Friday, April 22, 2011

Sri Lanka: UN reneges on releasing report “this week”

Photo courtesy: UN News & Media

By Matthew Russell Lee | Inner City Press

After the UN said it would release its Panel of Experts' report on Sri Lanka “this week,” at 6:20 pm the evening before the Easter holiday UN acting deputy spokesman Farhan Haq backtracked and announced that it would not be released this week. He referred to “after the Easter holiday,” but he had also said “this week.”

The expectation had been that the long delayed report, on which Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa government has already called protests and begun to solicit signatures for a petition of opposition, would finally be released at the April 21 noon briefing.

But Farhan Haq remained on the phone half an hour into the briefing. When he arrived, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: Yesterday you said, 'We’re expecting a response from the Government of Sri Lanka. That doesn’t need to tie our hands. As I have said repeatedly, we will put it out this week.' So what changed?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: That hasn’t changed; the week is still happening.

Inner City Press: Yeah, but tomorrow is Easter. It’s Easter holiday.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Tomorrow is not Easter. Tomorrow is Good Friday.

Inner City Press: I understand; the UN is closed tomorrow. So why would you put out a report when the UN is closed?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll put out a report as soon as we can. We are also, like I said, in discussions and we’re trying to give the fair opportunity — which is a reasonable thing — to allow for people the right of response. At the same time, that doesn’t bind our hands. I have made it clear: we will put out the report and we will put it out in full, and without amendment.

Inner City Press: Does this week mean tomorrow? Or are you counting the weekend?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I can’t… It could mean later today. We’ll keep you posted on when we put this out.

Again Haq said “this week,” that nothing had changed, that the UN hadn't allowed Sri Lanka to bind the UN's hand. Then six hours later he announced that the report would not be released on Thursday, and not at least for the three days after that.

Inner City Press asked,

Inner City Press: Can you confirm that yesterday there was a meeting in the North Lawn Building by the secretariat of the Panel and UN agencies, very much anticipating that it would be released today? And if you do confirm, that’s one. And two is, sort of, what changed? On 12 April or 13, was it Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar who handed in to Shavendra, General Shavendra Silva? And did he say, “you have a chance to respond?” Why would you allow them at the last second to sort of… has something changed between then and now that you would now put this off today?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: The discussions have been going on for some time, and they continue to be going on. Like I said, we are working in good faith to accord to the Member State involved the rights to which they reasonably can be seen to exercise. At the same time, this is a very serious issue. It is very important that the report comes out, and we do intend to put this out. Yes, we have briefed the relevant agencies about some of what they can expect. At the same time, we have made it… we’ve been very clear about not putting out bits of the report. We haven’t leaked the report. We’ve been basically working, like I said, in good faith to put this out at the appropriate time. And we will put this out at the appropriate time.

Haq turned on to other questions. Finally Inner City Press noted it had “more questions on Sri Lanka, including the ones I e-mailed you.” These questions, posed in the morning of April 21, have not been acknowledged or answered

“please state the role of Mr. Nambiar in reviewing the report, please disclose how much was spent by the UN in preparing the report, please state whether the Panel or any member traveled to Sri Lanka and if not, why not, and please deny or confirm and describe any meeting by any Sri Lanka government official since the Panel's work began.”

© Inner City Press

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