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On Syria, UNICEF 1600 Death Count UNexplained, OCHA Doesn't Answer

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 2 -- On Syria, UNICEF has twice offered casualty figures it refused to explain, but that have now gone out all over the world.

  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 replied, "call OCHA" -- the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

   But in the seven hours since, no anwers. OCHA's lead spokesperson is away, as is one of the two referred-to replacements. The other did not respond. Nor did McCormick, to follow-ups.

  Still UNICEF's number has continued to proliferate.  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."

   Voice of America at 2 pm on September 2 dutifully quoted McCormick on the numbers for UNICEF, headed by Anthony Lake.

 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. Can UNICEF's spokesman McCormick not explain UNICEF's own numbers? Why else pass the buck to OCHA?

This seemed strange anyway: 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.

 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?

  Inner City Press has asked McCormick and OCHA:

"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 in other contexts has said it does not have access (in Syria at least since UNSMIS left) and / or does not count the dead (I was told this regarding Sri Lanka in 2009 -- I thought and think that UN should at least do this, where it can.

  There has been no answer, even as the figure is distributed all over the world  Click here for Washington Post; it's since been in, among others, Canada's big newspapers, GlobalPost, IBT, Slate, and the Huffington Post.

  Will this be like the Inner City Press exposed but never corrected claim that new UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is a "Nobel Peace laureate"? Click here for that. And watch this site.

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