May 24, 2018

UN informed again on 49 unvetted Sri Lanka soldiers in Lebanon Featured

UN Peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix has been informed that the Sri Lanka government vetting of peacekeepers the UN has relied on has not been complied with, regarding at least 49 soldiers now "serving" the UN in Lebanon.

Inner City Press was sent a copy of the letters, and published them - then asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric for the UN's response. All he said, at noon on April 6, is that he would check to see that the letter has been received. More than 24 hours later, he has not provided even that confirmation.

Meanwhile, Inner City Press later on April 6 asked Lacroix on the ramp to the turnstile Dujarric's eviction make it unable to get through if he was aware of the letters. He indicated that he is. So why no answer from Antonio Guterres' holdover spokesman Dujarric? Lacroix has now received another letter, from the "Association Bharathi CCFT - Centre Culturel Franco Tamoul." If the past is any guide, he will stonewall on human rights and corruption issues by withholding even this response for three days, while continuing restrictions on the Press. Here is the text of the letter sent to Lacroix, to the UN in Geneva and to Inner City Press:

TO JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX,

UNDER SECRETARY GENERAL FOR UN PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS,

NEW YORK.

OHCHR, Geneva

Inner City Press

6 April 2018

Dear Mr. Lacroix,

SRI LANKAN ARMY’S FLOUTING OF VETTING AGREEMENT FOR UN PEACEKEEPERS

We write to draw your attention to allegations that the Sri Lankan Army has deployed UN peacekeepers in violation of the vetting agreement it reached with the National Human Rights Commission, as well as their obligation to conduct their own due diligence process to ensure that those who may constitute a risk to peacekeeping are not sent out. The failure to abide by these commitments constitutes a mockery of the whole process. Below are also a few remedial steps we think should be taken now.

The complaint regarding the vetting comes from no less than the country’s National Human Rights Commission (HRCSL), a body appointed by the Government itself. You can see this complaint in a Sinhala letter from the HRCSL to the President of Sri Lanka in his capacity as commander in chief on the HRCSL website. The gist of it has been reported in English by exiled Sri Lankan journalists. It says that the HRCSL and the Sri Lankan Army signed an agreement in 2016 for the HRCSL to vet Sri Lanka’s peacekeepers but the Army deployed 49 of them to Lebanon on 18 February 2018 before this process was complete and they had handed over all the information on them requested by the HRCSL. Indeed, some of the information requested by the HRCSL is said to be still pending.

Ultimately the responsibility lies with your department for the vetting process in terms of the Secretary General’s ‘Zero Tolerance” policy on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) as well as his new policy statement which he announced in 2017 “Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse:  A New Approach”, which has clearly failed spectacularly again in Sri Lanka.  According to the UN, it seeks to ensure that only “individuals with the highest standards of integrity, competence and efficiency” are hired – this has not been the record with regard to Sri Lanka. You will note that to date there has been no criminal accountability for the 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers sent home from Haiti in connection with systematic child sexual exploitation from 2004-7, which was confirmed by an OIOS investigation.

Furthermore, if your department allows peacekeepers from any country to deploy before the vetting process in place is complete, then you are complicit in undermining the vetting process.

We, therefore, call on DPKO:

  1. 1.To confirm whether (a) the 49 peacekeepers from Sri Lanka were indeed deployed on 18 February 2018 without being vetted and (b) explain how this was possible and (c) what you will do to prevent this reoccurring.
  2. 2.To confirm that the deployment constitutes a violation of the Memorandum of Understanding between Troop Contributing Countries and DPKO in respect of vetting.
  3. 3.To inform us whether the HRCSL raised objections about contingent commander Lt. Col Hewage’s deployment before we raised this issue with you in our letter of 14th February. We understand (from the HRCSL letter online) that they had the PHP forms for the 204 Lebanon-bound soldiers from 21 December 2017 so should have been able to identify the problems regarding the contingent commander that we ourselves identified from a quick online search once his name was made public.  Specifically, were concerns raised by the HRCSL before the 18 February 2018 deployment of the 49 men? Their letter suggests they didn’t know the men were about to be deployed, despite the issue being raised by us and being published officially on the army’s website.
  4. 4.To make public the vetting/due diligence criteria used by the HRCSL/OHCHR to screen soldiers. This should not be a secret.
  5. 5.To conduct a retrospective vetting of all other Sri Lankan peacekeepers currently deployed – other than the 200 that went to Mali who were vetted by OHCHR in Geneva.  We know Sri Lankan peacekeepers are currently deployed in many other countries and it’s probable they haven’t been properly vetted for their human rights record."

