UNOSAT images and comments on civilians in NFZ
Partial, provisional, unconfirmed - UN Resident Coordinator
The UNOSAT images released to the media as well as comments on them
regarding civilians in the No Fire Zone (NFZ) are partial, provisional
and unconfirmed, says UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Neil
Buhne in a letter addressed to Disaster Management and Human Rights
Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe on May 4.
Buhne says that he did not authorise the UNOSAT comments as the
images and comments on them could be “misinterpreted” as a ‘UN finding’.
According to him the imagery and the commentary have reached the
public through a technical fault of posting them without password
protection. Hence, when it was found out public access to them was
withdrawn, says Buhne.
casualty figures in media:
Assessment unreliable, not
independent - UN Under Secretary General
UN Under Secretary General
for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes had clarified that the
number of civilians killed and injured reported in certain
sections of the media, quoting UN sources cannot be “fully,
reliably, and independently assessed, because of limits on
access to civilians in the combat zone.
Hence they have not been
released publicly, and the figures cited were not circulated
by this office to diplomatic corps, said a press release
issued by UN President and Humanitarian Coordinators office
in Colombo on May 7.
Certain media reports
recently stated that 6,000 civilians in the North had died
and 14,000 were injured in attacks by the Armed Forces.
The Government rejected the
claim and said civilian casualties were due to attacks by
the LTTE but not the Armed Forces.
However no reliable
statistics were available about the number of civilians
killed in LTTE attacks on civilians though a number of
civilians who fled the LTTE held area in the North had told
Government officials and the Armed Forces that LTTE killed
or injured a large number of civilians who attempted to
cross over to the Government administered areas.
In his letter, he states that “satellite imagery is one of the tools
and information sources among many and neither it nor any accompanying
commentary, can represent the overall view of the UN on any particular
situation. That comes from statements by the Secretary General or other
Hence any commentary made by UNOSAT is partial and provisional as are
comments made to the media in response to questions made by them.
Furthermore satellite data and analysis can only be fully confirmed if
cross-checked with ground data, which in this case cannot be done.
“With respect to the images that appeared in the media last week, I
first saw these only late on April 28. UNOSAT asked our advice on
whether the commentary on the images done by them could be shared
publicly. Given that this could be misinterpreted as a “UN finding” I
did not give them this permission.
“However, I have been advised that the imagery and commentary was
posted without the password protect it should have and hence reached
public. When this was drawn to the attention of UNOSAT, the public
access was withdrawn. I have asked my headquarters to inquire into how
this happened, subsequent comments made in the media and ways to ensure
that our requests of confidentiality are respected in the future,” the
“Unfortunately most recent images we have is from April 19, before
the exodus of tens of thousands of people. We hope to have more recent
imagery soon, to help detect how many people are remaining there and to
get a better idea of the challenges they face. We would make this
information available to you.
“I recognise and respect that the Government had requested that we
convey information on this issue to the media.
“However, after consultation with New York I have been advised that
any clarification should be issued from there, given the international
awareness of the issue and also that our office had not released the
data,” the UN representative’s letter noted.