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UN's Ban Protested for Inaction on Sri Lanka Ethnic Cleansing

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

MIDTOWN MANHATTAN, June 17, updated -- With over 300,000 Tamils locked up in UN-funded internment camps in northern Sri Lanka, a routine appearance by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was protested Wednesday evening in New York. Less than a month ago, Ban with the Press had stood in the largest of the camps, Manik Farm in Vavuniya, as interned Tamil children sung his name. At that time, Ban had smiled.

With Ban slated to received a "global humanitarian award" along with Bill Clinton, in a police pen outside Manhattan's St. Regis Hotel a crowd gathered. They chanted, "Ban Ki-moon, Ban Ki-moon, don't cover up genocide!" "Close the camps, free the people!"

Some of Ban's security detail arrived before the 6:30 p.m. beginning of the event and surveyed the crowd. Ban himself did not come, even as of 7:35. Mexico's Claude Heller stopped on the way and remarked to Inner City Press, "This is good." The UN's Amir Dossal appeared to grimace on his way in. Ex-journalist Warren Hoge stopped briefing to look and then went in. The tension built. Watch this space.

Update of 7:58 p.m. -- a police four by four has been placed next to the police pen and the protessters. Black cars line 55th street, drivers watching the protest. Where is Ban?

Update of 8:00 p.m. -- one chant that fell flat for being too abstract has been, "Don't kill R 2 P!" The Italian Ambassador has gone in. The protesters wonder out loud, is there another way in? Or might Ban simply cancel his appearance?

Update of 8:11 p.m. -- The UK's Deputy Permanent Representative, whose boss for now had just been named the head of MI6, has just arrived, glancing briefly across 55th Street at the chanters before heading in to the St. Regis.

Update of 8:35 p.m. -- Although his security has twice passed by, Mr. Ban is still not here. The police are saying, the permit runs only to 8:30 p.m.. Gamesmanship?

Update of 9:25 p.m. -- as the protest permit expired at 8:30 p.m., Inner City Press ventured in to cover the event. Ban was, in fact, inside, with three security guards. When he spoke, he mentioned the protesters and said, that's why I went to Sri Lanka. He said he met with the opposition, which is not at all clear. He said he is a voice of the voiceless. Then he said, seal the deal in Copenhagen. The Foreign Policy Association congratulated its corporate partners. Several Ambassadors left.

Update of 10:29 p.m. - the above was delayed because the St Regis 20th floor ballroom did not have wireless Internet. As the event broke up, Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar -- the subject of a sign down in the streets below -- was visible, along with Bob Orr. Former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad stopped and said hello. Ban was whisked out another door. But the voice of the protesters was heard, and the questions will be pursued. 10-4

   And see later night analysis and two photos, at

* * *

On Sri Lanka, Norway Worried by Camps, WHO by Doctors, Bill Clinton on Tsunami

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 15 -- As the UN brags about it role in building more and more permanent shelters in Sri Lanka's internment camps for Tamil, on Monday Inner City Press asked Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Garh Stoere if his country is assisting with the camps. "Mostly humanitarian," he said. "We don't get access as a country to the camps, we support the ICRC and UN agencies... it's an uphill battle."

   Inner City Press asked about the use of funds to lock up Sri Lankan citizens for essentially political screening. "It's a great dilemma," said Jonas Garh Stoere. "The war is over, but there are almost 300,000 people in camps. If they are not quickly resettled, normalized, our past experience shows us that temporary camps can become permanent. That should not happen here."

   But the UN in New York seems to believe it is best not to criticize the Rajapaksa government, and to downplay problems with the camps.  In that context, the World Health Organization's Margaret Chan has gotten involved in pleading with Sri Lanka's government the case of the doctors were remained in the "No Fire" Zone offering treatment and casualty figures, it emerged Monday at the UN.

  Still, the Rajapaksa administration says that the doctors, detained since last month, will be put on trial. Doctor Chan said told Inner City Press that "the UN's position is very clear. Doctors working in the humanitarian space should maintain neutrality, do their work and be protected. And I, we have been following up with the regional office on this issue." Video here, from Minute 7:46.

UN's Ban and Norway's
Jonas Garh Stoere, one concerned by camps, the other proud of them?

