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On Syria Draft, ICP's Told Russia Has Its Own Language, "Opposes 30%"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 11 -- The Syria "humanitarian draft resolution" meeting continued in the UN Security Council long after Ambassadors Churkin, Lyall Grant and Araud left on February 11.

  When Russia's Vitaly Churkin left, he said "We had a good exchange on the humanitarian challenges in Syria."  Araud gave something of a speech, citing President Francois Hollande and foreign minister Laurent Fabius (at whose State Dinner in Washington Al Sharpton, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor were) and proposing to go "right to the end."

   Afterward Security Council sources told Inner City Press that Russia had said it has its own language to suggest; one said Russia "opposed thirty percent of the draft but wouldn't say which thirty percent."  But they expect some counter-language, "this could go on for a while."

   After Araud's speech at the stakeout, his spokesperson Frederic Jung made sure various forms of friendly state media could be serviced.

  Inner City Press asked, repeatedly, "Child soldiers?"  This is because the Free Syrian Army, which France supports, has been found by the UN itself to both recruit and use child soldiers.  Here is the UN report (Para 12-13); here is UK comment.

  Since this was ostensibly a French priority under Araud's predecessor Jean-Maurice Ripert and de la Sabliere before that, Inner City Press put the question to Araud.

   But Araud's spokesperson Jung called on France 24, he called on US state media, he called, twice, on Reuters UN bureau chief.  Finally when Inner City Press again said "Child soldiers?" Araud answered as he walked away from the microphone -- pulling a Ladsous, it's called -- saying "O.P. 1," or operative paragraph one, which cites the UN report and condemns recruitment and use.

  But that's not the question: the question is, how can France continue to support a group that is named by the UN as a recruiter and user of child soldiers? We will continue asking.

  When UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi took press questions in Geneva on February 11, he confirmed he'll meet on February 14 with the US' Wendy Sherman and Russia's Gatilov, then return to New York "sometime next week" to tell Secretary General Ban Ki-moon what's going on.

    (Apparently phones and e-mail aren't good enough -- perhaps wise in light of the NSA and Nuland's intercepted call about Jeff Feltman and F- the EU.)

   Just as at the US State Department briefing on February 10, Brahimi was asked, Why wait until Friday? Brahimi said these are important people, it's hard to find a day.  Told that Syria's Mekdad complained his government had not been consulted, Brahimi agreed, saying that's how these trilateral meetings are done.

   Why don't you impose an agenda, Brahimi was asked.  He replied, I can't put a gun to their heads.

  The next question began, since you don't have a gun -- Brahimi cut in, I do have a gun but I don't want to use it. But what's the gUN?

  At the UN on the evening of February 10, at Iran's National Day reception featuring, among others, the Permanent Representatives of France, the UK and China, many references were made to how "delicate" the talks in Geneva are. Some cite this as the reason not to vote on the draft humanitarian resolution Russia's Vitaly Churkin calls "beyond redemption." Could ending the talks be Brahimi's gun?

  Here's Inner City Press tweeted photo of French PR Araud and Iran's PR Khazaee, and here's one of Araud making some point to Ban Ki-moon moments before.

The Syria "humanitarian draft" which French foreign minister Laurent Fabius has vowed to push in UN Security Council this week, while French President Francois Hollande is in Washington and San Francisco, was described by Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin on February 10 as "beyond redemption."

  "They were trying to convene a meeting, but we felt that was not necessary," Churkin told the press. "They were insisting that the meeting should be dedicated to discussing a certain text, but we felt the text is beyond redemption." He said Russia wants to be back to "pragmatics."

  "This text is not going to be adopted," Churkin said, coming out of the UN Security Council seconds behind US Ambassador Samantha Power.

  An hour earlier in the US State Department briefing, deputy spokesperson Marie Harf had talked up the humanitarian resolution; she was asked why the US is supposedly deferring to the too-slow UN, after the high level humanitarian meeting in Rome.

  Churkin also said that meeting has been "quite useless" and that it "departed from the original conception." UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos is slated to brief the Security Council about it on February 13, but now one wonders: to what end?

