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On Syria, UNICEF Won't Say Who Counted 1600 Dead, Wires Use

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 2 -- After UNICEF's Patrick McCormick was quoted that "at least 1,600 people were killed in Syria last week" and Reuters said he was "citing a U.N. document," Inner City Press asked McCormick, which document? And how was the data collected?

   McCormick answered, "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.

  Later on September 2, AP ran a headline "UNICEF says 1,600 people were killed in Syria last week," noting down in the fifth paragraph of the story that McCormick "did not immediately explain how he arrived at the figure."

  On OCHA's ReliefWeb site is a UNICEF report which states "a record death toll of 1,600 persons was reported." So it appeared that UNICEF's McCormick was quoting a UNICEF report. Why then pass the buck to OCHA?

And so Inner City Press has asking asked McCormick:

"on OCHA's ReliefWeb website in the UNICEF weekly report, it's stated that 'A record death toll of 1,600 persons was reported.' The question: reported by whom? Does the figure cited, in the UNICEF report and by you, include military deaths? Deaths among armed groups?

"Seems important to answer this, especially since the UN system says in other contexts it does not have access and / or does not count the dead. If you're saying that the UNICEF report you cited was based on OCHA information, please which what information, or who it is at OCHA you're saying I should call."

There has been no answer, even as the figure is distributed all over the world (click here for Washington Post).

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. How 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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