UN investigation for murder of political leader, but not for tens of thousands of civilians?
As Chile joined the International Criminal Court on June 29, Inner City Press asked the Minister Secretary General of the Presidency of Chile Jose Antonio Viera-Gallo if he thought the ICC should investigate this year’s surge of civilian death and detentions in Sri Lanka. Viera-Gallo called it a situation of combat against a “nationalist” guerrilla force which should in the first instance be investigated by the government of Sri Lanka.
“If the government cannot do it,” he said, “it is easy — a member state should request it, or any person, to the prosecutor.” Video here, from Minute 9:44.
But far from being “easy,” the UN has not even been able to stop or comment on Sri Lanka disbanding its own investigation into deaths before this year, including of 17 Action Contre La Faim aid workers near Trincomalee.
On June 26 Inner City Press asked the UN’s top humanitarian John Holmes, who has previously spoken about the ACF killing, why he or his department OCHA had not commented on the disbanding of the investigation. Holmes said it hadn’t been confirmed.
On June 29, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson Michele Montas about OCHA’s disputed reports on the number and location of those being detained in northern Sri Lanka. “Those are not UN camps,” Ms. Montas answered. Video here, from Minute 23:57.
While Inner City Press had not called them UN camps, it gave rise to the question: what percentage of the funding of the camps comes through the UN?
Ms. Montas said she would get that percentage. Inner City Press asked, if it is over fifty percent, can they be viewed as UN camps? “That is a hypothetical question,” Ms. Montas said.
For now. Watch this site.
Footnotes: Chile’s Viera-Gallo said that in Latin America there have been no serious crimes of late, and all governments have independent courts, obligating the need for ICC inquiry. This was said just after the Honduras court decisions leading to the ouster of President Zelaya and in the face of immunity offers in Colombia.
Inner City Press also asked Chile’s Ambassador Heraldo Munoz about the three person investigation he will head up for the UN of the murder of Benazir Bhutto. Will the report of investigation be made public? He said he will answer later. But here’s a question for now: the UN can put together a three person investigation for the murder of a political leader, but nothing for tens of thousands of civilians?
UNITED NATIONS, June 29 —
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UN Runs Scared of Sri Lanka, says National Staff Not Immune — But Genocide Suspects Are
As the Sri Lankan government locked up an astrologer who dared make predictions that President Mahinda Rajapaksa didn’t like, the UN in New York stayed silent. Inner City Press asked, for the third time, what is being done about the two UN staff members who were grabbed up by the government using unmarked vehicles.
Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq said he was aware of the question, but that they still have no answer. Inner City Press asked, isn’t it the UN’s position that its staff members have immunity? Haq acknowledged that it normally the position. But why not in Sri Lanka?
In fact, the UN Mission in Kosovo actively invoked immunity on June 26 in favor of a person changed with genocide. When Agim Ceku was arrested in Bulgaria, based on an Interpol warrant, it is reported that a UN documentary showing was made in order to get Ceku released. Inner City Press asked Haq about this as well on Friday. Haq said to ask the UNMIK mission.
Inner City Press immediately put questions to them, but has received no answer. Immunity for those charged with war crimes and genocide, but no defense of immunity for UN staff in Sri Lanka. Why not?
At the Security Council on June 26, speeches went on all day about the protection of civilians. While the UN’s top humanitarian John Holmes appeared to downplay Sri Lanka in his initial testimony, other than saying that “the weapons have finally — and thankfully — fallen silent in Sri Lanka,” the underlying report notes it in the 30th paragraph;
“repeated use of heavy weapons by Sri Lankan armed forces in attacks on area containing large numbers of civilians, including the so-called ‘no-fire zones,’ with reports of multiple strikes on medical facilities.”
Even though the report went on about LTTE refusal to let civilians go, Sri Lanka in the Security Council debate criticized the report. Holmes in his rebuttal was conciliatory, but said that the definition of armed conflict comes from international jurisprudence and applies to Sri Lanka.
When Holmes emerged from the Security Council at 6:30 p.m., Inner City Press waited to ask him a few questions. “You’ve got to be kidding,” he began, before to his credit answering four questions.
Did he or the UN do anything about the MV Ali ship of humanitarian aid that was blocked by Sri Lanka? No, Holmes said. But he’s heard that it may be unloaded in India and thence to Sri Lanka. This has yet to happen.
Any update on the detained doctors? No, Holmes said.
What about the disbanding of the inquiry into the killing of, among others, the 17 Action Contre La Faim aid workers? Holmes said the UN had yet to receive formal notification of the disbanding, and might comment if and when notification is provided.
What about the detained staff? Holmes said the UN is asking. Aren’t they immune? Only international staff are, Holmes said.
We will have more on this.
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis, June 26 —