Thursday, February 23, 2012

Marie Colvin: A mediator in white flag killings

By Matthew Russell Lee | Inner City Press

The death of journalist Marie Colvin in Homs in Syria calls to mind her work in another war zone: Sri Lanka. Based on her reporting in 2001 forward, she became an well meaning humanitarian intermediary in attempted surrenders that ended in the murder of those surrendering.

Also involved were UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, who conveyed assurances of safety but refused to go witness the surrenders, and Shavendra Silva, a Sri Lankan General since made Deputy Permanent Representative and, unless it is stopped, a UN Senior Adviser on Peacekeeping Operations.

Imagine what Ms. Colvin would think. But what will others now do? Consider:

Marie Colvin, a reporter with The Times of London, wrote that on Monday, May 18, 2009, at 5:30 a.m. she personally called Nambiar in Colombo to relay a message she had received from members of the LTTE leadership, who were surrounded in a bunker with 300 loyalists including women and children, that they were ready to give themselves up to Sri Lankan government troops. According to Colvin the leaders wanted “Nambiar to be present to guarantee the Tigers’ safety”.

Nambiar told Colvin that he had been assured by Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa that those who gave up would be safe if they were to “hoist a white flag high”. When Colvin suggested that Nambiar go personally to witness the surrender he told her it would not “be necessary” and that “the president’s assurances were enough”. Hours later the lifeless bodies of dozens of members of the LTTE leadership including the two men who told Colvin they were ready to give up, were put on display

The UN's gloss on the incident is in Paragraphs 170 and 171 of Ban's Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka, which names Silva as well as the Permanent Representative who may as a a "fix" replace him, Palitha Kohona.

Twenty six days ago Inner City Press began asking the UN and then various countries' missions to the UN how they could accept as a UN "Senior Adviser on Peacekeeping Operations" General Shavendra Silva, whose Division 58 is repeatedly named in connection with war crimes in Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka.

Now, with no credit to the UN Secretariat of Ban Ki-moon, multiple Ambassadors have told Inner City Press that there is a "fix."

"It's very simple," a well placed Permanent Representative told Inner City Press on Tuesday morning in front of the Security Council. "We can do one thing. When we created this [Senior Advisory Group], we insisted the membership must be a PR [Permanent Representative] level. Wherever it isn't will not be welcome this time. Palitha [Kohona] will have to come himself, he cannot nominate anyone. That's their choice."

Inner City Press had predicted this semi-solution weeks ago but Sri Lanka Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona, who also appears by name in the Panel of Experts report in connection surrenderees who were killed, said that he would not switch with Silva.

The outrage of Silva's nomination, which Sri Lanka got through the Asia Group not by election but by getting Nepal and Saudi Arabia to withdraw, has spread to other regional groups and major member states.

Also on Tuesday morning, Inner City Press asked UK Permanent Representative Mark Lyall Grant about l'affaire Silva. He said "there has been a lot of discussion" between the UN Secretariat and others -- he mentioned "the Americans," whose Ambassador Rice told Inner City Press of US concern back on February 17 -- but added that "the Secretariat says they can't do anything."

This position, with which even UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay disagrees, as she told Inner City Press in response to a question after she briefed the General Assembly about Syria on February 13, was reiterated by Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky at Tuesday's noon briefing.

Inner City Press noted that Ban was in effect disagreeing with Pillay, who wrote to him to say that the same vetting applied to UN peacekeepers should apply to a Senior Adviser on Peacekeeping Operations. Nesirky said it's up to member states, you are putting words in my mouth and I think I'll leave it at that." [Both Ban and Nesirky have now left town for a week.]

Inner City Press had asked if the Secretariat had any role in the "fix;" Nesikry said "that's a very very long question," the "answer is very short: this is a decision that was taken by the Asia Group member states, it is for the member states to decide."

This stands in contrast to instances when Ban Ki-moon urges the member states on the Security Council to reach consensus and take action, and expresses regret when they do not. Is having an alleged war criminal from Sri Lanka as a UN adviser just not of as much concern to Ban Ki-moon?

Prior to these developments, the Sri Lankan Mission's action was to send a letter of complaint to Inner City Press, sending a copy to Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky as well as to some in the UN press corps.

Inner City Press in less than 24 hours published and responded to the letter, citing only some of the many references to Silva's Division 58 in the report.

Now that's updated, and Silva is blaming his problems on the Press. How about the deeds, of May 2009 and before?

© Inner City Press

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

UN committee bars Sri Lankan general linked to atrocities

AFP | Google news

A top UN peacekeeping committee barred a Sri Lankan general accused of carrying out a military onslaught against civilians from taking part in its work.

