Smuggled Evidence Shows ‘Industrial-Scale Killing’ of Syrian Prisoners

Report released to news organizations suggests war crimes on mass scale by Syrian government

A report conducted by three international war crimes prosecutors and released to news organizations Monday claims to provide “clear evidence” of “industrial-scale killing” of 11,000 detainees at the hands of the Syrian government.

The report pulls from a trove of government photographs and documents, as well as testimony provided by a former Syrian military police photographer who had worked secretly with a Syrian opposition group and later defected and fled the country.

The Guardian, who has published the documents, reports:

Syrian government officials 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.

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. […]

Three experienced forensic science experts examined and authenticated samples of 55,000 digital images, comprising about 11,000 victims.

The three lawyers who conducted the report–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–said that after three sessions over the course of 10 days they found the source, who’s identity is being protected, to be credible.

The UN as well as human rights groups have uncovered abuses by Bashar al-Assad’s government as well as rebel groups in the past.

“We have documented repeatedly how Syria’s security services regularly torture — sometimes to death — detainees in their custody,” said Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch who emphasized that his organization has not had the opportunity to authenticate Monday’s report.

“These photos — if authentic — suggest that we may have only scratched the surface of the horrific extent of torture in Syria’s notorious dungeons. There is only one way to get to the bottom of this and that is for the negotiating parties at Geneva II to grant unhindered access to Syria’s detention facilities to independent monitors.”

The Guardian adds:

The defector, who for security reasons is identified only as Caesar, was a photographer with the Syrian military police. He smuggled the images out of the country on memory sticks to a contact in the Syrian National Movement, which is supported by the Gulf state of Qatar. Qatar, which has financed and armed rebel groups, has called for the overthrow of Assad and demanded his prosecution for war crimes.

The 31-page report, which was commissioned by a leading firm of London solicitors acting for Qatar, is being made available to the UN, governments and human rights groups. Its publication appears deliberately timed to coincide with this week’s UN-organized Geneva II peace conference, which is designed to negotiate a way out of the Syrian crisis by creating a transitional government.

Reprinted with permission.