Wednesday, April 27, 2011

'Casualty Figures withheld as Sri Lanka made threats ' says Ban Ki Moon

By Matthew Russell Lee | Inner City Press

After the Sri Lanka war crimes report by the UN Panel of Experts was quietly presented to the UN Security Council by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Inner City Press asked Ban two questions about the report.

Among his answers on Sri Lanka, Ban implicitly acknowledged the report's charge that the UN withheld casualty figures during the conflict.

Asked to "respond to the criticisms in the report that the UN failed in those last months to do what it could to help protect civilians, including keeping statistics of the actual casualty figures back," Ban said that the Sri Lankan authorities said that they couldn't guarantee the safety of UN staff:

“the security situation was very precarious, at the last stage of the crisis. And we were told by the Sri Lankan Government, as I understand and remember, that the Sri Lankan Government would not be able to ensure the safety and security of United Nations missions there. Then we were compelled to take the necessary action according to their advice.”

So, allowing the Rajapaksas to in essence point a gun at UN staff, Ban's UN withheld the facts about how many civilians were being killed. At the time, UN whistleblowers gave Inner City Press an internal count of deaths by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which the UN in New York refused to confirm even after Inner City Press published it.

Asked about his senior adviser Vijay Nambiar's role in the White Flag killings, Ban dodged the question by saying he will set up a review of the UN's performance, after consulting with his senior advisers -- that is, with Nambiar:

“I will try to review the work and performance of the United Nations missions in Sri Lanka at that time. I am going to discuss this matter with my senior advisors.”

Ban's cover letter to the report stated that for an “investigation mechanism, [Ban] is advised that this will require host country consent or a decision from Member States through an appropriate intergovernmental forum.”

Inner City Press asked Ban WHO advised him of this, and why after Ban three times claimed the Panel's members could travel to Sri Lanka, they ultimately did not.

Ban did not say who advised him, rather saying that he would welcome a mandate voted by Member States in an intergovernmental forum:

“about the future course of action, it is true and it is a fact that if I want to establish any independent international commission of inquiry, I will need to have a clear mandate from an intergovernmental body or the consent of the Sri Lankan Government.”

But when asked if he was requesting the Security Council to take the matter up and vote whether to start an investigation, Ban merely said that all members have the report. So, he is not asking.

This was confirmed by April's Security Council President Nestor Osorio of Colombia, who when Inner City Press asked if Ban had requested a vote in the Council replied that “we just took note” of the report, calling this the “normal course of justice.” But Ban says without a vote, there can be no investigation -- and refused to specify who gave him this advice.

Inner City Press asked Ban to explain his three statements that the Panel could go to Sri Lanka, and the fact that they were not allowed to go. They tried very hard, Ban said, then referred to the meeting, made secret at the time, by Attorney General Mohan Peiris with the Panel:

“We have been trying very hard to get the Sri Lankan Government to [agree to a visit] by the Panel of Experts. They have been very reluctant to receive the Panel of Experts. Finally they dispatched some high-level officials who met the Panel of Experts.”

That is a meeting which the UN initially denied took place. What explains all these irregularities? What gun might the Rajapaksa government have pointed?

© Inner City Press

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