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As Sri Lanka Deports Canadian MP, UN Has No Comment, Controls Questions To Be Asked

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 10 -- Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General who declined to visit Sri Lanka until after the government's assault on the "No Fire" Zone had been reached its deadly conclusion, has said he is closely monitoring "post-conflict" developments in the country. On June 10, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe if Ban or the UN had any comment on the Sri Lankan government deporting a member of parliament from Canada, Bob Rae.

   Ms. Okabe said she and Ban have no comment. "Again," she said, "I am not going to have reactions to everything you read in the newspaper about Sri Lanka.." Video here, from Minute 11:16. The question and non-answer are not included in the UN's summary of the briefing.

  This new approach appears to be designed to have the Sri Lanka issue fall off not only the radar of the UN Security Council -- a seemingly final "informal interactive dialogue was held on June 5 -- but of the wider UN. Journalists are allowed to ask persistent daily questions about many situations, without a similar reaction from Ban's Spokesperson's office: for example on the Middle East, Sudan or Pakistan. They try now however to make Sri Lanka off limits, to discourage even any questions being asked.

   Ms. Okabe went on to imply that rather than ask questions, the Press should simply wait to see if and when Ban issues statements. "As he sees fit, he will be responding," Ms. Okabe said. Ban chose in recent days to comment on the death of Gabonese strongman Omar Bongo, and to praise President Obama's speech (whether he will do that for the other 191 heads of state's speeches is not clear). But apparently he did not see fit to respond to Sri Lanka extending anti-terror laws and deporting a Canadian elected official.

UN's Ban in IDP camp in Sri Lanka, response to deporting Canadian MP not shown

   Later on June 10, Inner City Press posed the same question to a senior political adviser to Ban, who expressed frustration. He said, "we had predicted what two things would be asked today, and we said it would be the barring of Bob Rae" -- a longtime observers of Sri Lanka whom the adviser called fair -- "and the extension of the state of emergency anti terrorism laws."

  About the latter, Inner City Press asked on June 9, and Ms. Okabe had no comment on that, either. The Ban adviser told Inner City Press that he would have said, of the blocking of Bob Rae, what while the UN usually does not comment on such actions, "it is not helpful."

   So who is running the show at the UN? Does Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson's Office actually speak for him? On June 11, Mr. Ban holds a press conference, at which he will offer his own answers to the questions which are allowed by his Spokesperson. While some questions are sure to focus on a range of initiatives and meetings by Ban's highest officials which many see as anti-press, the questions about Sri Lanka should, one imagines, be allowed. Watch this site.

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On Sri Lanka, UN Has No Comment on Anti-Terror Law, Ban's Freetown Rep Not Worried By Protest

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 9 -- As UN money supports internment camps in northern Sri Lanka, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that he is closely monitoring compliance with the Joint Statement he signed with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

  But on June 9, in a UN noon briefing with no real time pressure and only three journalists in the room, Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe first tried to shift directly from a twelve minute read out of press releases to a guest about Sierra Leone, then begrudgingly agreed to take Inner City Press' "daily two questions."

  Inner City Press asked if Sri Lanka's extension of its anti-terrorism laws, which allow detention with out charge and are directly disproportionately against the Tamil minority, are consistent with Ban's understanding of the Commitment, and with his call against triumphalism and for reconciliation.

  Ms. Okabe called this a mere "press report" on which the UN has no comment. For the sake of time, she said, let's turn it over to the guest. Video here, from Minute 12:39.

   First, the extension of the anti-terrorism laws was extensively reported, and is a legislative fact. Any office closely monitoring developments in Sri Lanka would be aware of it, and should be prepared to comment hours later on it -- particularly since the detained doctors who remained in the "No Fire" zone offering treatment and casualty figures, about whom Ban has expressed concern, are being held under these laws.

   Second, there was no rush to get the guest, the representative in Sierra Leone, on. The noon briefing had been reduced to a less than 15 minutes, more than 12 minutes of which consisted of Ms. Okabe reading out loud UN press releases.

  It appeared clear that Ms. Okabe simply didn't want to answer questions. To be so dismissive of Sri Lanka, a topic the Secretary General is ostensibly monitoring closely, appears to be inconsistent.

