The Sri Lankan Government is saying that this is a peoples’ pro- test. The UN is using words like ‘recall’ and saying its closing a UNDP office. Both are playing games. The protest has govern- ment support. The UN is not actually pulling out. The media has simply run press release headlines without analysis while the reality is far different.
This is the most recent UN press release from the Secretary- General, “In light of the evolving situation, he is recalling the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne, to New York for consul- tations. He has also decided that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Centre in Colombo will be closed.”
This has been reported by outlets like the Daily Mirror to read that Buhne recalled, UNDP shut. But this is not entirely correct. Neil Buhne has been called back to New York for a meeting, he is not leaving his job. The UNDP office they refer to is actually a regional office on Independence Square, entirely removed from the main compound.
The UNDP Regional Centre is not in the besieged compound it is actually a South East Asian center doing no actual work in Sri Lanka. It has been closing for years and most of the staff have already been moved.
Reading the press release, however, it sounds like the UNDP office is being closed as a direct response to the protests. In fact, it’s just being thrown in for effect. Closing the main UNDP office would have huge repercussions on Sri Lankan development, but that is not happening, nor is it on the cards, nor is it possible with- out input from the host country.
The UN statement is worded to be reported without scrutiny by the media making things out to be worse than they are. On a second reading outlets like Ada Derana have caught that the UNDP office mentioned in the press release is a bit of a ruse, but it’s already too late. The news has already broken.
In the same note, most news outlets have uncritically reported statements from various governments and ministers, including the Sri Lanka Government’s statement that the government will not ban peaceful protest.
Yes, but the government does not extend the same support to student protesters who were recently blocked from getting anywhere near the University Grants Commission by barricades on Ward Place, a hundred cops in buses and water bowsers at the ready. In contrast, the UN protesters have hung propaganda on barricades, spray painted cameras at the compound and set flags up along the Thunmulla junction. In a most obvious display, Wimal Weerawansa reportedly called the powerful defense sec- retary and put him on speaker phone. The call was recorded and it shows Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ordering the cops to stand down.
Even more obviously, the protest is led by a government minis- ter. Despite the assurance of another minister (G.L. Peiris), those in their position do not hold entirely personal views. This is a government supported protest and they are playing their own games to get their point across.
Both sides are playing games. The media is playing along and people are getting played. These protests are not spontaneous and grass roots, but neither is the UN actually so intimidated that they close major offices. These motivations are more opaque and for that the reader may have to decide. One hopes people un- derstand however, that the UN office is now a stage and both the government and the UN are merely actors.