UN expresses strong objections to protests in Sri Lanka

08:00, July 07, 2010      

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The United Nations on Tuesday voiced its strong objections to demonstrations held outside UN offices in Sri Lanka's capital city of Colombo.

The protests, which were organized by cabinet minister of the Sri Lankan government Wimal Weerawansa, prevented UN staff from entering or leaving the premises.

"While respecting the right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully, preventing access to UN offices hinders the vital work being carried out by the United Nations each day to help the people of Sri Lanka," Farhan Haq, UN associate spokesman, told reporters here.

UN officials have been in close contact with senior members of the Sri Lankan government, both here in New York and in Colombo, said Haq.

Resident coordinator for the UN in Sri Lanka, Neil Buhne, met earlier with the country's prime minister who stressed that the government would abide by its obligations to assure the security of UN staff.

"Obviously what happened today is different from those assurances," Haq noted.

Haq added that the United Nations is taking the demonstrations quite seriously.

"Anything that hinders the movement of staff is of serious concern and we are trying to make sure that the government will honor its commitments," he said.

The demonstrations were aimed against UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's decision to appoint an investigative panel on human rights violations allegedly committed during the end of Sri Lanka' s 25-year civil war between government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Following government interventions, all UN staff members were able to leave the offices in Colombo by the end of the day. Haq noted that UN officials will continue to monitor developments closely.

"Our main issue is that UN offices should not be blocked and our access, our visitors, and our work should continue unobstructed," he said.

In mid-June, Ban appointed the panel of experts to advise him on accountability issues relating to alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka that ended last year.

The three-member panel will advise Ban on implementing the commitment on human rights accountability made in the Joint Statement issued by the secretary-general and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa after the UN chief visited the island country in May 2009.

Indonesia's Marzuki Darusman will serve as the chair of the expert panel, and the other two members are Yasmin Sooka of South Africa and Steven Ratner of the United States. The panel is expected to wrap up its responsibilities within four months of starting work.

The UN reported more than 7,000 civilians died in the last five months of the conflict between the Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The UN-appointed panel was rejected by Sri Lanka, whose foreign minister, GL Peiris, has said that a UN panel on human rights will not be allowed into the country.

"The position of the Sri Lanka government is abundantly clear -- we will not have them in this country," the foreign minister was quoted as saying, adding that there was "no need" for the panel to come to the country and they would not be allowed in.

Source: Xinhua


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