links about us archives search home
SustainabiliTankSustainabilitank menu graphic

Follow us on Twitter


Posted on on June 21st, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

As Sri Lanka Arrests Two UN Staff, UNHCR Offers Praise After Staying Silent.

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 19 — Two UN staff members were disappeared by the Sri Lankan government six days ago in Vavuniya. For days, the UN said nothing. An e-mail was sent to Inner City Press, along with a photo of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon meeting with the staff in Vavuniya on May 23. Those disappeared served as drivers for the UN Office of Project Services and UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency.

After some inquiries, the UN belatedly announced that two staff had been arrested, leading to short articles in the Indian and Canadian press, neither of which included the staff members’ names. They are Kandasamy “Saundi” Saundrarajan of UNOPS and N. Charles Raveendran of UNHCR. They are Tamils.

Meanwhile UNHCR’s country officer for Sri Lanka Amin Awar continued to praise the government and the internment camps in Vavuniya. While in Sri Lanka in May, Inner City Press published a story about another UNHCR staffer, detained by the government since last year.

Amin Awar, who had not responded to an emailed request to comment on the case, approached this reporter in the lobby of the Colombo Hilton on May 23 and argued that the court system in Sri Lanka is complex, but said he was advocating for the detained man.

No update has been provided, and now two more staffers, including one from UNHCR, are detained. How much more will the UN put up with, or as some say, cover up?

The email, lightly edited, is below.

UN’s Ban and Vavuniya staff, standing up for them not shown

Subj: 2 UN Staff abducted 4 days ago and now believed to be tortured by Sri Lankan Army Military Intelligence – Pls Help to Release them

From: [Name withheld for fear of retaliation or worse]
To: Matthew.Lee [at]
Sent: 6/19/2009

Dear Matthew,

We write this email in desperation seeking your help to put more pressure on Sri Lankan Authorities and release 2 United Nations Staff ( I from UNOPS and 1 from UNHCR ) abducted by Sri Lankan Army Military Intelligence Officials in Vavuniya four days ago and currently detained. We have tried all the possible escalations within UN, including an urgent message to our Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon but nothing has helped so far.

We reliably learn that they are now being detained and tortured at a Sri Lankan Army Military Intelligence interrogation camp in Kurumankadu, Vavuniya and since it is weekend no one is taking it serious & taking some bold action for their release or access to them & ensure they are safe.

In our May30th Sit Report, our ground officers have highlighted the wide spread abductions and accounted for more than 13,310 missing people in Vavuniya IDP Camps, compared to the previous count. But our higher management in Colombo and Geneva has decided to downplay it and reported it as, “decrease is associated with double counting. Additional verification is required”. They never initiated a project for additional verification. Now we feel the pain of abduction when two of our colleagues are abducted.

Photo of our Vavuniya UN Team Group Photo with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when he visited Vavuniya last month, attached.

We don’t know when we will see our colleagues again and the same smile … please help.

Due to security issues we cant talk on phone and sending this email with great difficulty & hope you will understand it.

Thanks in advance.

Concerned UN Staff, Sri Lanka

* * * * * *
In Sri Lanka Camps, UN Blind and Deaf Without Cameras or Cell Phones, African Concern.

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 19 –While it has been reported that in the UN-funded internment camps in Sri Lanka “UN officials have been stopped from bringing in cameras and mobile phones,” the Spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday told Inner City Press, “I don’t think the UN would accept that.”

Since the UN did accept the detention by the government of UN staff earlier this year, it is not clear if the UN would accept being barred from exposing abuses they see in the camps or even photographing them. The Spokesperson said she would check. We’ll be waiting.

Despite these reported restrictions the UN’s top humanitarian John Holmes, who has yet to respond to requests for comment on the government killing off its investigation into the murder of 17 Action Contre La Faim aid workers, is quoted that “We do have pretty much full access to those camps at the moment.”

Would that be, access without cell phones or cameras? What does OCHA do when it becomes aware of abuses? It claimed that it advocated quietly about its detained staff. But the government said the issue was only raised once it was publicly asked about by the Press at the UN.

UN’s Ban speaks with envoy Fowler, kidnapped in Niger, on cell phone not seen in Sri Lanka

At a UN reception Friday day on the topic of sickle-cell anemia, several African Ambassadors expressed to Inner City Press their concern for what has happened this year in Sri Lanka. An Ambassador from the Maghreb asked, whatever happened to the Responsibility to Protect? Before that final push, shouldn’t somebody have stopped it?

Another referred to reports that LTTE officials who tried to surrender by waving the white flag, after communications via UN envoy Vijay Nambiar, had reportedly been shot and killed. “That is not good,” said the outgoing Permanent Representative of a country that itself suffered a genocide. Ironically, these African Ambassadors who are portrayed as more callous than their Western counterparts appear more genuinely concerned. But politics has dictated what has happened, and what is happening. Watch this site.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment for this article