But Major General Shavendra Silva still attended the first meeting of the advisory panel to UN leader Ban Ki-moon. Silva sat in the room but did not speak, no other member spoke to him and no documents were given to him, diplomats said.

The nomination of Silva, Sri Lanka's deputy UN ambassador, to the panel by Asia-Pacific countries at the UN set off a storm of protest by rights groups. A Canadian official who chairs the special advisory group said that Silva's presence was "not appropriate."

Silva has been accused of playing a central role in the Sri Lankan military's crushing of a Tamil separatist uprising in 2009 in which tens of thousands of people died, according to UN experts and rights groups.

"Following careful consideration and consultation with other special advisory group members, the chair, Louise Frechette, has advised Major General Shavendra Silva of Sri Lanka, that his participation is not appropriate or helpful for the purposes of this group," said a statement released by Frechette.

"He will not participate in its deliberations," added Frechette, a former UN deputy secretary general and top Canadian diplomat who was named by Ban to chair the committee.

"If Frechette had not acted this panel would just have fallen apart, nobody wanted him on the panel," said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Silva has not faced any charges over his role in the military campaign. But a UN panel which investigated the Sri Lankan military campaign referred to the army's 58th division which he led at the time.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said she was "deeply concerned at the impact" of Silva's nomination on the credibility of UN peacekeeping, in a letter sent to Ban Ki-moon and other UN leaders, which was obtained by AFP.

Pillay said in the letter there was "a reasonable conclusion that there is, at the very least, the appearance of a case of international crimes to answer by Mr. Silva."

"We keep a list of individuals who are suspected of committing human rights violations and I have addressed a letter of concern to the secretary-general about this individual," Pillay told reporters last week.

The peacekeeping panel was set up to fix payments to countries that contribute troops to UN missions. It has 10 members, half named by Ban and half nominated by regional groups.

The UN secretariat had previously said it could do nothing about Silva's appointment as it was decided by member countries.

Neither Silva nor Sri Lanka's UN mission made an immediate comment on the action.

But Human Rights Watch strongly welcomed Frechette's move. It said Silva had been given "a stinging rebuke" and called on all UN member states to back what it called Frechette's "principled stand".

"General Silva should stop showing up at these meetings and understand that he is no longer welcome. The Sri Lankan government should realize that it will be marginalized for as long as it fails to take seriously allegations of massive wartime abuses, including by troops under General Silva's command," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Two Sri Lankan Tamils who alleged their relatives had been tortured filed a civil lawsuit in New York against Silva last month. But it was dismissed when he invoked diplomatic privilege.


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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Marie Colvin : A passion for speaking the truth

By Ian Birrell | Mail Online

The air was thick with tear gas, angry crowds confronted soldiers aiming bullets at their eyes, and motorcycle ambulances driven by young men in gas masks ferried the injured from the frontline to field hospitals.

It was like a scene from a futuristic thriller, with the mood that unpredictable fusion of passion, bravery and fear that drove last year’s revolutions in north Africa.

As I left the pandemonium of Tahrir Square in Egypt’s capital, I was not surprised to bump into the familiar figure of a woman with an American accent and a distinctive eye-patch.

Despite the lateness of the hour, Marie Colvin was out doing what she had done with such brilliance and bravery for so many years: Reporting from the frontline of the world’s hottest spots.

We went for a coffee, having not seen each other since the liberation of Tripoli four months earlier. I had just arrived that night, so she brought me up to speed with events in Egypt then, with typical generosity, let me sit in on an interview she had spent some time setting up with a leading human rights activist.

Afterwards, I returned to the fray and we agreed to meet the following day.

Somehow, we never did – and now that night in December was the last time I saw her. Yesterday brought the dreadful news that this gutsy and inspirational woman, one of the world’s great war reporters, was killed in the shelling of a media centre in Homs in Syria.

It was somehow symbolic that having dodged so many bullets in her lifetime, she finally met her end in the hell that is Homs.

For there she was in the most dangerous city in the most volatile region of the world – a region she had reported on with such skill, dedication and determination for more than two decades – as it was pounded and pulverised day and night by the murderous forces of Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad.

She was where she always wanted to be: In the heat of the action at the heart of the big global story.

Her last published story is a fitting tribute to her work: Under the headline ‘We live in fear of a massacre’, it is powerful, compassionate and colourful reportage that brings home vividly what it is like for those unfortunates trapped in the horror of Homs.

Her sympathies were always with the victims of violence.

