turn to turn tail back to the UN, passing on its way favored, pro-UN correspondents under no such restriction. Periscope here. Inner City Press has written about this to the head of the UN Department of Public Information Alison Smale, in Sepember 2017 - no answer but a new threat - and this month, when Smale's DPI it handing out full access passes to no-show state media. No answer at all: pure censorship, for corruption. Smale's DPI diverted funds allocated for Kiswahili, her staff say, now saying they are targeted for retaliation. This is today's UN. Amid UN bribery scandals, failures in countries from Cameroon to Yemen and declining transparency, today's UN does not even pretend to have content neutral rules about which media get full access and which are confined to minders or escorts to cover the General Assembly.

Inner City Press, which while it pursue the story of Macau-based businessman Ng Lap Seng's bribery of President of the General Assembly John Ashe was evicted by the UN Department of Public Information from its office, is STILL confined to minders as it pursues the new UN bribery scandal, of Patrick Ho and Cheikh Gadio allegedly bribing President of the General Assembly Sam Kutesa, and Chad's Idriss Deby, for CEFC China Energy.

Last week Inner City Press asked UN DPI where it is on the list to be restored to (its) office, and regain full office - and was told it is not even on the list, there is no public list, the UN can exclude, permanently, whomever it wants. This is censorship.


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