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FSA Child Soldiers Covered Up, Reuters Promotes Monuments Men

By Matthew Russell Lee, Follow Up on Exclusive, Media Critique

UNITED NATIONS, February 5 -- The UN's report on Syria and children, on which Inner City Press first reported on January 29, says that the Free Syrian Army recruits and uses child soldiers.

   But who cares what it says? Reuters for example did not report on it until February 4, and then didn't cite the US law banning aid to child soldier recruiters.

  On February 5, rather than follow up, Reuters used a UN briefing about Syria and destruction of cultural heritage, largely by rebels, to promote the Hollywood film Monuments Men. (At the same UNESCO briefing, the State Department's Voice of America demanded to know if the Assad government is lying about protecting antiquities.)

  As to US Ambassador Samantha Power? Reuters' focus was not FSA child soldiers, but rather Pussy Riot, photo op and craven re-tweeting -- and on this, though not on the FSA child soldiers, the US Mission was fast with an e-mailed quote. This is how it works.

  And so on BBC Rico Hizon linked the Syrian child soldiers report to the delay in removing chemical weapons, with no mention of the FSA's recruitment. On CNN, Jake Tapper's first question to John Kerry was, "The United Nations says that Assadís regime is torturing children." What about Paragraph 12, and the US law?

   This is the story, then, of two UN reports and how they were either blared or covered up by sample wire Reuters.

   The more recent report shows the FSA recruiting and using child soldiers, which should for example ban them from US aid under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008.

    On January 29 Inner City Press first published quotes from the UN's report on Syria Children and Armed Conflict, specifically that the FSA 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."

  Reuters didn't report on this until a full six days later -- it claimed that the report was only made public that day, February 4 -- and did not mention the US law on support to child soldier recruiters.

   Inner City Press back on January 30 asked the US Mission to the UN to respond to the report. 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.

 (By contrast, the old United Nations Correspondents Association on whose executive committee Reuters has in essence a Permanent seat defended this untransparent treatment of UN reports; last July 26, UNCA sponsored Syria rebel "president" Ahmad al Jarba for a faux "UN briefing," click here for that.)

  In this Syria / FSA child soldiers case, the delay by the UN -- and as noted by Reuters -- 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, certainly not by Reuters.

   Contrast this with Reuters' breathless blaring of advance copies of the UN's Democratic Republic of the Congo sanctions Group of Experts report accusing Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels.

  Last summer, Reuters highlighted those portions of the GoE report without publishing it. Inner City Press put the whole report online.

  Reuters made much of the next DRC Group of Experts report; its bureau chief pursued Rwandan Permanent Representative Eugene-Richard Gasana up to the UN escalator asking about the Group of Experts report, video here.

   Between these two, the Reuters UN bureau chief after trying to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN made a filing with Google to get his own e-mail complaint to the UN blocked from Google's search, claiming it was copyrighted and (mis) using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. His filing is available here, via the Electronic Frontier Foundation's ChillingEffects.org.

  By the logic of this censorship complaint to Google, any leaked document could be blocked for Google's Search under a claim of "copyright."

   On the Syria report 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 Syriaís 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 tható

 (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?"

  Inner City Press had previously noted to them difficulty is getting responses from the State Department in Washington, which says some of its notices are restricted to "mainstream" -- read, legacy -- media, and to "ask the Mission."

  The US Mission has yet to respond. But today's New York Times, saying that the child soldiers report was "quietly presented to the Security Council last week," has 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 as to the US and the recent report it is or is moving toward aiding the armed FSA, what steps will actually be taken on this UN report, which unlike the UN's report accusing Rwanda, Reuters was six days late in reporting, such as it did? Watch this site.


 

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