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On Syria, UN News Centre Air-Brushes FSA Child Soldiers From Report

By Matthew Russell Lee, Follow Up on Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, February 6 -- A week after Inner City Press first quoted the UN report on Syria and child soldiers, and that the Free Syrian Army recruits and uses them (from Paragraph 12), the UN's own "UN News Centre" belatedly put out 800 words about the report.

  But tellingly, three words NOT in the UN News Centre report are "Free Syrian Army." The US has resisted addressing this, because they support the FSA, now contrary to Congress' 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act.

  But should the UN be burying this part of its own report, a report that was ready but not put on the UN's website until after the Geneva II round of Syria talks?

  As Inner City Press reported in September, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hosted Syria rebel and FSA supporter Ahmad al Jarbar at Ban's residence, quietly -- without notice in the UN Media Alert and with no independent, only UN in-house media there.

   The United Nations Correspondents Association used the big room Ban's UN gives them to host a faux "UN briefing" for Jarba in July 2013. Reuters, which has in essence a Permanent seat on the UNCA board, was six days late in selectively re-typing the UN Syria child soldiers report, contrary to their gleeful pre-spin, for example, of reports alleging Rwandan support of the M23.
  FSA? What FSA?

  UNICEF director Tony Lake, former US National Security Adviser, spoke out yesterday about the UN report on child soldiers in Syria. But he neglects to mention that the Free Syrian Army, supported by the US and many countries on the UNICEF board, is shown to recruit and use child soldiers.

  After 6 pm on February 5 UNICEF put this out:

The grave violations against children cited in the report demand a response. UNICEF joins the Secretary General in calling for an immediate end to the targeting of innocent children and civilians, including the use of weapons that cause indiscriminate and disproportionate harm, such as those employed in a deadly wave of attacks across Aleppo this week.

In a meeting of the UNICEF Executive Board today, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said that all those involved in the conflict and those who have influence over them have an obligation to do everything possible to protect children from violence – violence that is not of children’s making, and in which they should play no part.

     Just as the US is trying not to directly answer on the implications of the FSA portion of the report, under the 2008 US Child Soldiers Prevention Act, UNICEF does not mention this aspect. But might they act on it? Yesterday, Lake answered Inner City Press' question on the looting and use of UNICEF backpacks by the army of South Sudan, a US ally, video here.

   Amid reports that the US already provides or is ready to provide aid to armed groups in Syria like the Free Syrian Army (FSA), on January 29 Inner City Press first highlighted and then on January 30 asked the US Mission to the UN a finding in the UN's then-unpublished report on Children and Armed Conflict in Syria:

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

  The US has cited the recruitment and use of child soldiers to suspend US aid to armies of governments which had previously been receiving it.  Inner City Press asked, so how could the US provide aid to a non-state group which even the UN has found using child soldiers?

  The US Mission to the UN was asked, orally and then in writing, on January 29. Another mission said it would only comment after the report was published and became official.

  On February 4, the UK Mission to the UN provided this response to Inner City Press:

"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."

    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 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?"

  Now we add: (in) consistent with the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008.

 The report, now issued as a document of the UN Security Council under the symbol S/2014/31, goes on to recount:

"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 be taken on this UN report? Watch this site.

Footnote: While the US does sometimes answer questions, and is often pleasant as for example on a recent inquiry with the State Department about Sri Lanka, too often it does not.

  The US Mission never provided an explanation of what several Security Council members told Inner City Press the US Mission had said about its "policy" on how to described the Rwanda genocide; the State Department in Washington appears to have a policy of limiting its most timely information alternatively to "mainstream" -- often meaning dying or pro-Administration -- media and to those which support its positions.  But we will keep asking. Watch this site.


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