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At UN, At 2d Syria Photo Event, SNC Says 85% of ISIS Kills Are Military

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 9 -- Two months after the Syrian government sponsored a photo exhibition in the UN that the opposition Syrian National Coalition unsuccessfully asked the UN to cancel, on March 10 a counter-exhibition of photos depicting torture in Syrian prisons had its opening.

  US Deputy Permanent Representative Michele Sison, previously US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, moderated the proceedings, noting that US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Charles Rapp had come up from Washington.

 One wondered what the two of them, and other of the sponsors, thought of the UN giving an at least six month deferral to Sri Lanka for war crimes in 2009.

  Turkey's Ambassador called the Syrian National Coalition the real representatives of the Syrian people; the SNC's Najib Ghadbian said that Assad forces killed some 32,000 in 2014, 75% civilians, while ISIS or Da'esh in 2014 in Syria killed some 3000, 85% of whom were military, he said.

  Did US Ambassador Sison wince at the statement? It seemed that way. By the time the microphone portion of the event was over, no one had disagreed. Rapp took up a position for the camera of Saudi television; others wondered at the distinction between co-hosts and co-sponsors.

  Inner City Press learned that the organizers wanted the exhibit in a "better" location further down the hall but were given the same spot the Syrian government got. The idea of a Warning was theirs.

  On the evening before the opening, Inner City Press visited the site to find a Warning: The Following Images Are Disturbing.

  Another sign said "The content of this exhibition is solely the responsibility of the sponsoring and supporting member states, any queries should be directed to them."

  An invitation to the Press said that "The Permanent Missions of France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States and the co-sponsors the Permanent Missions of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Kuwait, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates cordially invite you to attend the opening of the exhibit “Caesar Photos: Inside Syrian Authorities’ Prisons” on Tuesday, 10 March 2015, 6-7pm, at the South Wall of the United Nations Conference Building."

 A separate invitation came from the Syrian National Coalition, which had tried to get the previous exhibition canceled:

Co-Hosts: Permanent Missions of France, the State of Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States

Co-Sponsored by: Co-Hosts and the Permanent Missions of the Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the State of Kuwait, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, United Arab Emirates

In Coordination with: Coalition for a Democratic Syria (CDS) and Syrian National Coalition

“Caesar Photos: Inside Syrian Authorities’ Prisons" exhibit displays photos of detainees from the prisons run by Syrian authorities that were taken by a defector from the Syrian army who is known by the pseudonym Caesar.

  Back on January 7, a day when officials around the world and at the UN after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris spoke about the right to freedom of expression and to display unpopular views, the UN received a protest to a photo exhibit about Syria set to begin the next day, January 8.

 The Syrian National Coalition -- the moderate opposition, in Washingtonese -- wrote to UN Management official Yukio Takasu:

"It has come to my attention that on 8 – 16 January 2015 the United Nations Secretariat Building will host an exhibit for the Syrian Arab Republic Mission featuring the photographs of Syrian regime propagandist Hagop Vanesian, in an event entitled 'My Homeland.' The UN cannot in good conscience host an exhibit that callously promotes a regime that is responsible for immense death and unprecedented destruction. By doing so, the UN condones the atrocities committed by Syrian forces, and serves as a mouthpiece for Assad’s heinous war crimes."

  As set forth below, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a contradictory way, in a private event in the clubhouse of a group that has itself engaged in censorship, spoke on January 7 about the need for freedom of expression.

  (Whether he's raised this in his native South Korea, where a newspaper editor faces criminal charges for insulting the president, is not known; the issue was not included in Ban's long read-out of his New Years call to South Korean president Park.)

  Perhaps Ban's Secretariat won't act on the SNC complaint, which we're linking to here, because it came one day before the exhibition. Will its response be about "freedom of expression"?

  There are certainly distinctions to be made between Charlie Hebdo, the Syrian government and this photographer, and we're open to hearing all. But what does freedom of expression mean?


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