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On Sri Lanka, UN Continues to Spin Threat Against Its Staff, From Gandhi to Apology?

[Inner City Press, Saturday, 3 July 2010 21:46 No Comment]

When a government’s minister openly urges that UN staff members be taken hostage, what does the UN say? If the country were for example Sudan, the UN would immediately denounce it. But Secretary General Ban Ki-moon takes a different approach to Sri Lanka.

At first this was, sources in the Ban administration said, due to Ban’s contacts with Mahinda Rajapaksa back when Ban was South Korean foreign minister. Now added to Ban’s reticence is the pro-Rajapaksa positions of Russia and China, either of which could veto a second term for Ban.

And so we have the absurd result of Ban’s spokespeople excusing the hostage taking call by Sri Lankan minister Wimal Weerawansa. Inner City Press asked, and was told by the UN spokespeople that perhaps he had been misquoted. Then that, although a government minister, he had been speaking in his individual and not governmental capacity. Oh that Stanley McChrystal could get away with that one, mused one wag.

Alongside, and now views as related, there was the lost in translation claim, in which a senior UN official from the region claimed that Weerawansa’s call was one for Gandhian non violence.

   Suddenly the Spokesperson’s Office reference to misquoting made more sense: if a senior UN official, who inacts with the Spokesperson’s office, made the claim that Weerawansa’s words were Gandhian, suddenly the later claim that he had been misquoted — or mistranslated — makes more sense. But it says much about the advice Ban is receiving.

   In 2009, more than one UN staff member was grabbed up by the government, amid claims of torture. Many more UN staff languished in the internment camps at Vavuniya, with the UN saying nothing about them until exposed. If Sudan grabbed UN staff, Ban and the UN would scream. This is why talk from Colombo about UN double standards is so ironic.

We can add to this that a political arm of the Secretariat, not directly in Ban’s office or even floor of the UN’s North Lawn building, has told closed door meetings they were against the formation of the three person panel on war crimes in Sri Lanka, saying it would reduce the UN’s “leverage.” Leverage for what?

sri1shout

Protest of UN in Colombo, Gandhian Weerawansa not shown

On July 2, Inner City Press revisited the issue with UN Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: You’d said earlier in the week there was this idea, this quote by Wemal Weerawansa, that the UN House there should be surrounded and staff kept in until Mr. Ban cancels the panel and whatnot. You’d said that you were checking to see whether he was somehow misquoted. Were you able to determine whether this minister was misquoted? And can you explain how a minister can make, if he is not misquoted, make such a statement and you characterize it as an individual statement when the person is still a Government official?

Associate Spokesperson Haq: Certainly, as I mentioned earlier, the Government has assured us that these views did not reflect the policy of the Government. Certainly there have been also no crowds outside of the UN House, which is a relief. Beyond that, we have received some indications that an apology might be in order, and we’ll see whether there is any sort of clarification or apology coming from the Government. I’ll let you know if something like that comes through.

The next day, still no word on apology. One seems unlikely, as the Rajapaksa also let expire a July 1 deadline from the European Union on the GPS Plus trade concession. Now a similar status is under review in the U.S., in response to a petition from the AFL-CIO.

[Full Coverage]

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