Dividing opinion: Sonny Bill Williams. Photo: Getty Images Sonny Bill Williams tweets graphic images of dead childrenUnicef criticises Sonny Bill Williams for tweeting photos of dead children
Sonny Bill Williams has received a flood of online support for his decision to share two pictures of dead children on social media in an attempt to raise awareness of Syria’s refugee crisis.
The popular All Black tweeted the two pictures, which Fairfax Media has chosen not to publish due to their graphic nature, on Tuesday evening along with the caption: “What did these children do to deserve this? This summer share a thought for the innocent lives lost everyday in war.”
The tweet comes less than a month after Williams’ return from visiting a refugee camp in Lebanon as a Unicef ambassador.
Williams travelled with the charity to help bring awareness to the plight of Syrian children and their families living in the camps.
The disturbing photos showed two boys aged about 10 lying on the ground, covered in blood and fatal injuries.
Early mixed reactions to Williams’ tweet were followed by a flood of support on Twitter.
TV3 news anchor Mike McRoberts, who travelled to the refugee settlement in Lebanon with Williams was quick to show his support of the tweet.
“If @SonnyBWilliams tweet made you feel uncomfortable and talk about Syria’s most vulnerable, then good, that was the point. Well done SBW,” McRoberts tweeted. If @SonnyBWilliams tweet made you feel uncomfortable and talk about Syria’s most vulnerable, then good, that was the point. Well done SBW.— Mike McRoberts (@MrMikeMcRoberts) December 29, 2015
Meanwhile, another man who said he was a combat veteran also gave his support to Williams.
“Seen worse than this as a combat vet. Maybe if ppl see more of this they would develop compassion, not call 4 war so much.”
Others said it was important to clearly show the effects of war, rather than pretending these types of atrocities did not happen.
Unicef NZ executive director Vivien Maidaborn said she understood why Williams shared the photos and that his intentions were good but the charity would not be sharing the photos and asked others to refrain from doing so.
“UNICEF’S mission is to protect the dignity and rights of children – even in death.
“Children have a right under a United Nations convention to how their image is portrayed and it is our joint responsibility to give children this right in death.”
Maidaborn, who was also with Williams during his trip to Lebanon, said Williams made a real connection with everyone he met at the refugee settlement.
“I think the photos he posted were an expression of his sense of bewilderment with the world.”
However, entering a “cycle of fear and terror and shock” was unlikely to help Syria’s most vulnerable, she said.
While experts questioned whether Williams’ tweet would have the desired effect, they did acknowledge the power of the image of a young refugee’s body washed up on a Turkish beach.
The image became a symbol of the refugee crisis and was circulated by media across the globe in September. There’s no way that @SonnyBWilliams should be “condemned” for those pictures. People need to not turn there backs on these things. #wakeup— Lachie McLellan (@MclellanLachie) December 30, 2015
Some found this picture distressing, saying media who republished the story did not treat the boy with respect and dignity.
But a Press Council ruling on the use of the photo said there was a strong public interest in the topic.
“There is no doubt that the photographs in question are disturbing and powerful images that depict very clearly the pathos and horror of the refugee crisis.”
The council said the images bore comparison with the images of the naked nine-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phoc fleeing a napalm attack in the Vietnam War “and are all the more poignant for the absence of any overt signs of violence”.
“Like the Vietnam War images, they have had an effect on the policies of nations across the world.”
Williams’ tweet has been shared about 2400 times since it was posted on Tuesday evening.
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