Sonny Bill Williams criticised for sharing graphic images of dead children in war

Unicef said the images were 'a fundamental infringement of those children's rights'

Sonny Bill Williams has been criticised by Unicef for sharing graphic images of dead children on Twitter, weeks after visiting Syrian refugees in Lebanon with the charity.

Williams, who helped New Zealand to victory in the Rugby World Cup held in England in September, recently visited informal settlement camps in Lebanon where he met, talked to and played with many children affected by the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

Much of his trip, at the beginning of December, was documented on his social media pages as well as Unicef’s.

Clearly affected by his trip Williams asked his 557,000 followers on Tuesday to “spare a thought” for the “innocent lives lost every day in war”.

He asked: “What did these children do to deserve this?” and attached two graphic images of dead young children. It is not known where the photos were taken or who the children in the photos were.

However his choice of photos drew a divided response from Twitter users. Some appreciated the All Black’s efforts to raise awareness and show “relevant and important” pictures, while others criticised him for not including a trigger warning and reminded him young people can access Twitter.

Additionally, a spokesperson for Unicef – the organisation who Williams accompanied on his recent trip – also criticised the sharing of the photos.

Patrick Rose, from Unicef, told the New Zealand Herald the images were “a fundamental infringement of those children’s rights” but at the same time the organisation doesn’t “have the capacity to sensor or edit private citizens’ showing what they find on their individual explorations online”.

“We [Unicef] 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 counselling to help them deal with that trauma and to help them have a better future by keeping them in school.” 

Unicef told the paper the images were not taken on Williams’ recent trip and that Williams’ is not an official ambassador for the UN agency.

They also said they had tried to contact Williams regarding the photos, but as of Wednesday had been unsuccessful in their attempt.

“I don’t think anyone would be happy about those kinds of images. It certainly wasn’t something that he consulted us about and they weren’t images that he’d taken on the trip with us,” Mr Rose said.

The Independent has contacted a representative for Williams for comment.

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