And at a time when journalism in Britain is under such assault, her tragic and untimely death at the age of 55 reminds us of its real role and irreplaceable value.

‘Our mission is to speak truth to power,’ she once said. ‘We send home that first rough draft of history.’

Colvin risked her life to go to those places torn apart by chaos, destruction and depravity in order to bear witness to brutal events and try to establish through ‘the sandstorm of propaganda’ the causes of conflict. ‘We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and the atrocities that befall civilians,’ she said.

Now she has paid the ultimate price.

Just like David Blundy, the man who recruited her to the Sunday Times (the same year that I joined the paper as a nervous young reporter) and who was killed two years later in El Salvador. Just like the photographer Tim Hetherington, blown to death in Libya last year. Just like ITN reporter Terry Lloyd, shot dead in the Iraq war. And just like at least 46 other journalists killed worldwide last year.

This roll-call of reporters slain for doing their job should be remembered amid the current furore over the future of the Press – not least since Marie Colvin was funded on her foreign news-gathering by the much-maligned Rupert Murdoch.

Reporting from the world’s most dangerous places does not come cheap with all those flights, fixers, flak jackets and satellite phones.

Sometimes journalists have gone too far in pursuit of trivia and tittle-tattle. But sometimes they go much further in pursuit of the biggest stories on the planet, taking the most extreme risks. This should be remembered by all those politicians who yesterday paid such fulsome tributes to Colvin’s courage from the sanctity of Westminster.

But Colvin should not be mythologised. She may have been unbelievably brave but she was far from fearless.

She knew the savagery to which mankind can stoop, having seen too much blood spilt around the globe and having herself lost an eye to shrapnel in Sri Lanka while investigating government oppression of Tamil civilians in 2001. Indeed, she confided to friends doubts over what proved to be her final assignment.

She was a complex character, fiercely competitive and intensely driven in search of the story yet always friendly to rivals and helpful to young reporters. Like many in her game, underneath the New Yorker’s tough exterior was someone kind and caring.

She once said the real difficulty was not going to places where people were shooting at you but having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people would care when your reports from such places were printed.

As her editor and friend John Witherow said yesterday, she was a woman with wit and tremendous joie de vie, able to charm even the likes of Colonel Gaddafi – who once confessed to her his love for Madeline Albright, the U.S. secretary of state.

She loved sailing on the Thames and had a wide circle of friends, who have spent years fearing the news that made headlines round the world yesterday.

She liked to do things her own way: When a smoking ban came into force at the Sunday Times, she blithely turned up with three packets of cigarettes and puffed away at her desk; typically, no one dared stop her.

A technophobe, she would implore colleagues to help send copy back to her editors. She once ran up a bill of £25,000 when failing to switch off a satellite phone after making a call to London.

Another time, she claimed on expenses for expensive underwear stolen in East Timor – later telling Vogue in an interview that such items were essential for a woman in a war zone.

With her in Homs was the photographer Paul Conroy, a tough ex-soldier injured in the attack. We became good friends sharing a hotel room for a fortnight with three others in Libya last year, laughing late into the night over cherished cups of coffee like a group of students in our increasingly squalid room.

Another member of the quintet was a young American photographer named Michael Brown. As we drove at high-speeds into Libya last summer, he showed me pictures on his iPhone of hideous holes in his body after he was strafed by shrapnel in the grenade attack that killed Hetherington a few months earlier.

That incident took place in Misrata in north-eastern Libya, until now the scene of probably the most savage fighting since the wave of uprisings began in the region last year. Two reporters died there and six more were injured. Such was the chaos, many journalists reported from a ship anchored off the shore or fled after a few days – but not Colvin and Conroy.

Their driver was killed and the duo narrowly escaped with their lives when an ambulance they were in was attacked on the way to the frontline. Demonstrating once again her courage, Colvin refused to leave with other journalists aboard the last ship sent in to rescue stranded foreigners and Libyan women and children. She stayed another six weeks.

Colvin would be the first to remind us she was just one among dozens of people killed yesterday in Homs. Poignantly, she once wrote how she was always awed by the ‘quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will. They must stay where they are; I can come home to London’.

Even more poignant was one of the last messages she posted on Facebook. ‘I think reports of my survival may be exaggerated,’ she wrote. ‘In Baba Amr. Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by and I should be hardened by now.’

Marie Colvin never stood by when ordinary people were being murdered and maimed. Her death is a terrible tragedy. But the ultimate tragedy would be if others failed to follow in her footsteps to report on the savagery of war with such an honest, unflinching gaze.

