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'Systematic torture' in Syria

January 21, 2014

Former international prosecutors have accused the Syrian government of large-scale killing and torture. Their report, backed by Qatar, is based on photographic evidence from a military police defector.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

A team of three former international prosecutors has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime of "systematic torture and killing" in a 31-page report obtained by the Guardian newspaper and CNN.

The report was commissioned by the Gulf state of Qatar, which backs the Syrian rebels.

The report is based on evidence from an unnamed informant, a photographer who claims to have defected from the Syrian military police. Identified as ‘Caesar' to protect his identity, the informant said he had smuggled photographs and files out of Syria on memory sticks to a contact in the Syrian National Movement.

He claims that the smuggled data, which includes some 55,000 digital images, documents the deaths of 11,000 detainees in custody at the hands of the Syrian government from March 2011 until August 2013.

Some of the photographs show emaciated, bloodstained corpses bearing signs of torture. Others show bodies with eyes missing, while there are signs of strangulation or electrocution on others.

'Caesar' claims they died in captivity before being taken to a military hospital to be photographed.

The former prosecutors said they were satisfied there was "clear evidence, capable of being believed by a tribunal of fact in a court of law, of systematic torture and killing of detained persons by the agents of the Syrian government. It would support findings of crimes against humanity and could also support findings of war crimes against the current Syrian regime."

The authors of the report include former chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, Desmond de Silva; Geoffrey Nice, who was the lead prosecutor in the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic; and Professor David Crane, who indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor.

The team said they found the informant and his evidence to be credible after "rigorous scrutiny." The images were also examined and authenticated by three forensic science experts, the Guardian said.

The report has been made available to the United Nations, national governments and human rights groups, the Guardian reported.

The report can be found online at both the Guardian and CNN's websites.

Geneva 2 on the horizon

The report comes just ahead of the Geneva 2 peace talks, due to be held on Wednesday, which are aimed at negotiating an end to Syria's three-year-old civil war.

On Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rescinded an offer to include Iran in this week's Syria peace conference, less than 24 hours after making it. The decision came after the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), threatened to boycott the talks.

Shortly after Ban withdrew the offer to Iran, the SNC confirmed its participation in the conference.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, leading Syrian philosopher and human rights advocate Sadiq al-Azm said that even if Geneva 2 is successful, it is questionable whether the goals can be fully realized without sending foreign troops to Syria.

"Ultimately, a denominationally and ideologically neutral form of government must be established in Syria," he told DW.

The talks, to be held in the Swiss resort town of Montreux, are to be attended by high-ranking delegations from the US, Russia and nearly 40 other nations.

hc/pfd (Reuters, AFP)