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On Syria, UN Says No Access, But UNICEF Says 1600 Dead in Week

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 2 -- Media are hungry for numbers about Syria, and what better and more credible place to get them than the UN system? But where in the UN system? And where do the numbers come from?

  On Sunday morning a New York Times assistant managing editor redistributed a short "CNN Breaking News" piece from earlier that morning, which began:

"(CNN) -- At least 1,600 people were killed in Syria last week, making it the deadliest week yet in the civil war, according to UNICEF. Patrick McCormick of the U.N. children's fund said the toll included children."

  No further sourcing beyond McCormick was provided, but a news search found a Reuters piece quoting McCormick that "Syria witnessed in the past week an escalation of violence particularly in Damascus. A record death toll of 1,600 persons was reported, including children," and saying McCormick was "citing a U.N. document."

  Inner City Press asked McCormick, to whom it has previously directed questions productively about child soldiers in Burundi and less productively about UNICEF Canada allegedly accepting funding from a pornographer, "what the UN document is, and how the figures were collected."

McCormick's two word answer was "call ocha" - the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

  This seemed strange, since in 2009 OCHA refused to release very specific casualty figures -- 2,683 --  it had collected in Sri Lanka.

  At the time, the UN told Inner City Press it is not in the business of counting the dead -- Inner City Press thought and thinks the UN should at least do this, where it can. But in a credible and transparent way.

   In Syria in 2012, the UN's mission has left after UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said that even observers in armored cars can't get around.

  When Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's office if the UN could confirm the shooting down a jet by the Syrian opposition, the answer was that the UN has no access and cannot confirm even that.

  How then would OCHA have collected figures of the type it refused to release in Sri Lanka in 2009, and why would it (well, UNICEF) release them about Syria in 2012? Watch this site.

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