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Two UN Views of Sri Lankan Killing Video, Holmes in Norway Putting Out Fires

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 3 -- In the wake of the Norwegian memo which criticized the UN's Ban Ki-moon for lacking "moral authority" during his visit to Sri Lanka and since -- a critique that Ban dodged during his pass through Oslo this week -- UN humanitarian coordinator John Holmes arrived to take a second attempt to blunt the issue. First, Holmes offered praise to Norway, telling Aftenposten it "is one of the most important countries in this area, both in terms of assistance and expertise. Therefore, I try to stop by occasionally to talk with Norwegian leaders."

   He didn't say when the last of these "occasional" visits to Oslo was. The timing, right after the Norwegian memo which specifically named Holmes as wanting the UN's political or chief of staff job and criticized Ban's "silent" diplomacy style, was hardly subtle.

   In fact, Holmes used the Aftenposten interview to deny wanting any other job, and to say that, just as Ban is contrasted unfavorably with the flashier Kofi Annan, he acknowledges that his predecessor Jan Egeland was more strident, that he "used the media actively... I'm more of a type that is set in the doors."

   Notably, Holmes was more explicit that Ban Ki-moon's spokespeople have been about the leaked video depicting the Sri Lankan Army committing summary executions, saying that "We have received a guarantee from the government that it will be created an independent body to investigate such incidents. So far they have not kept [their] word. If nothing happens, we have to do something... the government has only 'weeks or months, not years, to initiate such an investigation."

   Later on September 3, after receiving word of Holmes' statement from a fellow journalist in Oslo, Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe if the Secretariat, to which President Mahinda Rajapaksa made his supposed commitment, would finally be clearer about the need to investigate the presumably war crimes in the video footage.

Glasses-less UN's Ban hears point from Holmes, killing video not yet shown

Inner City Press: yesterday Ambassador Rice said that the US was deeply concerned about that video from the Sri Lankan army apparently conducting summary executions and said more information is needed. I’m just wondering, I couldn’t figure out from what you’d said, what has been said from here before. The Secretary-General said he’s concerned about human rights violations, including this video, but notes the Government’s rejection of it. Does the Secretary-General believe that there should be an investigation, if not by the Government, then by an outside source about the…?

Deputy Spokesperson: If you look at that statement a little bit more carefully, I think it talks about the three points that were agreed between the Secretary-General and the Sri Lankan Government, one of which talks about the need to establish a proper mechanism to look into these violations. And of course any allegations as serious as those made in the video would be part of such an inquiry like that. And, as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, we may have something further. The Secretary-General in Geneva is scheduled to be meeting with the Sri Lankan Minister for Disaster Management, I believe, the correct title I may not have at the top of head right, but that meeting should be going on right now. And so we may have a readout on that for you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the Secretary-General met in Geneva with Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights, to discuss such matters. They discussed the conditions in camps housing internally displaced persons, particularly with the approaching monsoon season. They also discussed the return of internally displaced persons, as well as the importance of the free movement of people among the camps and free movement of United Nations and international humanitarian workers. They talked about the importance of reconciliation. They also discussed accountability, particularly in light of the recent accusations of extrajudicial executions.]

   So Ban and Samarasinghe "discussed accountability, particularly in light of the recent accusations of extrajudicial executions." What did they discuss? Watch this site.

Footnote: something else that Ban Ki-moon may have to be asked to respond to is what Colombo sources say is the impending expulsion of UNICEF's James Elder, for speaking, how ever diplomatically, about the problems in the UN-funded internment camps....

At UN, Susan Rice Calls Sri Lankan Executions Disturbing, No Council Session Set, Rajapaksa No Show, HG Error

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 2 -- Three months after the UN Security Council held informal session about the conflict Sri Lanka, the newly released video footage depicting the Sri Lankan Army committing summary execution has not led any Council member, including the United States, to propose that the situation be discussed on the Council agenda. But, U.S. Ambassador and Council President for September Susan Rice told the Press, "these reports are very fresh and that could change." Video here, from Minute 24.

  At Ambassador Rice's month-opening press conference, Inner City Press asked her about Sri Lanka, the video, and the critique in the leaked memo of Norwegian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Mona Juul that Ban Ki-moon lacked "moral authority" when he made his trip to Sri Lanka, like his visit to Myanmar. Video here, from Minute 21:50.

