The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) yesterday examined photographs of about 11,000 Syrians said to have been tortured, starved and killed by the Syrian governments forces.
Most of the photographs were collected by a Syrian military police photographer, code-named Caesar, who smuggled them out on flash drives when he defected and joined an anti-Assad opposition group. Caesar, a crime scene photographer for the Syrian military police, was assigned in 2001 to photograph corpses at a military hospital that received bodies from three detention centres in the Damascus suburbs. In his testimony, the photographer described a highly bureaucratic system:
The procedure was that when detainees were killed at their places of detention their bodies would be taken to a military hospital to which he would be sent with a doctor and a member of the judiciary, Caesar’s function being to photograph the corpses There could be as many as 50 bodies a day to photograph which require 15 to 30 minutes of work per corpse, the report said. The reason for photographing executed persons was twofold. First to permit a death certificate to be produced without families requiring to see the body, thereby avoiding the authorities having to give a truthful account of their deaths; second to confirm that orders to execute individuals had been carried out.
The investigation was funded by Qatar, which has supported the opposition in the Syrian crisis, leading to some skepticism about the credibility of the photographs. The Syrian government has dismissed the Caesar report as politicised and lacking objectiveness and professionalism, a gathering of images of unidentified people, some of whom have turned out to be foreigners.
France was sponsoring the closed-door meeting, in hope of prompting referral of Syrian government to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes. While nearly 60 countries have demanded that Syria be referred to the ICC, the UNSC has failed to reach consensus: related resolutions have so far been blocked by China and Russia, and the Ukrainian crisis has made cooperation even harder.
French Ambassador to the United Nations Gérard Araud told reporters it was important for the Security Council to see such horrific images as his delegation prepares a resolution that would refer the Syrian conflict to the ICC. The council fell into silence after we displayed the images. Members were truly moved, Araud said. It will be to the ICC to investigate everything and to decide on every crime committed in Syria by the regime, he added. I have said it several times, we are not politicizing, it is not a charge against the regime. It is all the crimes committed and crimes are also committed by the opposition.
The report was presented to the UNSC by two of its authors: David Crane, the former first chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and Dr Stuart Hamilton, a British forensic pathologist. Sir Geoffrey Nice, lead prosecutor of former President Slobodan Miloevi? before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia also participated in the report. David Crane insisted on the credibility of the evidence. In our business we rarely have direct, specific photographic and written evidence of crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide. Most of these thugs dont write this stuff down,” he said.