  In Geneva, UN mediator Brahimi met with the Syrian National Coalition and the government's Bashar Ja'afari, usually its ambassador at the UN. Unlike in the last round, Brahimi did not hold a press conference. France 24 showed Ja'afari walking into entrance A13 of the UN in Geneva, then the SNC, in a loop.

  Neither they, nor other ostensibly Syria-focused media have done much follow up, but on January 29 Inner City Press first published quotes from the UN's report on Syria Children and Armed Conflict, specifically that the Free Syrian Army recruits and uses child soldiers:

"Throughout the reporting period, the United Nations received consistent reports of recruitment and use of children by FSA-affiliated groups."

  Inner City Press asked the US Mission to the UN to respond to the report, since Congress in its 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act said the US Government should condemn the use of child soldiers by paramilitaries like the FSA. Inner City Press was told to put the request for comment in writing, and did, to the UK Mission as well.

   The report had already been circulated to Security Council members in English; the UK said it would wait to provide Inner City Press with a comment until the report was made official on February 3, that is to say, when it was translated into the UN's five other official languages and put on the Internet.

   Readers asked Inner City Press where on the UN website to find the Syria child soldiers report. Inner City Press told them it would go online on February 3, and noted that the Free UN Coalition for Access had previously opposed the UN withholding or delaying the release of important document like this.

  In this case, however, the delay affirmatively helped the Syrian opposition. On January 29 they were in Geneva, issuing statements about abuses by the Assad government. They were not asked about the Free Syrian Army's use of child soldiers.

   On February 3, Inner City Press again asked the UK for its comment, and it did arrive the following day on February 4:

"The UK absolutely condemns the use of child soldiers in all cases, and strongly supports international efforts to stop the use of child soldiers. We urge all parties in the Syrian conflict to release any children held in detention.

"Armed conflict affects millions of lives around the world, and children are among those most vulnerable to the effects of conflict. The only way to secure the long-term future of Syria’s children is to find a political solution to the crisis.

"We have made clear our absolute condemnation of the use of child soldiers. As noted in this report, the use of child soldiers by the opposition is not systematic and is limited to certain elements. We have provided training to the Supreme Military Council of the Syrian opposition on the law of armed conflict, and will continue to work with them to help ensure that they meet their obligations under international law."

    Before publishing the UK's quote, Inner City Press again in writing asked two spokespeople of the US Mission to the UN for their comment -- noting that the UK had provided one. As Inner City Press noted, that might be OK for the United Kingdom -- but what about the US, including in light of the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which provides for example:

It is the sense of Congress that—

 (1) the United States Government should condemn the conscription, forced recruitment, or use of children by governments, paramilitaries, or other organizations;

 (2) the United States Government should support and, to the extent practicable, lead efforts to establish and uphold international standards designed to end the abuse of human rights described in paragraph (1);

  There are prohibitions on funding which can only be overridden for formal, public findings by the President. Given all this, Inner City Press on February 4 again asked the two spokespeople for the US Mission to the UN its January 30 question: "could the US provide aid to a non-state group, the FSA and its affiliates, which the UN has found using child soldiers?"

  The New York Times, saying that the child soldiers report was "quietly presented to the Security Council last week," had a quote from the State Department. Why was the report, and this statement, delayed a full six days until the Geneva II talks were over?

  Even more cynically, Voice of America on whose Broadcasting Board of Governors US Secretary of State John Kerry serves, also ran a delayed / withheld story on the report; Reuters typically didn't bring up the US Child Soldiers Prevention Act  and claimed that the report was released on February 4, when even the Times said it was February 3 -- and see Inner City Press' January 29 story, here.

 On January 29, Inner City Press published additional quotes from the report, including that:

"Boys aged 12 to 17 were trained, armed, and used as combatants or to man checkpoints. For instance, a 15 year-old boy reported being recruited in April 2012 by the FSA in Tall Kalakh (Tartus governate), and participation in military operations.... Also indicative was the case of a 16 year-old boy from Homs who reportedly joined the FSA as a combatant. In March 2013, his family reported to the United Nations that he was still fighting with the group."

And is this boy still fighting with the FSA? There is more to be said about this UN report, but what steps will actually be taken on this UN report? Watch this site.


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