MORE THAN 11,000 DETAINEES TORTURED, KILLED AND PHOTOGRAPHED, REVEAL INTERNATIONAL LAWYERS
DUBAI, Jan 22 – Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad and senior regime members could face war crimes charges in the light of a huge cache of evidence smuggled out of the country showing the “systematic killing” of about 11,000 detainees, according to three eminent international lawyers.
The three, former prosecutors at the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, examined thousands of Syrian government photographs and files recording deaths in the custody of regime security forces from March 2011 to last August, reported Al Jazeera and Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
Most of the victims were young men and many corpses were emaciated, bloodstained and bore signs of torture. Some had no eyes; others showed signs of strangulation or electrocution.
The report was written by Desmond de Silva, the former chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone; Geoffrey Nice, the former lead prosecutor in the trial of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic; and David Crane, who indicted the Liberian president, Charles Taylor.It features evidence from a forensic pathologist, an anthropologist who investigated mass graves in Kosovo and an expert in digital images.
De Silva said the report was the “smoking gun” showing evidence of “industrial-scale” killing by the Syrian regime.
The defector, identified only as “Caesar”, presented about 55,000 images of 11,000 dead prisoners since the start of the uprising in Syria in March 2011. The evidence was viewed by forensic experts commissioned by a London legal firm representing Qatar.
The defector claims that the victims all died in captivity before being taken to a military hospital to be photographed.
“The pictures show over a period of years the systematic murder of detainees by starvation, by torture, the gouging out of eyes, the hideous beating of people, the mutilation of bodies,” De Silva said.
The report says that all but one of the victims were male. Most appeared to be aged between 20 and 40 and a “very significant percentage” showed evidence of starvation.
Buried in rural areas
The defector “informed the inquiry team that there could be as many as 50 bodies a day to photograph which required 15 to 30 minutes of work per corpse”, the report said.
He said the purpose of the photos was firstly to be able to issue death certificates – falsely saying that the victims had died in hospital – and secondly to confirm to the regime that executions had been carried out.
The bodies would then be buried in rural areas.
The authors of the report said they found the informant and his evidence to be credible after subjecting them to “rigorous scrutiny” and have made their findings available to the UN, governments and human rights groups.
The fact that the defector had not claimed to have actually witnessed any of the killings added credibility to his story, they said.
He later escaped from Syria fearing for the safety of his family.
“There came a point a few months ago where he decided that he couldn’t take it anymore, so he decided to defect and he left. He could well have gone to Qatar, yes,” said De Silva.
Crane called the evidence “amazing” and suggested there was a strong case for prosecution.
“Now we have direct evidence of what was happening to people who had disappeared,” he said.
“This is the first provable, direct evidence of what has happened to at least 11,000 human beings who have been tortured and executed and apparently disposed of.”
Tip of the Iceberg
The cache of evidence smuggled out of Syria showing the “systematic killing” of 11,000 detainees in Syrian jails may only be the tip of the iceberg, international aid agencies have said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, UN bodies and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly complained of having next to no access to detainees and being stonewalled by Syrian authorities despite repeated requests to visit infamous detention sites, such as Sayednaya prison in Damascus.
They said Monday’s report by three eminent international lawyers that at least 11,000 victims have been killed while in detention represents numbers in only one part of the country.
“All I know after years of trying to get access is that this is likely to eventually shock the world,” one senior official from an international body told the Guardian, on condition of anonymity. “What we have seen in the [war crimes lawyers’] report broadly reflects what we have pieced together over the past few years.”
Syrian activists say an estimated 50,000 detainees are unaccounted for. Tens of thousands of Syrians have been held in the country’s infamous detention centres and released, often after months of deprivation and torture.—Al Jazeera, Guardian, agencies