Evidence of Syrian regime's torture, "industrial-scale killings" sparks calls for war crimes charges

Published January 21st, 2014 - 07:34 GMT
The report says there is evidence that President Bashar Assad's regime was involved in the "systematic torture" of detainees. (AFP/File)
The report says there is evidence that President Bashar Assad's regime was involved in the "systematic torture" of detainees. (AFP/File)

There is overwhelming evidence proving that Syria has systematically tortured and executed some 11,000 detainees since the onset of the civil war in 2011, a recent report compiled by three former war crimes prosectuors has claimed.

One of the report's authors told the BBC that there was clear evidence that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had been involved in the crimes, claims that Damascus has denied. 

The evidence examined by the investigators was made up of thousands of images of dead prisoners that were reportedly smuggled out of war-torn Syria by a former army photographer who defected.

British newspaper The Guardian - which, alongside CNN, first revealed the report - says that these latest claims of torture and executions appear to have been timed to coincide with the Geneva II peace conference, due to kick off in the Swiss town of Montreux this week.

The report into Syria's use of torture on detainees was commissioned by Qatar, according to the BBC. Evidence was provided by a military police photographer - referred to only as Caesar - who allegedly leaked some 55,000 digital images of 11,000 dead detainees after he defected from Assad's forces.

Although the death toll in the Syrian war is difficult to verify, it is accepted that well over 100,000 people have died in the conflict - and millions more have been forced from their homes.

Caesar told investigators that his job whilst serving in the army had been to photograph corpses in order to produce birth certificates. According to the BBC, he did not say he had witnessed the killings or torture himself. 

"There could be as many as 50 bodies a day to photograph which require 15 to 30 minutes of work per corpse," the report says.

According to The Guardian, the photographs cover the period from the start of the uprising in 2011 until August last year.

The report's investigators say that most of the bodies photographed were emaciated and that many had been beaten or strangled. 

The authors of the report are Sir Desmond de Silva QC, former chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the former lead prosecutor of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, and Professor David Crane, who indicted President Charles Taylor of Liberia at the Sierra Leone court.

Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice told the BBC's Newsday programme that the scale and consistency of the killings provided strong evidence of government involvement that could support a criminal prosecution. Forensic pathologist Stuart Hamilton also examined the evidence and told Newsday that  many of those photographed appeared to have been bound or restrained.

"There were a large number who had been beaten. And there were a significant minority who had clearly been strangled," he said, BBC reported.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says if the account is to be believed, it shows a chilling systematic documentation of the bodies, each of which was given a number.

De Silva told the Guardian that the evidence "documented industrial-scale killing". He added: "This is a smoking gun of a kind we didn't have before. It makes a very strong case indeed."

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