Monday, June 13, 2011

Ban seeks second five-year term, gets Lanka’s support

By Thalif Deen | The Sunday Times

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who completes his five- year term by the end of this year, offered himself "for consideration" for a second five-year term as chief administrative officer of the world body.

Hours before he made the announcement on Monday, Ban addressed the 53- member Asian Group, which unanimously gave its endorsement supporting the secretary-general's request. At least 28 Asian countries, including Japan, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Qatar, openly expressed support for his candidature.

The Asian Group, one of the largest regional groups at the United Nations, represents more than 60 percent of the world's population. Since various regional groups have held the post for two consecutive five-year terms, it was Asia's turn to field a candidate for a second term.

A former foreign minister of South Korea, Ban said he was not taking "anything for granted" until both the 15-member Security Council and the 192-member General Assembly formally elect him to office, possibly by the end of June, while he continues to complete the remaining six months of his first term.
Addressing reporters, he said he has sent letters to both U.N. bodies "offering humbly" his services for another five years beginning January 2012.

According to his critics, including human rights groups, Ban's primary weakness was his refusal to be vociferous in his condemnation of civilian killings and human rights abuses by the five veto- wielding permanent members (P-5) of the Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

But at his press conference on Monday, Ban defended his record, pointing out that he continued to take a tough stand against all repressive regimes and violators of human rights. Asked whether he will be more outspoken against the P-5 once he gets his second term because he does not have to fear their vetoes, Ban said: "First of all, I would like to make it quite clear that, when it comes to universal human rights, there is no distinction or difference. I will make the same priority issue on that."

Ban has consistently maintained he did "discuss" human rights issues in his private talks with world leaders -- "where diplomatic discourse has sometimes to be conducted in confidence". When Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt failed to win a second term in late 1996, he lost the post of secretary-general because he irritated a single member state: the United States.

Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority in the Security Council voted for him (14 out of 15 votes), he was drummed out of office when the United States cast its veto against him. Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Asian diplomat told IPS that Ban most likely has received private assurances from the P-5 that his candidature will not be vetoed by any of them.

In Korean culture, he pointed out, failure is not an option. "Anything short of a second term for Ban Ki-moon," he said, "would be the equivalent of committing political hara-kiri." A downfall will also be construed as a monumental disaster for a country fast emerging as one of Asia's major political and economic powers wielding immense clout in the international arena.

Sam Koo, a former Korean ambassador for cultural cooperation and an ex-senior U.N. official, told IPS that Ban was a role model for young Koreans. He has inspired an entire generation of young Koreans to think and act globally, he said.

The result? "We now have tens of thousands of young volunteers seeking overseas service (the Korean overseas volunteers are number two in size only after the U.S. Peace Corps)," said Koo, a former journalist who worked for the Associated Press (AP) in Rome.

"Ban has carved out his unique efficient style of diplomacy combining (Dag) Hammarskjold's energy and quiet passion and (U) Thant's consensus-building skills in just over four years of service," he said.
"We all have great expectations for his second term," said Koo, who was also the representative of the U.N. children's agency UNICEF in Tokyo.

Both Hammarskjold (of Sweden) and U Thant (of Myanmar) held the post of secretary-general during 1953-1961 and 1961-1971, respectively. Surprisingly, Ban also had strong support from Sri Lanka, a country which has been critical of the secretary-general for establishing a U.N. panel of inquiry to probe war crimes charges.

Asked about the overwhelming Asian support for Ban, Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative Dr. Palitha Kohona told IPS the unanimous endorsement "strongly reflects Asia's recognition of and confidence in Ban Ki-moon's unobtrusive style of leadership, his distinctly Asian approach to problem-solving, his quiet diplomacy, his dedicated search for solutions to problems affecting humanity, in particular developing countries, and his hard work."

At a time when Asia is reasserting its leadership role in the global arena, said Kohona, "Ban Ki-moon would be the ideal Asian to continue to lead the United Nations." At his news conference on Monday, Ban was challenged on his double standards in judging the mass demonstrations sweeping across the Arab world where thousands of civilians have been killed.

