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On Sri Lanka, UN Won’t Be “Used” or Speak on Broken IDP Promises or Elections

[Inner City Press, Friday, 1 January 2010 11:07 No Comment]

As the Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa reneges on its commitment to empty the internally displaced person camps into which it herded Tamils earlier this year, the United Nations has had nothing to say.

Despite statements by the UN and its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that particular attention will be paid to Sri Lanka, the UN has in the past week repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether it has been asked to provide election observers and whether it will.

At the last in-person press briefing of 2009, on December 24, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky about the UN’s vetting of Sri Lankan soldiers as peacekeepers, and that it’s "been said in Sri Lanka that the former military head, [Sarath] Fonseka,may be prosecuted for having said that those seeking to surrender were shot, and I’m wondering whether the Secretary-General, who said he is concerned about political openness, has any, is monitoring that and has any comment on the number two presidential candidate being threatened with legal prosecution."

The UN Spokesman, rather than answering, chided the question:

Spokesperson: Well, it would really help me if you gave me short, clear questions that I can answer, because this was rather long and it’s difficult for me to unravel exactly what your point is.

Inner City Press: peacekeepers and Fonseka. The question is, is DPKO going to vet the 700 new peacekeepers who are coming for participation in war crimes? And does the SG have any comment on the number two presidential candidate being threatened with legal prosecution?

Spokesperson: Okay, so, on the first one, again I would need to find out more details from DPKO because I do not know that. And on the second one, that’s not something that we can comment on.

This last seemed strange, since Ban Ki-moon following his visit to Sri Lanka in May, including being sung to be interned Tamil children in the Vavuniya camp, has said he will push for inclusive political dialogue in the country. If the main opposition candidate, or his supporters, are threatened with arrest, particularly for blowing the whistle on their country’s alleged war crimes, how can there be inclusive political dialogue?

At least one would assume that the UN would be able to say whether they will send observers to the election set for late January. On December 28, Inner City Press asked Ban’s Spokesperson’s Office, in writing

Can you confirm or deny that Sri Lanka has asked the UN for election observers? If so, what is the response or when will a response be given? It is reported that the EU will say "no," due to the short time given for the request. Does the UN think the time given is short?

While written answers were given to other, non-Sri Lanka questions that Inner City Press posed — for example, about the UN’s use of peacekeepers from Nepal — Inner City Press visited the Spokesperson’s Office. Mr. Ban’s Deputy Spokesperson said, on December 28, that she was working on getting an answer to the Sri Lankan elections question.

But in the three days that followed, no answer was forthcoming. In the interim, Inner City Press spoke with a well placed source in Mr. Ban’s office, who indicated that a request was received, but that the UN was not inclined to send observers "to be used."

But then shouldn’t the UN say that on the record? This is the worst of all possible worlds: allowing an already questionable election to take place without UN observers, without even explaining why the UN decided, if it has, not to send observers.

UN’s Ban and Mahinda Rajapaksa, elections observers and full IDP release not shown

Finally, on December 30, Inner City Press asked the Spokesperson’s Office in writing, to comment on "that Sri Lanka is reneging on its commitment, which the UN publicly welcomed, to empty the IDP camps." More than 24 hours later, when the UN Spokesperson’s Office closed for a three day holiday, no comment was issued. The UN praised the Rajapaksa’s announcement, but had nothing to say when it was reneged on, even when asked.

Inner City Press also on December 30 asked Mr. Ban’s Spokesperson to respond to a published critique that

"Ban Ki-moon has been too eager to meet with officials without ensuring he gets something in return….There was no surprise when he was given nothing—he had given up all of his leverage. Also, he has been reluctant to speak out. And so, he is fighting many of these battles with one hand tied behind his back and it is no surprise that he is losing."

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