UN's Ban and troops during Africa trip, SLPP and doctors not shown

   The Sierra Leone UN representative, Michael Schulenburg, is also accused of being too close to the country's president. Inner City Press asked Schulenburg to respond to a quote from the US representative of the opposition SLPP, that Schulenburg's and Ban's report "reads more like an eulogy to President Koroma than an objective, professional, and balanced report on the fair implementation of the very communique."

   Schulenburg said that the criticism of his approach is only from "one journalist." Even Ban's high officials point the finger at three media organizations -- click here and here for that.

   Inner City Press asked Schulenburg about reports that SLPP supporters may stage protests. I don't that, Schulenburg said. "I'm not worried about this at all." Video here, from Minute 32:51.

  Schulenburg said he did not recognize the name of the US representative of the opposition SLPP. Outreach seems in order.

Footnote: In fact, with Ban Ki-moon slated to get another award, this time on June 17 at 630 p.m. at the St Regis Hotel in Manhattan, there is talk about a protest by people concerned with the UN's action and lack of action in Sri Lanka. Again, outreach -- and action, follow through -- seem in order. Watch this site.

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In Sri Lanka, UN Pays for Camps But No Legal Protections, Nor for NGOs, Will Council Hear?

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 8 -- The outgoing chief justice of Sri Lanka, Sarath Nanda Silva, said before he left that those interred in the camps in Menik Farm have no legal protections, cannot get justice for their claims before the courts that he oversaw.

  On June 8 in New York, Inner City Press asked UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq if this is the UN's understanding, given that the UN is largely paying for, and had just bragged about, the camps. Haq replied that the UN is pushing for freedom of movement, telling the government to speed up its "screening and registration."

   The screening is, in essence, political screening, to gauge whether people support not only the LTTE but also the cause of Tamil rights. Since the UN is pay for this, it seems fair to ask what legal protections are in place.

  Inner City Press asked again, in response to which Haq said, "I am not aware of the jurisdiction of the court system. I think that’s a national issue." Transcript here and below; video here, from Minute 16:38.

  But if the UN pays to lock people up, the non-existence of safeguards cannot be considered only a national issue.

  Inner City Press asked for the UN's response to the visas denied to international staff of CARE, Save the Children, NRC and others. Haq said, we continue to stress the need for humanitarian access. With whom? When NGOs were barred from Sudan, the UN Secretariat shouted. And now?

UN's Ban in Manik Farm, legal protections for IDPs not shown

  While some reported that Ban Ki-moon on June 5 called for an investigation, his actual words were far more wishy -washy: if there were violations, they should be investigated. This allows the Sri Lankan government to claim there were no violations, just as they insist against all evidence that not a single civilians was killed by their assault on the "No Fire" Zone.

  Nevertheless, when Inner City Press asked Rosemary DiCarlo of the U.S. Mission what may happen next at the UN about Sri Lanka, she said that she and the U.S. expect Ban to continue to brief the Council, on compliance with the Joint Statement he signed with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

   More skeptical observers opine that absent publicized event which shame the UN and Council into action, the agenda will continue to include Haiti and Burundi, and even Myanmar, but not Sri Lanka. We'll see.

From the June 8 UN transcript:

Inner City Press: on Sri Lanka, the Chief Justice there has been quoted as saying that the people that are in the camps, including the 280,000 people on the Menik Farm camps were outside of the protection of the law, that the Sri Lankan justice system has no jurisdiction over them or their claims. Is that the UN’s understanding, given that it’s paying in large part for the camps? And also, the NGOs -- CARE, Save the Children, NRC -- all have had international staff refused visas, and I wondered what OCHA is doing about that.

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Well, first of all, regarding the Chief Justice’s comments, the UN at the highest levels has been insisting on the need for freedom of movement for the people in these camps since the end of the conflict. Freedom of movement for people in the IDP camps is essential. The Government is trying to expedite the screening and registration of IDPs but this needs to be done faster. The Government must allow family reunification and the issuance of ID cards and facilitate freer movement in and out of the camps. The Government needs to facilitate early return and resettlement of IDPs, while ensuring the voluntary nature of such movements.

Inner City Press: [inaudible] does the court system have jurisdiction over their claims? Is that the UN’s understanding?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: I am not aware of the jurisdiction of the court system. I think that’s a national issue.

Again, if the UN pays to lock people up, the non-existence of safeguards should not be considered only a national issue.

 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.

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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

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