NAM considers move to challenge Ban

Draft letter on Lankan issue causes divisions; India’s stand not clear

Non Aligned Movement (NAM) nations are preparing to challenge UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over his appointment of a three-member panel to advise him on accountability issues during the final stages of the separatist war that led to the military defeat of Tiger guerrillas last year. The UN move is widely regarded as a precursor to an imminent war crimes inquiry against troops and guerrillas.
The 118-member NAM is currently circulating a draft letter among diplomats of the member countries represented at the UN in New York. It has expressed “serious concern” about the appointment of the panel “against the clearly expressed wishes of the country concerned, and without any mandate from the Human Rights Council, the Security Council or the General Assembly”.

It is not immediately clear whether the draft letter will receive the endorsement of all or most NAM members. If it does receive approval, Egypt, the current chairman is expected to forward the letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. No member of the NAM has so far responded publicly to Mr. Ban’s move to appoint the experts panel. Disapproving remarks so far have come from Russia, China and Iran. Russia and China are, however, not members of the NAM.

Asked for his comments, U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq has said, "As far as I am aware, discussion is still going on in NAM about the letter. I am not aware whether the membership agreed to it or not.”
NAM is the largest single political coalition at the United Nations, after the Group of 77, a 130-member economic coalition of developing countries.

Mr. Ban also plans to appoint a similar international panel to investigate charges of war crimes against Israel over the May 31 attack on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. But the proposed panel to investigate Israel was authorised by the Security Council while the panel on Sri Lanka was not. A similar NAM letter of protest was sent to Mr. Ban last March, warning him against the appointment of the proposed panel on Sri Lanka. After a response from the Secretary-General, in which he claimed he had a legitimate right to appoint such a panel, NAM virtually backed down from a possible confrontation with the U.N chief.

"I am convinced it is well within my power as Secretary-General of the United Nations to ask such a panel to furnish me with their advice of this nature," Mr. Ban told news reporters in March. "This does not in any way infringe on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka," he explained. But with the current draft letter, NAM is reverting to its original hard-line stand, namely, that Mr. Ban has exceeded his political authority in naming the panel.

NAM members, mostly from the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), have objected to the draft letter primarily on the ground that it would undermine the Secretary-General's push for an international probe of the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla. If there is no consensus among NAM members, the letter is not likely to be sent to the Secretary-General.

In diplomatic circles in Colombo, attention is being focused on how India, a key player in NAM in the Asian region, would react to the draft letter. The draft letter says that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already appointed his own commission of inquiry to probe any violations of international norms and standards during the conflict.

"It is a well recognized international norm that in situations where there are allegations or breaches of international law that the country concerned should in the first instance be allowed to conduct its own investigation and to make known its findings," the letter says. In this instance, says the draft letter, the Secretary-General has appointed a panel on Sri Lanka to advise him on the modalities, applicable standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes "even before the commission of inquiry in Sri Lanka has commenced its inquiry and without any express request from any member state or group or U.N. body or without seeking the opinion of any group of member states or U.N. body".

The three members of the Sri Lanka panel, named last month, are Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia as chairperson, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa and Steven Ratner of the United States.

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