Asked why he was not firm in his condemnation of Yemen and Syria, Ban said: "With my due respect to you, I don't agree that I was not firm enough as I've been to other situations. "I have been speaking quite firmly with President (Ali Abdullah) Saleh of Yemen and also President (Bashir al) Assad of Syria. In fact, you name any country, I have been speaking with almost all the leaders in the region, whether there were demonstrations or not.

"Because, wherever I saw some potentiality of such aspirations moving out, then I have discussed this matter, so that they would take necessary measures, and listening more attentively to the aspirations of their people. That is why you have seen in some areas still they have been trying to manage the situation."

Asked whether he would be willing to ask President Saleh and President Assad to leave their respective countries, he deftly sidestepped the question: "That will have to be determined by the people of both Yemen and Syria."

"My message to the leaders in the region has been consistent: that the leaders have a very important responsibility to reflect the will of their own people and listen carefully, more attentively to their will and aspirations," he declared.

© The Sunday Times

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Why do governments kill journalists?

Photo courtesy:

Dr.Kumar David | Lakbima News

There are journalists I like and some I dislike; there are those I agree with and many I profoundly disagree with. In recent years, across the globe, the more courageous ones have become an endangered species while sycophants have prospered.

When governments change the sycophants of one emperor are tarred and feathered to accommodate their replacements; that’s the future beckoning the current set of toadies too. My interest today however is in those members of the fourth estate who are a threatened species. I could not have imagined a decade ago that I would speak up on behalf of journalists because my recollection is of seedy types creeping in and out of hole-in-the wall watering joints and digging dirt on quite ordinary peccadilloes like fornication or pissing on lampposts late at night. But things have changed in this country and elsewhere. Why? I think there are two reasons.

The ubiquitous spread, imagery and influence of modern communication has made the fourth estate prominent and the tribe is in no way inclined to surrender this influence on opinion making. Secondly, authoritarian regimes have become belligerent violators of human rights, or violations are more publicized than previously, or ethnic conflicts and uprisings a la the Arab Spring have become widespread. All this has made journalists who think long term, and those who have quit prostituting their pens to the state, a troublesome lot. To repeat my two reasons; there is a technical one that new gadgets have made journalists a danger to killer states, and secondly, the political dynamics that, for a variety of reasons, killer states have hyper activated in recent decades.

International killings

What prompted this piece is the murder of Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad and dumping his body 250km away. Shahzad has often exposed that the ISI and the Pakistan Army are in cahoots with jihadists, which exposé‚ in the aftermath of the revelation that bin Laden lived under the nose and shielded by these agencies, and then a fortnight ago, the daring Pakistani Taliban penetration of the Mehran military facility, sealed his death warrant. The case nicely corroborates the two reasons I adverted to, and it is but the tip of an iceberg of what Pakistani journalists know about dirty tricks and two-timing by the nation’s military and intelligence agencies. Such boldness had to be squashed because the establishment is reeling; the Lasantha effect you might say. Then there is the larger fact that Pakistan is breaking apart and recent events have heightened and sharpened old sores that have festered and turned prurient over time; this is the Darusman-Jayalalitha effect, in that sudden happenstance brings a whole shoddy contraption to light. The AAA-tripod (Allah-America-Army) is on the boil and scorching Pakistan’s very survival - I give it five years more. Phew! Sri Lanka’s illness is not terminal; a strong electoral laxative and purge is all we need to turn the corner.

The government of Pakistan is about as potent as a eunuch; president, prime minister, cabinet, ruling party and opposition are castrated catamites of the military. President Zardari was dispatched to Russia and Prime Minister Gilani to China by the military brass to weep on shoulders and proffer posteriors so far reserved exclusively for American use. The offers were declined and the said gentlemen sent back home and told to wash off the ISI and army’s jihadist slime. GoP is a nobody and in this it is different from the Sri Lankan case. GoP, very likely, is uninvolved in abduction and assassination of journalists; over here we have a more hands-on scenario. The Prageeth syndrome, where revealing the sexual misconduct of power brokers provokes a mafia style response, is also I believe a Sri Lankan special.