   Ms. Rice did not respond about the Juul memo, but said that the video reports are "very disturbing" and "of grave concern," that the U.S. would like more information as it formulates its national response. That is awaited, as is a response to the 20 year jail term for J.S. Tissainayagam, an Amnesty International prison of conscience whom U.S. President Obama on World Press Freedom Day on May 1 called an "emblematic example" of a reporter jailed for doing his job.

Susan Rice in UN helicopter, of the kind that flew over Sri Lankan "bloodbath on the beach" and camps

  Ms. Rice's press conference kicks off a month in which President Barack Obama will come to the UN for the General Assembly session. Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa had been scheduled to come along with a large entourage. But reportedly Karuna and others in his party were denied visa. Now, Rajapaksa will apparently not come, leaving the Prime Minister to represent the country.

  In the latest speakers' schedule for the General Assembly, which Inner City Press is putting online here, Sri Lanka is listed as speaking on September 26 along with other countries represented at the Head of Government. There is only one problem: the Sri Lanka Prime Minister is not the Head of Government, that is a post that President Rajapaksa holds as well as being Head of State.

  Inner City Press asked UN Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq if the "head of government" notation was an error by UN Protocol. Haq responded diplomatically that it is the responsibility of member states to give accurate information. Watch this site.

From the U.S. Mission to the UN's transcript

Inner City Press: ...this Mona Juul memo that many people have spoken about, talking about where the U.N. stands in terms of what she called a lack of moral authority on Myanmar, Sri Lanka and even Sudan... on Sri Lanka, there's this video that came out of the army apparently shooting, you know, naked prisoners. Do you expect the Council to take that issue up in any way?

Ambassador Rice: ...With respect to Sri Lanka, again speaking in a national capacity, these reports are very disturbing. They're of grave concern. We'd like more information as we formulate our own national response.

And to date, going back now to Council President, I'm not aware of a Council member proposing that this be discussed on the Council agenda, but obviously these reports are very fresh and that could change.

* * *

At UN, Tortured Concern about Sri Lanka Killing Video But Not Reporter's Term of 20 Years

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 31 -- While in Norway UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asked about Sri Lanka, neglected to mention the recently broadcast video footage of depicting Sri Lankan soldiers committing summary executions, in New York on Monday Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe had a prepared statement ready, when Inner City Press asked the question. Inner City Press asked Ms. Okabe to confirm or deny that the video had come up as an issue in Ban's meetings with Norwegian ministers, and separately to finally comment on the footage. Video here from Minute 11:02. Ms. Okabe said

"I don't have anything specific on the video in terms of the bilateral meeting... We have always viewed with utmost concern the reports and information received from various sources of serious human rights violations including those related to war crimes The footage broadcast on Channel Four last week that shows Tamil prisoners being summarily executed allegedly by Sri Lankan armed forces personnel is no exception. We are not in the position to ascertain the authenticity of the video in question and have noted its rejection by the Sri Lanka authorities."

  This strikes some as a convoluted, even tortured expression of concern: we are concerned about violations generally, and this "alleged" case is no exception, except that we can't authenticate it and note the government's "rejection." Is a rejection a denial? Or a dismissal?

  Inner City Press followed up, asking if Ban agrees with the call for United Nations investigation by Special Rapporteur Philip Alston. Ms. Okabe responded, "Let's see... the first port of call should be the High Commissioner on Human Rights, so we'll check in with them to see what their initial response is." Video here, from Minute 12:44.

   In light of the 20 year prison sentence announced earlier Monday in Colombo for J.S. Tissainayagam, an Amnesty International prison of conscience whom U.S. President Obama on World Press Freedom Day on May 1 called an "emblematic example" of a reporter jailed for doing his job, Inner City Press asked Ms. Okabe if Ban or the UN had any response to the long jail sentence for a journalist. Video here, from Minute 13:12. Ms Okabe replied, "I don't have a direct response, I have seen the press reports on that."

UN's Ban at Lie Memorial in Norway, response to journalist's jailing not shown

   So what's the upshot? The UN's Ban finally issued a round-about expression of concern, noting the Sri Lankan government's "rejection" of the summary execution video. His Deputy Spokesman would not say if Ban favors any UN attempt to ascertain the authenticity of the video, and had no response to the 20 year sentence for a journalist in Sri Lanka.