   Ban Ki-moon added,

"I have raised this issue with the Foreign Minister and President, and also in the presence of many Cabinet ministers. So this has been quite strongly raised by me. They assured me that they would be taken care of properly and they will look into this matter. I am closely following up; as you know, I have sent a letter to President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa last week, urging him to implement all the commitments he made during my visit, and which we have agreed to implement."

   Mr. Ban, along with Bill Clinton, will be receiving a humanitarian award Wednesday in New York. They appeared Monday at a press conference about Clinton's new Haiti mandate. Inner City Press asked about Sri Lankan soldiers repatriated from Haiti charged with sexual abuse, a question that Clinton declined to answer. Video here, from Minute 29:12.

  Clinton twice mentioned his work after the tsunami, also for the UN. Inner City Press has interviewed Sri Lankan NGOs who worked with Eric Schwartz and others in Clinton's office, including in connection with Clinton's visit to Trincomolee and Tamil NGOs there.

  Would Sri Lanka's government bar Bill Clinton as it recently did Canadian MP Bob Rae? A UN under secretary general on Monday praised Rae to Inner City Press, but then asked that their name not be used. The UN declined comment when asked about the stripping of Rae's visa. Ban says he is closely monitoring and closely following up on all this. We'll see.

* * *

On Sri Lanka, UN Has No Comment on Prison Labor, New GA President Will Not Explain

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 12 -- The UN at all levels demonstrates blindness with respect to Sri Lanka, from the use of prison labor in the now emptied out north to even recognizing the name of the country. Incoming General Assembly president Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya on Friday took questions from the Press.

  Inner City Press asked him about two countries, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. To the latter, Libya agreed to a $500 million loan, to make up for the $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund delayed by reports of mistreatment of civilians. Inner City Press asked Treki, since Libya was among those blocking Security Council action, if he could imagine Sri Lanka being taken up in the General Assembly, as Myanmar has been. Video here, from Minute 17:46.

  Ali Treki latched on to the Myanmar part of the question, praising the UN's envoy to that country Ibrahim Gambari, whom he said he knew when Gambari was the foreign minister of the Sani Abacha administration in Nigeria. He said he would meet with Gambari on Friday afternoon to get a report about Myanmar. About Sri Lanka, Treki said nothing, then moved on to another questioner.

  Inner City Press followed up, asking why Libya didn't view the conflict in Sri Lanka as impacting international peace and security. Treki said it "interests the world, the human rights aspect," but that what "Asia says is very important, they tell us if what goes on in Myanmar" effects peace and security. Video here, from Minute 19:39.

   So had Treki simply refused to answer about Sri Lanka? He will be president of the UN General Assembly from September 2009 through August 2010.

UN's Ban and Libya's Ali Treki, action on Sri Lanka and prison labor not shown

   Meanwhile at the UN's noon media briefing on June 12, asked Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson Michele Montas had read out a statement that access to the camps in Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka is getting better and new camps are being built -- internment camps, with UN money -- Inner City Press asked for the UN's response to Sri Lankan authorities' statement that they will use prison labor in the north.

  Ms. Montas said "no comment at this point, maybe later we will see how the issue is being discussed." Video here, from Minute 18:39.

    Later Ms Montas' office sent Inner City Press the following response:

Subj: Response from OCHA on your question at the noon briefing
From: unspokesperson-donotreply [at]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 6/12/2009 12:43:56 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

On use of prison labour in reconstruction in Sri Lanka, we have not heard these allegations and have no information.

   Apparently, the UN's "close monitoring" of Sri Lanka doesn't even read the news from Colombo, with quotes from government officials:

Prison inmates to be deployed for the redevelopment process in Sri Lanka's North

Thu, Jun 11, 2009, 11:51 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

June 11, Colombo: Sri Lanka government is planning to deploy prison inmates for the redevelopment process in the liberated areas of the North.

Prison Commissioner General, Major General V.R Silva told the media that this would be an appropriate decision to develop the liberated areas in North.

According to statistics there are nearly 30,000 inmates are in the prisons at the moment. Most of them are able bodied people with various skills, he added.

    Yes, the skills of those in jail, including for violent crime, are those the Sri Lankan government is unleashing in the north. And the UN? They "have not heard these allegations and have no information." 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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