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On Sri Lanka, Amid Confusion About Ban’s Panel, UN Has Nothing Further to Say

[Inner City Press, Saturday, 1 January 2011 11:31 No Comment]

At the UN at the end of 2010 confusion reigned, not only on Cote d’Ivoire but also concerning Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s panel on accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka.

Rather than answer if the Panel or its staff would travel to the country and under what conditions, Ban’s Spokesman on December 31 told Inner City Press “We are aware of your keen interest. If and when there is something to add we will let you know. We have checked again and there is nothing further to say for now… It may be that you do not get answers to every question.”

Ban on December 17 announced his Panel would go to Sri Lanka, and he praised President Mahinda Rajapaksa for his “flexibility.”

But later Rajapaksa’s Minister of Information Keheliya Rambuklwella said the “panel would only be allowed to give evidence at the LLRC sittings and for no other purpose. ‘They will not be permitted to carry out investigations, record evidence or visit places of their choice without prior government approval,’” he said.

What was the flexibility Ban had praised? What of Ban’s acting Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq’s statement to BBC’s Sinhalese service that the panel might not even go to Sri Lanka, but only speak with the LLRC in some other location?

Inner City Press, which traveled with and covered Ban’s visit to Sri Lanka in May 2009 and has covered the Panel since, all week sought answers from the UN to these questions.

On December 23 when Inner City Press asked, Haq said there would be no noon briefings for the next 11 days, but that lead spokesman Martin Nesirky would answer questions. Transcript below and here.

But when Inner City Press submitted Sri Lanka questions to Nesirky and his team from December 26 onward, there was no answer until December 29 — and then, only a warmed over answer, which Haq reiterated on December 30, ignoring four Inner City Press questions:

From: Farhan Haq [at] un.org
Date: Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 12:20 PM
To: Inner City Press, Martin Nesirky [at] un.org, Soung-ah Choi [at] un.org
Subject: Re: Press Qs on deadline re Sri Lanka & OSSG failure to answer, 13 still outstanding

As I made clear to you at the time, the panel has not confirmed travel to Sri Lanka yet. The arrangements would need to be right. It is NOT the case that the panel would only talk to the LLRC. The panel made clear to me that their work is broader than simply dealing with the LLRC. That’s all we have to say on it for now.

Comparing this to Cabinet Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella’s reported statement about the visas and limits on the Panel, it seemed that either the UN is belatedly standing up to the Rajapaksa government or that the UN doesn’t read cited news reports, or both.

And so later on December 30, Inner City Press went to the UN Office of the Spokesman. There, no answers were given to many questions, including these six Sri Lanka questions previously submitted to Haq:

1) did or will the staff of the Panel go to Sri Lanka?

2) what agreements or understanding have been reached about with whom the Panel will speak in Sri Lanka?

3) with whom in the Sri Lanka government did Ban or the UN speak before his Dec 17 announcement, talking into account that the External Affairs Minister Peiris later said he learn of it in the media?

4) why have you refused to answer these questions?

5) did you speak to all three members of the Panel? When?

6) has the UN sought to clarify with the Sri Lanka government that, contrary to what its Cabinet Minister has said, the Panel would speak to people in Sri Lanka beyond the LLRC?

Inner City Press was told that the Office of the Spokesman would be open on December 31. But a visit at 3:25 pm found no one there. Instead, this was sent to Inner City Press:

From: UN Spokesperson – Do Not Reply at un.org
Date: Fri, Dec 31, 2010 at 1:21 PM
Subject: Answers
To: Inner City Press

On Sri Lanka: We are aware of your keen interest. If and when there is something to add we will let you know. We have checked again and there is nothing further to say for now… It may be that you do not get answers to every question.

The results of this stonewalling include articles in Sri Lanka like “Further Confusion Over Experts Panel.” WHY Ban’s UN remains silent will be a topic for 2011.

UN’s Ban and Mahinda Rajapaksa: Confusions – intentional?

This after a week in which answers had been promised. Here is the UN’s December 23 transcript, video here:

Inner City Press: Farhan, when the Secretary-General gave the last press conference here, he said that he was glad to announce that his Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka was going to be able to travel to Sri Lanka. And I’ve seen now this quote of yours — maybe you can confirm it or deny — that “we can’t confirm if the Panel will travel to Sri Lanka or will meet the LLRC [Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission] in some other location”. Is that… What’s the… Are they travelling there? Isn’t that sort of what he announced? And what led to this change?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: At this stage, there is nothing to announce. We’re working on potential arrangements, so we are in touch with the Sri Lankan authorities. The Panel, that is to say, is in touch. I have talked to the Panel and I know that those discussions are continuing. But at this stage we don’t have an announcement to make on this.

Inner City Press: Aren’t they going to speak to no one else in Sri Lanka, or about the topic, other than the members of the Government’s, the Government-appointed LLRC?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Like I said, I think that will become clear once we have some sort of announcement to make. It’s clear that the Panel’s work is broader than simply dealing with the LLRC, however.

Inner City Press: And I just… I am sorry because, I mean, I understand it’s like a holiday season, but is your Office going to be open to answer, who is going to be answering questions there during this coming time?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Oh, there is a bunch of us. It won’t be me, but Martin, in fact, will be back this weekend, so there is a lot of us around.

And then for eight days, and presumably for even three more days after, not a single new answer, while the Minister of Information of Sri Lanka openly contradicts what Ban Ki-moon said on December 17. WHY Ban’s UN remains silent will be a topic for 2011.

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