  Norway's deputy ambassador to the UN Mona Juul wrote that on Sri Lanka, among other places, Ban has no "moral authority." Has the critique been rebutted? Many people feel it has not. And Ban has headed to the Arctic Circle.

* * *

In Norway, UN's Ban Silent on Sri Lankan Killings and Sudan, Dodges on Myanmar

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 31 -- Days after video footage of the Sri Lankan Army committing summary executions was broadcast on the UK's Channel 4 and then elsewhere, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Norway was asked if he acknowledges that he has been failing to address the problems in Sri Lanka. Ban's answer was the same talking points he has been using since his May "victory lap" visit to the the country:

"I have made it quite clear to President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa that even though the fighting might be over, there are much more important things to be done. There is political reconciliation and reaching out to minority groups, including the Tamils, therefore, including the process for the accountability for any violation of international human rights law, international humanitarian laws. They must take all necessary measures. I have met already President Rajapaksa several times. I have called him to follow up my commitment after my visit."

 Ban's entourage knew that questions would be asked during his visit to Norway, in the wake of the leak of that country's deputy ambassador to the UN Mona Juul's devastating critique of what she called his lack of "moral authority," about his performance in Sri Lanka, as well as Myanmar and Sudan. Ban's spokesperson was asked about and shown the Sri Lanka execution video. Yet with all this preparation, what Ban did was refer with jargon to "the process for the accountability for any violation of international human rights law, international humanitarian laws. They must take all necessary measures."

  What does this mean? The Sri Lankan government, since Ban's visit, has canceled the investigation into killing such as those of 17 aid workers of Action Contre la Faim. It has rebuffed calls for any other investigations, and immediately denounced the airing of the execution video. Tellingly, its incoming ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona was quoted over the weekend in the Daily Mirror that "a winning side has never been subjected to such an inquiry, including after the World War Two."

  Ignoring for example the indictment of still "winning" Sudanese president Omar al Bashir for war crimes, Kohona's appears to some to be a battle cry for impunity. Ban's response? The same talking points as three months ago.

  Ban's answers came in response to the second of only two questions taken after Ban met with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Prior to that, Ban was to be met at the airport by Norway's Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim, who days ago said of the execution footage that "this is something I will discuss with Ban Ki-moon when he comes... even if the purpose of his trip is about climate and environment." Even after this, Ban had nothing but the same talking points to offer.

UN's Ban, about Norway, before leaving, Sri Lankan execution video not shown

  The Juul memo zeroed in on what it characterized as Ban's failed trips to Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Tellingly, although asked about Sudan, Ban did not say a single word about that country. On Myanmar, he replied that

"I have visited Myanmar twice and I have met Senior General Than Shwe three times. I have laid out a very strong message, straightforward, directly to the Senior General and even to the general public, [saying] what expectations we have for the Myanmar people. We were able to open up this society so that humanitarian assistance could flow smoothly. Last year, in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, together with the international community, particularly led by the Norwegian Government, we were able to save at least a half million [people] during the cyclone. Now, we need to work more for the democratization of Myanmar. I have made it quite clear, publicly and privately, that this election in 2010 must be a fair and credible and inclusive one. For that, all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, should be released. I am working very hard to keep up pressure on the commitments they made and you have my full commitment on that."

When Ban was in Myanmar, a trip used by the government, he was not allowed to visit Aung San Suu Kyi. Shortly thereafter, a U.S. Senator, Jim Webb, was granted such a visit, and left the country with her co-defendant John Yettaw. The UN appears poised to offer what legitimacy it can to an election held under a Constitution pushed through after the Cyclone, which limits many seats and powers to those with military backgrounds. Still Ban claims he is pressuring Myanmar -- and that on Sri Lanka he has "met already President Rajapaksa several times. I have called him to follow up my commitment after my visit."

Only last week, the head of the Colombo-based Center for Policy Alternative told the Press at the UN of widespread disappointment in Sri Lankan civil society that all Ban offered was a 24 hour visit and "a few phone calls." These critiques do not appear to have sunk in, the same talking points get repeated again and again, even in the face of evidence of summary executions. What's next? Watch this site.