So what will the UN do? On the morning of April 6, Secretary General Antonio Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric who evicted Inner City Press from the UN Press Briefing Room where the UN Correspondents Association was meeting blithely said, just go to UNCA. Well, no - Sri Lanka history here. Back in February 2018 Lacroix was informed of the troubling past history in 2008 in Sri Lanka of a commander that country is seeking to deploy to the UN in Lebanon as early as February 18, Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage, Inner City Press was informed and exclusively reported on February 14, and got confirmed from the UN on February 15. Now on February 19, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that following questions, the deployment of Hewage has been suspended. Video here; transcript: "We were asked last week about a Sri Lankan officer who was scheduled to deploy to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.  I can confirm that the officer’s deployment is on hold pending a review of the matter.  A decision regarding deployment of this officer will be made once the review is complete. We are in communication with the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka regarding the officer’s background and Sri Lanka is cooperating fully with our inquiries. The United Nations takes reports of potential human rights violations very seriously.  As a matter of policy, we are committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights." But why not canceled, given his record? We'll have more on this.

When Lacroix held a rare press conference on January 24, Inner City Press asked him how the UN is vetting “peacekeepers” from Cameroon, as that country's army is burning down whole villages in the Anglophone zones. Lacroix insisted that vetting is intensive. Inner City Press asked about what sources tell it, that the ostensibly vetting of troops from Sri Lanka, after the bloodbath on the beach there, consists of one OHCHR staffer in Geneva. Lacroix said he wasn't sure on that. Video here.

After the press conference Inner City Press was contacted, and ultimately copied on a letter to Lacroix, below. On February 15, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: there's been a letter sent by… by a number of Tamil Sri Lankan groups to Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix about the… the impending… I guess, some type of a commander in UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], Mr. [Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara] Hewage.  And they've documented to him — he's supposed to deploy on Sunday — that, in fact, he was present during 2008 in Kilinochchi, 2009 in PTK.  These were, you know, highly controversial military actions.  So, their complaint is that, in the past, Office of Human Rights of the UN would vet people, and now that doesn't appear to be the case anymore just by…  Have you seen that letter? Spokesman:  We've… DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] has, indeed, received the letter you mentioned.  They are looking into the case of the gentleman that you mentioned with… who's scheduled be deployed to Lebanon.  As a matter of policy, we're committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights.  In accordance with existing policy, the UN should neither select nor deploy for service any individual who has been involved in violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.  In reviewing the background of personnel to be deployed, we consider available information from within and outside of the UN system, thus, will review carefully the information that has been provided to us.  Member States that provide UN personnel to peacekeeping operations also have the responsibility to certify that the personnel they nominate have not been involved, by act or omission, in violations of international humanitarian or human rights law or have been repatriated on disciplinary grounds from any UN operation.  In cases where we have concerns regarding the human rights record of specific troop-contributing countries, we put in place additional measures to ensure that the personnel deployed is in line with the UN human rights screening policy. Inner City Press: one follow-up, because I remember Mr. Lacroix specifically commented on this when he did his press conference.  Seems like these… these… these groups are saying that, in the past, the UN review these in Geneva, and now they're relying on Sri Lanka's own human rights commission, and they say the last people were deployed… Spokesman:  I think from what I understood of what I just said, we review both what the Government tells us and external and internal sources." We'll see. Here was the letter, c/o Debbie Berman, Copy to OHCHR, Geneva and InnerCityPress:

Dear Mr. Lacroix, STOP DEPLOYMEMNT OF UN PEACEKEEPER WITH FRONTLINE COMBAT EXPERIENCE IN SRI LANKA’S 2009 WAR - This is to request you to stop the planned deployment to Lebanon on Sunday 18 February 2018 of a Sri Lankan contingent commander with frontline combat command

experience in the final phase of the civil war in 2008-9. We believe that under the UN’s current vetting criteria, this commander should have been screened out of all UN peacekeeping duties. We note that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has been asked to vet UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka but consider that ultimately the responsibility lies with your department, as according to the UN, it seeks to ensure that only “individuals with the highest standards of integrity, competence and efficiency” are hired. The Sri Lankan Army says Lt. Col. Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage is due to head the 12th Force Protection Company (FPC) for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) An online search of Lt. Col. Hewage reveals he was involved in the assault on Kilinochchi town in Northern Sri Lanka on 22 December 2008 and located in PTK in late February 2009."

Inner City Press accompanied and covered Ban Ki-moon's trip to Sri Lanka in 2009, and subsequent acceptance of Shavendra Silva as a senior UN Peacekeeping adviser. After Inner City Press published how Palitha Kohona got his former landlord to sponsor, on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, a screening of the government's genocide denial film "Lies Agreed To," Inner City Press was threatened with ouster from the UN, which occurred, and Inner City Press is still restricted to minders under the Department of Public Information run by British Alison Smale. Meanwhile as noted in the letter, the UN does less and less human rights vetting. We'll have more on this.

- By Matthew Russell Lee

(patreon.com)

(Except for the headline, this story, originally published by patreon.com has not been edited by SLM staff)

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