Kiwi rugby star Sonny Bill Williams has come under criticism for tweeting out a graphic photo of two dead children following a UNICEF-sponsored trip to a Lebanon refugee camp.
The All Blacks and Chiefs player, who was key to New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup success in London in August, tweeted a photo of what appears to be two young children who have been killed in an explosion. He accompanied the split image with: “What did these children do to deserve this? This summer share a thought for the innocent lives lost everyday (sic) in war.”
The tweet was posted on Tuesday, after Williams had returned from a visit to settlements in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border with Lebanon, where he was working with UNICEF New Zealand as an ambassador. He is not an official UNICEF ambassador, but rather was invited to join the trip with the organization to help him understand — and promote awareness of — the plight of those affected by Syria’s civil war.
The tweet has met with mixed responses, and at the time of writing had been retweeted 1,700 times and liked 2,100 times. Some called him “insensitive” while others supported his decision to “highlight reality.”
UNICEF New Zealand has distanced itself from Williams’ post, and a spokesman confirmed that the photos were not taken while Willimas was in Lebanon. While acknowledging that he was clearly “deeply moved” by his experience with the Syrian refugees, the organization condemned his decision to display the photo to his 556,000 followers.
“We see it as a fundamental infringement of those children’s rights,” UNICEF spokesman Patrick Rose was quoted as saying in the New Zealand Herald. “But at the same time, we don’t have the capacity to censor or edit private citizens’ showing what they find on their individual explorations online.
“We are as disturbed as anyone when we see those images but we want to offer a positive framework for people to respond to that.
“We can’t stop the war, we can’t stop these things happening to people, but what we can do is help children by getting them clean water, by getting them counseling to help them deal with that trauma and to help them have a better future by keeping them in school.”
The organization had previously posted images of Williams, or SBW as he is known in New Zealand, playing with children at the Lebanese camps.
The Herald later reported that the photos were of two children killed in a Russian airstrike which were circulated in Turkish media, quoting a Syrian civil defense official who said that the deadly strike happened in Idlib province.