When it emerged in January that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping would have on it Sri Lanka General Shavendra Silva, whose 58th Division is depicted in Ban’s own Panel of Experts report as engaged in war crimes, Inner City Press asked Ban about it and went to stand outside the first SAG meeting on February 22.
Ban said it was a decision of member states, and on February 22 Inner City Press was ejected from the UN-rented building at 380 Madison Avenue, after spotting Silva in attendance (and then filming him driving away in a $100,000 BMW).
The chair of the SAG, Louise Frechette, issued a press release that Silva’s participation would be inappropriate. Sri Lanka sought the support of the Asia Group, and vowed that Silva would attend the next SAG meeting, set for April 2. Ban still said nothing.
On April 2, Inner City Press again went to 380 Madison Avenue to observe who went in to the 16th floor meeting room. As Inner City Press stood by the elevators, various SAG members came to speak, noting that Silva had yet to show up.
A UN Security officer came, and Inner City Press explained what it was doing. The officer went into the suite of offices and emerged to say that they weren’t asking for the Press to be removed. He added that he’d told them that if they later did, they should call and he would ask the Press to leave. Fine.
After this, the UN’s Media and Accreditation Unit has twice written to Inner City Press. The first:
"I wanted to double check with you if you went to cover recently a meeting of the senior advisory group on peacekeeping, which took place in UN offices located on Madison Avenue."
While this inquiry was cc-ed elsewhere in the UN, Inner City Press went directly to the sender, usually genial, and explained exactly what happened, including that UN Security had inquired and then allowed Inner City Press to stay. But then this formal follow-up:
"Thank you for your explanation regarding your presence a few days ago on Madison when the Senior Advisory Group for DPKO met. It’s not clear exactly to whom the security guard in question spoke to but the organizers say they did not give their permission for press coverage nor did they speak to a security guard.
"As we discussed with you and the UNCA Executive Committee recently in Stephane’s office, press need to contact MALU if they want to cover anything in the UN offices on Madison, the Innovation Building, DC1 & 2, and any other off-campus building. I recall Stephane being extremely clear on this point. So if you wish to stake-out a meeting in one of those places, just call us and we will be happy to help."
It is unclear who the referenced "organizers" are, since the SAG is a meeting of many countries’ Permanent Representatives, some of whom invited and spoke with Inner City Press. If the undisclosed organizers "did not give their permission for press coverage" — some concept, that — why would they in the future? And if not, what help would be provided?
In the referenced meeting, the Correspondents’ Association did little to fight for more access — but later told Inner City Press that it had been resolved, and that such meetings could be covered.
At the same time, the Correspondents’ Association complained that another of Inner City Press’ Sri Lanka related articles was inappropriate, and asked that it be changed.
Previously, the Correspondents’ Association screened inside the UN the Sri Lankan government’s response to Killing Fields, which itself was never screened in the UN. As Inner City Press noted, the President of the Correspondents’ Association used to accept money from Sri Lankan Ambassador Palitha Kohona as rent — far in the past, he now argues.
So what it is, about the UN and Sri Lanka? Why are the SAG meetings, primarily of member states’ Permanent Representatives, held not in the North Lawn building but in 380 Madison? Why the attempt to apply different rules there, as if it were a staff meeting?