A cache of photographic evidence, which if independently authenticated, will establish grave human rights violations amounting to “crimes against humanity” by Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime has come to light. Coming as it does on the eve of the Syria peace talks beginning in Montreux on Wednesday, the disclosure is likely to add to the complexity of the negotiations, already in some uncertainty over Iran having been dropped by the U.N. from the international effort to end the three-year conflict.
The evidence – over 55,000 digital images that formed the basis of a report by a three-member team of eminent international lawyers – was made available to CNN’s “Amanpour” in a joint exclusive with the Guardian.
The photographs show gruesome images of roughly 11,000 Syrian detainees – each photographed three or four times in a military hospital after their execution -- over the period from March 2011 to August 2013. The bodies “showed signs of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture and killing,” according to the report.
The images were taken by a member of the Syrian military police who was tasked with photographing the bodies, and who smuggled the images he took during the course of his work out of Syria on memory sticks. Codenamed “Caesar” by the inquiry team, the person later defected with his family fearing repercussions once the pictures were made public.
CNN stated that it could not independently verify the authenticity of the photographs and other documents referenced in the report, but has considered the report’s conclusions based on the credibility of the team, whose members include leading international lawyers and forensic experts with vast experience in the prosecution of war crimes.
The inquiry team was chaired by Sir Desmond de Silva QC, a former Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, who was personally appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations, and who brought about the arrest of President Charles Taylor of Liberia. Its other members were Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, former lead prosecutor of ex-President Milosevic of Yugoslavia before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; and Professor David M. Crane, the former First Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, in which capacity he indicted President Charles Taylor of Liberia. The team also included a distinguished panel of forensic specialists.
“Caesar,” who the team interrogated on January 12, 13 and 18 was a “truthful and credible witness,” according to the team’s report, who sent his photographs to a contact with links to international human rights groups.
According to the report, ‘Caesar” had to take photographs of people tortured and killed in detention. The reasons were two.
First, to give families a death certificate without them having to see the bodies, and second to confirm that orders to execute the individuals had been carried out. “Caesar” himself was not a witness to the torture and execution. He sometimes had to photograph upto 50 bodies a day, which suggests systematic killings, the report concludes.
The team said that there was evidence of “physical injury of the sort that would result from beating, binding, restraint or other physical assault but excluding injuries that could reasonably have occurred as the result of legal combat engagement.”
The inquiry team came to the conclusion that the evidence would support findings of “crimes against humanity” against the current Syrian regime. It would also support findings of war crimes against the regime.
The inquiry was commissioned by Carter-Ruck Solicitors, a legal firm that specializes in international law. The report does not disclose the individuals or organsations, if any, who employed Carter-Ruck Solicitors to commission the inquiry.