Holmes’ comment suggests improper motive - Foreign Ministry
COLOMBO: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a statement
said that in four days of meetings held in Sri Lanka with the President,
senior Ministers, Officials and also other members of the media “Sir
John Holmes did not even marginally venture to suggest the preposterous
statement he is now purported to have made to the Reuters
The statement added that Sir John Holmes discussed issues regarding
the security and safety of humanitarian aid workers and had acknowledged
that “the situation which had gone through a bad period was getting
It notes that “if indeed the Holmes comment purported to have been
made to Reuters is accurate, then Sir Holmes has not only been
disingenuous, but also fallen short in being forthright with his host
interlocutors in communicating the view of the world body, if that was
in fact the official view of the UN”.
“It further states that to sneak in this comment during a private
meeting with a foreign correspondent of a news agency, suggests a motive
that is objectively improper”.
Here is the full text of Foreign Ministry release:
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes with regret and disappointment
a comment relating to Sri Lanka attributed to Sir John Holmes, United
Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under Secretary General of
Humanitarian Affairs, in a Reuters report released on Thursday 9 August
2007, that “there is a concern about the safety of humanitarian workers
themselves and the record here is one of the worst in the world.”
The Holmes comment raises a number of concerns.
1. During his four day visit at the invitation of the Government of
Sri Lanka, Sir Holmes held meetings with the President Mahinda Rajapaksa,
the Minister of Foreign Affairs Rohitha Bogollagama, Human Rights and
Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, the Secretaries of
the Ministries of Defense as well as of Foreign Affairs, in addition to
meetings with a large number of officials involved with security, public
administration and humanitarian affairs in Colombo, Jaffna, Batticaloa
At none of these meetings did either the Under Secretary General or
his any of the member of his delegation even marginally venture to
suggest the preposterous statement he is now purported to have made to
the Reuters Correspondent in an exclusive interview.
In fact, as quoted in the press release issued by the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs following over two hours of separate meetings Sir Holmes
had with initially Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona and subsequently the
Foreign Minister, Foreign Secretary and senior officials on August 6,
2007, it was stated within quotation marks that “in his [Sir Holmes’]
discussions at the Foreign Ministry Sir Holmes drew attention to
concerns regards the security and safety of humanitarian aid workers”,
but acknowledged that “the situation which had gone through a bad period
was getting better”.
It is noteworthy that this statement was made in the presence of Neil
Buhne, UN Resident Representative/ Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri
Lanka, Valentine Gatzinski Head/UNOCHA in Sri Lanka and accompanying
staff from the UN office in New York.
Up to now there has been no contradiction by the UN side, to the fact
that Sir Holmes did in fact make reference that the situation in Sri
Lanka was “getting better”.
2. If indeed the Holmes comment purported to have been made to
Reuters is accurate, then Sir Holmes has not only been disingenuous, but
also fallen short in being forthright with his host interlocutors in
communicating the view of the world body, if that was in fact the
official view of the UN.
To sneak in this comment during a private meeting with a foreign
correspondent of a news agency, suggests a motive that is objectively
3. Further, shortly before his departure from Sri Lanka on August 9,
2007 Sir Holmes addressed a press conference where several questions
were raised by local and other foreign media on the very issue of the
security and safety of humanitarian aid workers in Sri Lanka. It is
noted that Sir Holmes choose to make no mention of the views purported
to have been made by him to the Reuters correspondent on Wednesday
August 8, 2007, to the rest of the media less than 24 hours later.
4. It would also appear ironic that Reuters chose not to make any
reference in the report in question of August 9, or in their other
reports relating to the Holmes visit, to comments made by Holmes
communicated in the Foreign Ministry press release that the situation
“was getting better”, despite it being available to Reuters on August 6,
2007 itself (two full days before their exclusive interview with Sir
Holmes) and was also to receive wide publicity in the media.
Also significantly the Reuters correspondent chose not to draw the
attention of Sir Holmes during the exclusive interview on Wednesday, to
the obvious contradiction between what Sir Holmes had told the Foreign
Ministry on Monday and what he was telling Reuters.
This is indeed poor journalism by an agent of an agency which prides
itself to be objective and keen get to the truth. The sequence of events
suggest that rather than trying to be objective, in this instance the
Reuters correspondent appears to have been more intent on seeking to
find a peg to sensationalise his report, in fact going to the extent of
collaborating with the interviewee to publish it only after he had left
the country, thus denying any opportunity for others in the media (who
were not singled out to be given exclusive interviews) or for that
matter in government, to seek to clarify Sir Holmes’ purported
5. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also notes with concern a comment
attributed to unnamed “aid agencies” in the Reuters report of August 9,
2007 to the effect that, “34 humanitarian staff have been killed in Sri
Lanka since January 2006, including 17 local staff of Action Contre La
Faim shot dead in the restive northeast a year ago in a massacre Nordic
truce monitors blamed on security forces”.
The Government of Sri Lanka is fully conscious of the dastardly
killing of the 17 ACF aid workers and is continuing to do all within its
means to speedily identify and bring the perpetrators of this crime to
justice. Up to this point there is nothing to establish security forces
complicity in this killing and the Nordic truce monitors have not blamed
the security forces.
As the Reuter’s correspondent well knows, rather it is a disgruntled
and discredited former head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM)
who has made such an allegation, which has been disowned by the SLMM
Attempts by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and
sections of the NGO and media for several months to seek to implicate
the security forces in this crime using arguments relating to ballistic
evidence misusing a report by Australian Forensic expert Dr. Malcolm
Dodd, has also fallen flat on its face last week, following the
unqualified withdrawal of the original statement by Dr. Dodd, which gave
rise to the original speculation.
Further, as to the figure the Reuters report quotes of “34
humanitarian staff” who have been “killed in Sri Lanka since January
2006”, taking into account the killings of the 17 ACF workers and of the
two Red Cross workers, which adds up to 19, it is intriguing how the
figure of 34 was arrived at.
Given that the UN office in Colombo appears to have made a practice
of hiding from their own headquarters in New York, the Sri Lanka
government, the media (including Reuters) and the general public those
UN related officials abducted and held by the LTTE, one wonders whether
the remaining 15 are possibly such killings of UN workers by the LTTE,
which the UN wishes not to talk about.
In fact, at the meeting Sir Holmes had with the Foreign Minister,
when the Government side expressed concern that the UN had not reported
2 known cases of UN aid workers held by the LTTE, for the first time it
transpired that the real figure was not two but four.
In that instance Sir Holmes made it a point to note that the UN
headquarters in New York had been equally agitated about the
non-reporting by the UN office in Colombo of the atrocities committed to
UN staff in Sri Lanka by the LTTE.
In such a context, it is unprofessional of the Reuters to introduce
an arbitrary figure based on unnamed sources, without explaining how it
adds up, and also to mischievously imply government complicity in the
killings/alleged killings, on the strength of a sole reference to a
discredited SLMM official.
6. Overall, it must be noted that the Holmes visit was meticulously
organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in consultation with the
office of the UN Under Secretary General with a view to developing a
constructive and effective relationship between the UN and Sri Lanka.
Sir Holmes’ indiscreet and irresponsible comment has made it more
difficult to achieve this objective.