International practice in dealing with truculent journalists in authoritarian states varies considerably. In China they are pretty decent sorts; they just throw you in prison without trial and beat you up a bit. But Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Sri Lanka and many Arab and African countries are dangerous places for journalists, unless regime-sycophants; a breed not uncommon among our journalists. I accept and recognize other’s right to bum the regime if they so wish; my complaint is that those who report abuses of state power or expose kleptocrats are likely to have their life spans abridged. Good examples are Lanka’s Lasantha and Prageeth, irrespective of whether you dislike their politics, and Anna Politkovskaya in Russia (one of over 200 killed since 1993 in Russia). Anna was more than a newspaper person and doubly vulnerable as a courageous and forthright human rights campaigner. Her exposé‚ of what Putin’s satraps and armies were doing in Chechnya spelt her death, probably sanctioned at the highest levels of the Russian state. Lakbima News readers are an intelligent lot; I don’t need to draw explicit parallels.

The tide is changing

Thankfully however, I see the beginnings of a change in the tide in this country. No, my crystal ball can’t actually promise you anything yet, but if you have your ears close to the ground the drumbeat seems to be altering. A sixth sense tells me that the government is with its back to the wall and its tail between its hind legs, meaning, it can’t afford new clashes for which reason journalists may now be less in danger of white vans assassins’ implements than before. We have to thank external and internal developments for this. First, Darusman-Jayalalitha have got Colombo into a funk. Nearly the whole international community, and probably more than half the people at home, in their heart-of-hearts, know that Darusman is factually correct. Delhi is wary of a showdown with Jayalalitha; so Colombo has also lost its greatest defender and guardian abroad. You may yet say “a wounded wild beast is more dangerous,” true, but a frightened feral creature may avoid picking more fights unless it is quite rabid. GoSL is showing all the signs of being in retreat on the international stage.

Internal trends are no less significant. The Tamils were always hostile and after losing the war they turned against Rajapaksa even more, but the regime had enough mass backing to deal with this lot. Next it was the university population (first students, now teaching staff); then the capitalist class grouching about bad governance and ubiquitous graft and nepotism; and now the anti-government mood has spread to the working class. The government still retains its base in the Sinhala petty-bourgeois which makes up well over half the population. I have in mind not only its rural Sinhala base and the deep-south but also the Dharmapala Belt of Sinhala-Buddhist consciousness surrounding the metropolis (Maharagama, Dehiwala, Kotte, Gampaha and somewhat beyond, except the Catholics north of Colombo). Where my crystal ball remains murky is that it cannot say if this base is also eroding, at least in part, from its rapturous state of post-war adulation of the Rajapaksa brothers. Things have a way of impacting on each other, so a shift is likely, but we have to watch for some months more for definitive signs.

© Lakbima News

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Monday, June 13, 2011

UN urged to protect Lanka right to strike

Photo courtesy:

BBC Sinhala

A group of powerful trade union federations representing workers in the apparel industry and the health sector have complained to the United Nations seeking an intervention against the restrictions imposed by the government on trade union activity.

In a complaint to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the unions allege that the fundamental right of the workers to strike has been curtailed and activists are regularly intimidated.

These actions violate the principals of the ILO conventions, they say.

"These violations deal with restricting the right to engage in legitimate trade union action, intimidation of trade union activists and acts of anti-union discriminations in the public health sector," the letter to the ILO director general said.

Health authorities

Thushara Ilangakoon of Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA), Anotn Marcus of Trade Union Confederation (TUC) and Saman Ratnapriya of Government Nursing Officers Association in their complain urge the ILO to direct the Sri Lanka government to "stop all acts of anti-union discriminations".

The trade unions complain that health authorities are victimising activists engaged in trade union actions.

Instead of bargaining in good faith and responding to the issues raised the trade unions say 'the government choose to intimidate and threaten'.

They urge the ILO to direct Sri Lanka government not to selectively deprive the release from service, and not to engage in determining, influencing and/or exerting pressure on the HSTUA in its decision, who should be its nominee to be released from service for fulltime union work, among other concerns.

In 1951 the ILO set up the Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) for the purpose of examining complaints about violations of freedom of association, whether or not the country concerned had ratified the relevant conventions.

If the CFA decides to receive the case, it establishes the facts in dialogue with the government concerned.

If it finds that there has been a violation of freedom of association standards or principles, it issues a report through the governing body and makes recommendations on how the situation could be remedied.

Governments are subsequently requested to report on the implementation of its recommendations.

© BBC Sinhala

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