On issues ranging from the detention of UN system Sri Lankan staff to the continuing detentions in the camps in Vavuniya, UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe is traveling to Colombo on September 15. Inner City Press asked Pascoe if, for example, he would also raise the video footage depicting the Sri Lankan Army conducting summary executions, and if he had seen the footage. Pascoe said yes, he has seen the film, and that issues of “accountability” will be raised. Video of press briefing here, from Minute 38:02.
Pascoe said that accountability and investigations are “all best done if done internally.” But the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has ended the investigation of the killing of 17 Action Contre La Faim aid workers, and immediately denied the video the day that it first aired. So what internal “accountability mechanisms” will Pascoe be suggesting? Pascoe said that the “range of human rights issues” need to be discussed, and that there is blame on all sides, “there is enough to go around.”
Afterwards Inner City Press asked Pascoe if he will be traveling to the internment camps at Manik Farm, and who will be accompanying him. He said his “program” is still being negotiated, and that people from his Department of Political Affairs and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will join him.
Not mentioned, in the press conference or in response in the hall afterwards was Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, whose objectivity was question in connection with his early trips to Sri Lanka, particularly after his brother Satish wrote an op-ed praising the strategies and acts of Sri Lankan General Fonseka, who led what even the UN’s John Holmes characterized as a “bloodbath on the beach.”
Pascoe said his visit would follow up on “earlier trips by John Holmes and others” — notably omitting Nambiar’s forays.
To some, the sudden trip seems not unrelated to recent criticism of Ban Ki-moon’s performance, including in the leaked memo of Norway’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Mona Juul.
On Sri Lanka, the Juul memo said
Another example of weak handling from the Secretary-General’s side is the war in Sri Lanka. The Secretary-General was a powerless observer to civilians in their thousands losing their lives and being driven from their homes. The authorities in Colombo refused to receive the Secretary-General while the war was going on, but he was an honored guest — and he accepted the invitation — once the war had been “won.” Even though the UN’s humanitarian effort had been active and honorable enough, the Secretary-General’s moral voice and authority have been absent.
The memo also criticized Ban for choosing weak Under Secretaries General and not allowing them to talk. Suddenly, this week there are press briefings by Pascoe, Alain Le Roy and Susana Malcorra. Two other Ban advisers spoke Friday, but only on background. And still not Gregory Staff of UN Security, nor UNDP’s Helen Clark nor Ann Veneman of UNICEF, whose Colombo based spokesman James Elder is being thrown out.
Have Ban Ki-moon and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, unlike Ban and Myanmar Senior General Than Shwe, agreed in advance to some photogenic win-win outcome of Pascoe’s trip? Perhaps for Elder to be able to remain, or some symbolic release of some of the detained, albeit not to the regions they came from? We’ll see — Pascoe said to ask him “Friday or Saturday,” so the UN should provide a read-out then. Watch this site.
Footnote: before Pascoe spoke, Ban’s Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe answered yes when Inner City Press asked for on the record confirmation of its earlier story of Ban’s telephone call to Rajapaksa. Pascoe then described the call as straight forward, saying that Ban and Rajapaksa “have a very good relationship.” Pascoe spoke on other topics at the press conference, that we will shortly be reporting on.