In Media critique, Multipolarity

New Cold, Dec 14, 2016

UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville tells CBC ‘he doesn’t really know’ what is going on in Aleppo

The weekday newsmagazine broadcast of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, ‘The Current’, broadcasts a story on the morning of December 14, 2016 about the situation in Aleppo. Unable to call upon CBC journalists, because there are none in Syria, the program interviews two people in eastern Aleppo and one United Nations official in Geneva.

The broadcast begins with an interview with an journalist in Aleppo, Zouhir Al Shimale. He writes for outlets friendly to the opposition forces in Aleppo, such as Al Jazeera and Middle East Eye. Back in August, he began one report with:

When the Syrian government and its Russian allies besieged rebel-held east Aleppo last month, Afraa Hashen felt the last remnants of normality evaporate from the city. As the bombs and shells continued to rain down, Hashen said she had to step up and do her part to help both the opposition fighters at the front, as well as the teams of doctors and nurses working around the clock to provide medical services to the 300,000 people encircled by the siege…

Al Shimale describes the stages of fighting in the fall of eastern Aleppo to Syrian government forces. Noises of shelling occasionally sound in the background. “That sounds really close to you,” says the CBC host after a particularly noisy sound of explosions. Al Shimale says shells just fell in his street. “Many people are screaming in the streets,” he says. Except the “screams” heard in the background sound like they are coming from people in the room where he is sitting. The “screams” end as quickly as they started.

He concludes the CBC interview with:

Just go and do something for Syrian people who are in the streets. Try to demonstrate against the Russian and the Syrian state — try to put pressure against them.

We might be killed … I will have hope. Maybe we will survive … As long as I have breath in my lungs and my heart is beating so I will keep hope.

The program speaks to Lina Shami, a young, female “anti-regime activist” in Aleppo who describes breathlessly the “horrible actions” being committed by Syrian armed forces. She explains there is little or no medical assistance for east Aleppo residents injured in the fighting taking place. She said that whenever Syrian forces have taken control of districts in eastern Aleppo, “horrible things” would happen to any medical staff found there.

The young woman claims the entire medical staff of Al-Hayat Hospital were executed by Syrian soldiers. No date of this supposed act is provided. “How do you know that, Lina?” asks the CBC host. “Because [the victims] are our friends… We used to visit them and they would visit us,” she replies.

Amazingly, not a single news report appears in English of this apparently heinous act. But coincidentally, Al-Hayat Hospital in Aleppo was the target of a car bomb attack. Except it happened in in September 2012, at the outset of the Western-backed regime change war in Syria. The hospital had been treating injured Syrian army soldiers. Some 30 people died in the car bomb attack. (Associated Press, Sept 10, 2012.)

Lina Shami issued a “last message” on YouTube on Dec 13 that was widely relayed by Western media. She tells the world in the 40-second message that “genocide” is underway in eastern Aleppo. She concludes her message with “Save Aleppo, save humanity.”

Finally, the CBC program turns to an interview with Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights speaking from Geneva. Colville is a British career diplomat at the UN. On December 13, he famously described the liberation of Aleppo by the Syrian army from right-wing, regime-change occupation forces as “a complete meltdown of humanity”. This phrase has headlined Western news reports on December 14.

“It’s difficult” to assess what is going on in Aleppo, Colville tells the CBC, because his office does not have a presence in Syria. Instead, it relies on undescribed “networks” of informers. He describes the tentative ceasefire and evacuation agreement of December 13 as “very complicated”.

“I really can’t tell you” about the implementation of the agreement that was reached on December 13, Colville said. But he says the deal is not happening, and that is “disgusting”.

The UN Security Council has been an “abject failure”, Colville, says, because he and other UN officials have been trying to take the Syrian government to the International Criminal Court for the past five years and the Security Council has failed to approve that punitive course.

Colville says it is “impossible to tell” how many residents remain in eastern Aleppo. He also said “we don’t know” where the residents who are exiting eastern Aleppo into government-held areas through humanitarian corridors are ending up, saying, “That’s the worry”.

“There may be people being separated out and taken away to places and nobody is really sure.”

Curiously, or not, even English-language media reports from Syria, leave alone Arabic-language reports, answer many of the UN representative’s “don’t knows” concerning Aleppo. Why, exactly, does his UN office have no presence in Syria or, evidently, no accurate reporting from there?


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