© Mail Online

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Senior Chinese military official meets with Sri Lankan guests

PLA Daily | Defence Professionals

Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), met with Collenberg, commander of the eastern military area command of the Sri Lankan Navy who came to China to attend the International Naval Escort Seminar, in Beijing on February 21, 2012.

Ma Xiaotian said that China and Sri Lanka have enjoyed deep traditional friendship and the solid foundation of the China-Sri Lanka relationship jointly laid by the elder generation of leaders of the two countries. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations 55 years ago, the bilateral relationship has maintained healthy and smooth development. The two militaries also enjoy friendly relations and have conducted pragmatic cooperation in various fields. The Chinese side feels happy that Sri Lanka has ended the war and been on the way towards stability and prosperity. In the future, China is ready to further promote relations between the two countries and the two militaries and continue to do its best to support the Sri Lankan army building.

Collenberg said that China and Sri Lanka are traditionally friendly neighbors. The Sri Lankan side appreciates China’s support for safeguarding its national sovereignty and territorial integrity, highly values its military relations with China, and is willing to work together with the Chinese side to promote China-Sri Lanka military ties to a new high.

Guan Youfei, deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Ministry of National Defense of China, and Vinosuria, Sri Lankan defense attach, among others, were present at the meeting.

© Defpro News

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sri Lanka: Calls mount for government action on war inquiry


As the government of Sri Lanka comes under increasing international pressure to implement recommendations submitted by a presidentially appointed war commission, IRIN asked national analysts which recommendations were most easily achievable.

International human rights groups and, until recently, several governments, including the UK, US and Australia, widely criticized the lack of accountability in the report by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

The commission set out in May 2010 to investigate the final phase of fighting between 2002 and May 2009, when the government declared victory over the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Critics called for an independent inquiry, denouncing the report for ignoring alleged human rights abuses, an issue also raised in the Report of the UN Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka.

But weeks before the next UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva and nearly three months after the LLRC submitted its final report to the president on 20 November 2011, the US is calling for a resolution to prod Sri Lanka's government to act on the recommendations.

"While it has shortcomings on accountability, the commission addressed a number of crucial areas of concern to Sri Lankans and made substantive recommendations on reconciliation," said US Assistant Secretary Robert Blake at a recent meeting in Colombo.

Where to start

Jehan Perera, executive director of the Colombo-based National Peace Council, told IRIN he felt the release of a full list of detainees in government custody was the most important and "easiest to implement" of the dozens of recommendations.

Thousands of prisoners who went missing during the war remain unaccounted for, some of whom have been missing for more than two decades, he added. "If such a list were out, it would bring closure to a lot of families."

Ruki Fernando, head of the human rights in conflict programme at the local NGO, Law and Society Trust (LST), picked a day of commemoration for those who lost their lives. "A number of recommendations by the LLRC have the potential to build trust amongst communities," he said.

Other provisions he highlighted include the de-militarization and establishment of full civilian administration in the former conflict hotspot northern region; financial compensation for all survivors, or those who lost lives, limbs and possibly also property, according to the report; addressing disappearances; ensuring access to places of religious worship, including those in high security zones; and the use of both Sinhala and Tamil - the respective major languages for the former warring sides - for the national anthem.

Assistant Secretary Blake said the LLRC recommendations on devolution of authority, demilitarization, rule of law, media freedom, disappearances and human rights violations and abuses, "if implemented, could contribute to genuine reconciliation and strengthening democratic institutions and practices".

Game changer

Attention is shifting from forcing an international investigation to encouraging implementation of the recommendations because they are, at least, a starting point for reconciliation, say local activists.

The longstanding problem, said LST's Fernando, was that the Sri Lankan government had steadfastly refused to cooperate with any international mechanism to move past war.

"The report offers an opportunity to move forward. Now it is up to the government to show it is committed to do that," said Perera.

But Fernando was pessimistic.

"Looking at the scorecard after the LLRC report is not encouraging - there have been at least 22 abductions reported after the LLRC report [was released]; bodies are found in Colombo; peaceful campaigns [to locate the missing] in the north were obstructed in December and January; a protester was killed and others injured even last week in Chilaw [North Western Province)," he said.

Army inquiry

Two days after the US expressed its support for a resolution, the national army announced its appointment of a five-member panel to investigate whether troops executed prisoners and killed civilians during the final phase of fighting.

Human Rights Watch criticized the panel as a "transparent ploy to deflect a global push for a genuine international investigation, not a sudden inspiration nearly three years after the war".

The Attorney-General has also announced it is conducting follow-up interviews with witnesses who provided LLRC testimony to gather more information for further examination.

The UN Human Rights Council session is scheduled for 27 February to 23 March.


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