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UNESCO senior advisor asks president to ban book critical of her conduct as former president

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 23 November 2006 FMM letter to UNESCO Director General Koïchiro Matsuura:

Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura
Director General,
7, Place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP

Dear Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura,


The Free Media Movement (FMM) is seriously concerned over news reports that Senior Advisor to UNESCO and former President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga, is seeking to take measures to ban a publication exposing details of her alleged corruption, misdeeds and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

As noted on its website, UNESCO, in keeping with its Constitution, advocates the basic human right of freedom of expression, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and its corollary, press freedom.

It is grossly incompatible therefore to have in its service spokespersons and advisors who do not subscribe to its core values. As reported in an interview with the former President in the "Sunday Leader" newspaper on 12 November 2006, Chandrika Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga is on record as saying:

"Now there is a book published in absolute filth about me, going so far as to say that I, a former President, orchestrated the bomb attack on myself. Now that book was not banned. If they could ban the 'Da Vinci Code' from cinemas in Sri Lanka, I am going to write to the President and ask why this book was not banned. In fact, I wrote to the President today".

The book referred to is "Choura Regina" ("Rogue Queen") written by Victor Ivan, a well-known journalist in Sri Lanka. The book alleges that the gross misuse of power, high levels of corruption, severe human rights violations and nepotism can be directly connected to Chandrika Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga during her tenure as President.

Recalling the statement of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on 26 October 2006, the FMM seeks urgent clarification from UNESCO on their response to one of their high-level spokespersons openly and grievously threatening the core values UNESCO and the UN is founded upon.

The FMM believes that the former president is within her rights to express her displeasure at publications that, in her perception, level unwarranted accusations against her. We support her in measures she can take to challenge such allegations by any legal means available to her.

The FMM notes that in a context where media freedom is eroding almost daily, statements urging further curtailment of freedom of expression and media freedom, made by those in influential positions, are intolerable and need to be condemned.

The FMM asks UNESCO to promptly take this matter up with its senior adviser, Mrs. Kumaratunga, and make its position known to those who value and protect freedom of expression.

At the same time, FMM sincerely hopes that the incumbent President does not take seriously Chandrika Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga's request to ban Victor Ivan's book and that the legitimate grievances of all parties concerned are addressed through means that do not further endanger media freedom in Sri Lanka.

Sincerely yours,

Sunanda Deshapriya
Convenor, Free Media Movement

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