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Ban Ki-Moon, Navi Pillai and John Holmes brief UN Security Council on "Accountability" in Sri La...

Jul 18, 2010 9:42:00 AM- transcurrents.com

by S. V. Kirubaharan in France

During the peak days of the war, every time the UN Security Council wanted to raise concerns about the situation in Sri Lanka, the government sought the help of Russia and China and managed to prevent any discussion.

But on July 7, the same government which prevented any discussion in the Security Council was compelled to make a statement defending their side! This could be the beginning of impending dark days for Sri Lanka.

It is astonishing that the international media never covered this meeting. Some local media may not be aware; some may have had too much on their plate. As usual the government Pied Pipers did their self-censorship. Not surprisingly a Tamil diaspora English online media took the same position too.

It is rather like the media and news agencies which operated during the Communist/Socialist period in Russia and China. The simple theory is: “let the readers know only what we like and what we write”. Journalists who talk about free media and freedom of expression should be ashamed of what they are doing.

On July 7th, the UN Security Council called a meeting on the “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”. It is well known that there are five permanent members in the Security Council — France, United Kingdom, United States, Russia and China. In the meantime there are 10 non-permanent members who are elected by the General Assembly for a term of two years. Presently these are Japan, Turkey, Lebanon, Nigeria, Uganda, Gabon, Mexico, Brazil, Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

According to the UN rules, members of the Security Council hold the presidency, rotating every month according to the English alphabetical listing of its member states. On that basis, the present President of the Security Council is Prof. Joy U. Ogwu, Ambassador of Nigeria.

Joint Briefing to the Security Council

On July 7th when the President of the Security Council opened up the debate, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon along with Humanitarian Chief John Holmes and the High Commissioner for Human Rights gave a Joint Briefing to the Security Council.

These three speakers made their interventions at the beginning of the morning session. They all spoke about many situations including Sri Lanka. Ban Ki-Moon said that, “In Sri Lanka, I have emphasized the importance of an accountability process for alleged violations of human rights and humanitarian law by all sides in the conflict that ended there last year. I have appointed a Panel of Experts to advise me on these issues”.

Sir John Holmes who took the floor after Ban Ki-Moon said, “….So I urge the Council to take a robust approach to accountability. National justice systems must remain the first line of defense. But when they prove unable or unwilling to bring perpetrators to justice and provide remedies to victims, the international community must explore alternative means. I welcome the Commission of Inquiry launched by the Secretary General for crimes committed during violence in Guinea last September.

And I welcome the panel set up by the Secretary General to advise him on accountability for violations of humanitarian and human rights law in Sri Lanka, especially in the last stages of the conflict in that country, and the mechanism recently set up by the Government of Sri Lanka.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navaneetham Pillai : Recalling the conflict in Sri Lanka, (she) said there had been unacceptably high civilian losses caused by both sides, noting also that some progress had been made since the end of the conflict in returning and resettling internally displaced persons.

Concrete initiatives must now follow to provide justice and redress to victims, while promoting accountability and longer-term reconciliation. She welcomed the Secretary-General’s decision to set up an expert panel to advise him on the issues in Sri Lanka.

France, UK and Mexico welcomed the Advisory Committee

Following these three interventions, the member countries started their deliberations. Out of the 15 members of the Security Council, two permanent members – France and the United Kingdom welcomed the move by the Secretary General to appoint the Advisory Committee on Sri Lanka and made a request to Sri Lanka to cooperate with this committee.

Out of the 10 non-permanent members, Mexico endorsed the Secretary General’s appointment of this Committee. There were a few other countries that indirectly supported the Secretary General’s action. According to the Security Council’s rule, “………A State which is a Member of the United Nations but not of the Security Council may participate, without a vote, in its discussions when the Council considers that that country’s interests are affected……..” On these grounds a few countries that were interested in contributing to the day’s debate were also present in the Council. The morning session ended with interventions made by all member states of the Security Council and non-members Uruguay, Germany and Italy.

In the afternoon when the Security Council commenced its session, the President of the Council Prof. Joy U. Ogwu, informed that two other members – Afghanistan and Sri Lanka had requested her permission to make interventions. Then states like Afghanistan, Canada, South Africa, Liechtenstein, Argentina, India, Israel, European Union, Switzerland, Australia, Bangladesh, Peru, Pakistan, Norway, Venezuela, Syria, Colombia, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Armenia made their interventions.

“90% of the IDPs are resettled?”

I presume that none of you would expect me to write what was said by the Sri Lanka representative in the Security Council. Even though the UN Press release claims that this intervention was made by Palitha Kohona, it was in fact somebody else who read this statement. Anyway, this intervention consisted of the same old stories and the habitual use of the terms: terrorist, suicide attacks, internal conflict, state sovereignty etc. The most ridiculous part of the statement was the assertion that 90 percent of the IDPs were settled.

A paragraph from the statement by Sri Lanka is given below: “The cost of armed conflict on civilians and the need for accountability is a matter of concern to all democratic and elected governments including our government. Quite often and quite naturally, the focus on civilian casualties is centered on the life and property damage caused in military operations while insufficient consideration is given to the thousands of lives lost in suicide attacks on civilian targets by non state actors. We have to devise means to also hold non state actors accountable and to recognise the asymmetrical nature of conflicts where democratic states are confronted by ruthless terrorist groups who pay scant attention to the rules of war and challenge conventional armies on how best to protect vulnerable civilian populations”.

Predictably, the speaker mentioned nothing about the saga created by one of their ministers, who is blocking the activity of the UN office in Colombo.

Old statement with a new date

We have witnessed that Sri Lankan ambassadors in Geneva always wait for a statement from Colombo. I am sure it must be the same practice in New York. In case of delay in receiving the statement, an old one is used with a new date and a few amendments! If I recollect rightly, in 1998 or ‘99, the first Secretary in the Sri Lankan delegation read out a pre-prepared statement in the then UN Commission on Human Rights and it was a real comedy.

One of the Western diplomats ridiculed them by giving a leaflet, with details where they could find a good English course. I understand this same person was later posted to the High Commission in the United Kingdom! But Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka was a completely different personality. He didn’t expect a statement from Colombo and he made his statements without even a piece of paper on his desk.

The usual proceedings in the UN Forums is that whoever presents a report and the delegations of countries referred to in that report get a second chance for a right to reply at the end of all the interventions. It depends on the situation. On that basis, Lebanon took the floor to exercise the right to reply to the intervention made by Israel.

During the afternoon session, Ban Ki-Moon and Navaneetham Pillai were not present in the Council. Sir John Holmes was present and asked for the floor to remark on points raised by certain countries including Sri Lanka.

John Holmes stated that he wished to inform the Sri Lankan representative that the Advisory Committee will inquire about what was done by non-state actors as well. He added that a government minister in Sri Lanka is blocking the activities of the office of the UN and the government distances itself from the Minister’s action saying that they have no connection to it.

Sri Lanka’s representative’s intervention in the Security Council was counterproductive because until he had made his intervention none of the speakers in the Council, had made any remarks about the saga happening in front of the UN office in Colombo.

In conclusion, Sri Lankan affairs have finally reached the Security Council in the presence of nearly 40 diplomats. This can be considered a giant step of the United Nations