* * *

Executions by Sri Lankan Army To Be Raised to UN's Ban in Norway, a Post Mona Juul Memo "Moral Authority" Test

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 30 -- The video footage depicting the Sri Lankan Army committing summary executions will be raised to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during his impending visit to Oslo, Norwegian Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim has vowed. On August 26 at a regular press briefing before Ban left New York, Inner City Press asked his Spokesperson Michele Montas if he or she had seen the footage, and for a UN Secretariat comment. There was no response to the video, and so the the link to the video was provided. In the four days since there has been no UN Secretariat* comment.

  Later on August 26 at a hastily convened stakeout in front of the UN Security Council, Inner City Press asked August's Council president and UK Ambassador John Sawers about the footage. He said he'd yet to see it but had read about it, and found it disturbing. He said the the UK would expect it to be investigated, by Sri Lanka in the first instance. Video here, from Minute 6:12.

  Sri Lanka has condemned Solheim for calling for a UN investigation. But it has not conducted any investigation of its own: its High Commissioner in London issued a denial as soon as the video came out. Is it Sri Lanka's vituperative reaction or something else, observers wonder, that is holding Ban back from commenting on the widely circulated video?

UN's Ban and Solheim, Ban reaction to execution video not shown

  This comes in the context not only of The Economist rating Ban three out of ten on speaking truth to power, but the more recent leaked memo by Norway's deputy ambassador to the UN criticizing Ban for, among other things, a lack of moral authority in connection with Sri Lanka and his belated visit there. So what will Ban say and do, when the issue is raised to him in Norway? Watch this site.

Footnotes: Sawers also indicated that no Security Council member had yet requested a meeting about the execution video, just has he'd said no Council member asked for a meeting of any kind about the flooding of the UN-funded internment camps in Northern Sri Lanka. France speaks often about les droits de l'homme; the U.S. has an Office of War Crimes Issues which is preparing a report on Sri Lanka due on September 21. How long will the silence by these UN member states continue?

* - The UN Human Rights Council's rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Philip Alston has called for an investigation. One wonders if this represents what Inner City Press had been told by a staffer was going to be High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay's response.

* * *

As UN Mulls Sri Lankan Murder Video, Report on Camps Withheld, UK Passes Buck

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 26 -- When a war crime is filmed and presented to the UN, will it take action? On August 26, Inner City Press asked three officials at the UN about the now widely circulated video clip depicting Sri Lankan soldiers shooting naked, blindfolded victims in the head.

  At the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesperson Michele Montas about "footage of what appears to be Sri Lankan soldiers shooting naked, bound, unarmed people [inaudible]. Is there any response by the UN to that footage?" There was not.

   Later another UN official said that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is considering how to authenticate the footage, perhaps with outside experts, in order to act on it. But how?

   At the Security Council stakeout, Inner City Press asked the president of the Council for this dwindling month, the UK's John Sawers, if he'd seen the footage and what the UK proposes to do about it. He replied that "first," he was appearing as President of the Council. He said he hadn't yet seen the footage but had read about it. It does seem "disturbing," he said, adding that it should be investigated "in the first instance by the Sri Lanka authorities." Video here, from Minute 6:12.

   But the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration has already curtailed its investigation into the killing of 17 aid workers of Action Contre La Faim, and declared that its soldiers committed abuses. (Others in the administration have said that winners are never tried for war crimes.) So at this late date to defer to Sri Lanka to investigate the snuff film seems misplaced.

UN's Ban views Manik Farm camp in May, deaths not shown

  Among NGOs working in Sri Lanka, the level of disappointment at the UN and Ban Ki-moon has grown. The groups are meeting one last time with UN country representative Neil Buhne, to urge him to go public with the evidence the UN has compiled. They say that Tamil females in the camps are being used as comfort women. They say that UN has a report showing that many people will die when the monsoon season comes if they remain trapped in the camps. The UN is not releasing this report, they say, asking why Ban Ki-moon appears so beholding to Rajapaksa.

  In Sri Lanka, the administration is said to be concerned on this by only three things: Delhi's reaction, an upcoming report to the U.S. Congress, and how Rajapaksa is received at the UN General Assembly next month. Watch this site.

Inner City Press' June 18 debate on Sri Lanka, click here

  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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