BEIRUT: The Syrian regime has systematically killed thousands of detainees and could face war crimes charges, according to a report released just a day ahead of the Geneva II peace conference.
The 31-page report, written by a team of global experts, is based on thousands of photographs smuggled out of Syria by a defector from Bashar Assad’s government. A former military policeman, identified in the report as ‘Caesar’, photographed the copses of tortured prisoners whose deaths were then allegedly attributed to “heart attacks” or “breathing problems.”
Three prominent international lawyers penned the report, based on Caesar’s testimony, and concluded that there was clear evidence of “systematic torture” of 11,000 prisoners between March 2011 and August 2013. These findings could support a prosecution of “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes,” the experts said.
The roughly 5,500 photographs smuggled out of Syria on a USB drive show evidence of strangulation, electrocution and starvation, forensics experts say. Some corpses were photographed without their eyes.
The report, published in full by the Guardian, said that “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."
Although evidence of torture by the regime and its opponents has been documented before, the breadth and detail of the crimes documented in the report makes it perhaps the largest dossier on the alleged crimes of the Syrian regime.
The report’s release appears to have been timed to coincide with the beginning of a Syria peace conference, designed to find a negotiated solution to the 34-month conflict. The talks – dubbed Geneva II – are due to begin on Wednesday, but have been plagued with challenges over who will attend and what role Assad will have in the future of Syria.
Qatar, which has been providing the rebels with weapons and has called for Assad’s removal from power, commissioned and funded the report.