Expulsion of UNICEF staff member in Sri Lanka brings dismay from UN

A young girl at a displaced persons camp in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, clings to her mother. [File Photo]

8 September 2009 – The United Nations has voiced disappointment at Sri Lanka’s decision to expel a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) staff member from the island nation, saying the Government should be supporting the agency’s efforts to advocate on behalf of children.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement through his spokesperson today expressing his strong regret after the weekend expulsion of James Elder, the chief of communications for UNICEF in Sri Lanka.

“The Secretary-General expresses his full confidence in the work of the United Nations in Sri Lanka, which includes making public statements when necessary in an effort to save lives and prevent grave humanitarian problems,” he said.

“The United Nations is working impartially to assist the people of Sri Lanka, and the Government should be supporting and cooperating with its efforts.”

The statement noted that Mr. Ban “will take up the issue with President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa at the earliest opportunity and will continue to urge him to implement all the commitments made in their joint statement after the Secretary-General’s visit to Sri Lanka in May.”

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman issued her own statement yesterday in which she said she was “extremely concerned and disappointed” by the expulsion.

“UNICEF has always upheld the principle of impartial advocacy and communication on behalf of children as a fundamental part of its global mandate,” Ms. Veneman said.

“Through Mr. Elder, UNICEF has consistently spoken out against the suffering of children on both sides of the intense hostilities earlier this year [between Government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] and called for their protection. UNICEF unequivocally rejects any allegation of bias. UNICEF will continue to uphold its mandate in Sri Lanka, and elsewhere, to advocate and speak out on behalf of vulnerable children and women.”


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