Wednesday, August 04, 2010

At UN, Sri Lanka panel's 4 months has not begun

By Matthew Russell Lee | Inner City Press

After Sri Lanka's May 2009 “bloodbath on the beach” which killed thousands of civilians, it took UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon more than a year to name a three person Panel of Experts to merely offer advice on accountability.

On August 2, two months after the assault on the Gaza flotilla which killed eight civilians on the ship, Ban launches a four person Panel of Inquiry, stating that its work formally started August 10, with a first report in mid September, before the UN's annual General Debate.

Inner City Press on August 2 asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky about the contrast between the two panels, the speed with which Ban formed them, and the strangely narrow scope of his Sri Lanka panel:

Inner City Press: I didn’t know we were going to get into comparative panels. But following up on the Bhutto discussion, some have wondered about comparing panels, comparing this to the Sir Lanka panel, which is three people instead of four.

Spokesperson Nesirky: Why did I think you were going to go there?

Inner City Press: Yeah, yeah. The question is, I guess, it hasn’t started yet, due to staffing, I’m told. And so I wonder how can you explain the difference of the speed — I mean, the speed should be, in all cases, I would assume — what would you say that to those who say it took a year to name one in Sri Lanka and it still hasn’t begun due to some staffing issues, whereas this one you’ve said when it’ll start, when it’ll report…

Spokesperson: You’re saying there are staffing issues; I have not. And, that’s the first… [talkover]. The first thing is, as you know, they [the Sri Lanka panel] have already met, and they are looking at exactly how they will work. They have a Chief of Staff, we’ve already named him, as you know. That person is already working with the three experts. So, that’s the first thing. The second thing is, in all of these cases, where you’re setting up an inquiry, a panel of experts, or whatever else you want to call it, this involves careful groundwork and diplomacy. And, this can take, in some cases, a long time; in some cases, it can take less time. You can’t compare one to another. This is how diplomacy works.

So if a country complains loudly enough, leading up to blocking UN staff inside their building, then Ban Ki-moon's UN will move slowly and cautiously on war crimes, apparently. What is the message to countries like Sudan and Myanmar?

Sudan appears to have already learned the lesson: they have announced that UN staff in Darfur must now give prior notice before traveling the road, and will have their bags searched in the airport.

As to the still unclear Sri Lanka panel timing, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: has the four-month clock started? When did it start?

Spokesperson: As we’ve said, you have the experts and you have the support team. The support team is working in the background. The experts will be meeting again in the coming weeks, and that is part of the process, part of their work as they’ve been mandated to do so by the Secretary-General.

Inner City Press: When does the four-month clock start?

Spokesperson: I’ll let you know. So, I’m happy to take any other questions on this, but is this on the panel?

Ban was very proud of his Gaza panel, going so far as to interview himself -- or have UN Radio do it - in a mock “stakeout” in his North Lawn building office. Then he flew off to Japan.

Following Inner City Press' report that Mahinda Rajapaksa is listed as Sri Lanka's speaker in September's general debate, unprompted letters copied to Inner City Press have invited Ban's panel's three members to be sure to interview Rajapaksa at that time. We'll see.

Footnote: over the weekend, we noted that the Sri Lankan Mission to the UN's embattled and outgoing Deputy Permanent Representative might be providing some views early this week. He had formally invited Inner City Press to “lunch at the Sri Lankan restaurant” on August 2.

But that morning, the Mission wrote to Inner City Press saying the DPR was “indisposed” and unable to attend, that it might be rescheduled. As it happens, the PR is throwing a farewell to his deputy on August 3, at a non-Sri Lankan restaurant on Third Avenue by the UN and Mission. To this, Inner City Press has yet to be included among the invitees. Interesting list that must be.

© Inner City Press

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