Syria torture photos ‘credible,’ says U.N. council
The council viewed graphic photos allegedly showing Syrians who had been tortured by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces
Leaked images allegedly showing Syrians tortured by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been described by the U.N. Security Council as evidence of systematic torture and mass killings.
During an informal meeting organized by France on Tuesday, the 15 member council viewed some of 55,000 photographs, reportedly smuggled out by a Syrian ex-military official.
The pictures, which were described as “credible,” were mainly of corpses that appeared showed signs of abuse, including strangulation and long-term starvation.
French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters after the closed-door session that seeing the horrific images was essential for preparing a resolution that would refer the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes indictments.
“The council fell into silence after we displayed the images,” Araud said in statements carried by Reuters, “members were truly moved.”
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power expressed a sense of horror after attending the informal council meeting.
“The gruesome images of corpses bearing marks of starvation, strangulation and beatings and today’s chilling briefing indicate that the Assad regime has carried out systematic, widespread and industrial killing,” she said.
“The perpetrators of these monstrous crimes must be held accountable, and the international community must unite in the face of such horrors,” she said.
Stuart Hamilton, a forensic pathologist, said the former Syrian military photographer, identified by the code name “Caesar,” smuggled the photos out of Syria between 2011 and mid-2013. Some 5,500 photos of 1,300 people were examined by a team of investigators.
“I’m content that they have not been digitally altered,” Hamilton said. He displayed photos of corpses with distinctive patterned bruises on their necks that he eventually identified to have come from strangulation with an auto timing belt.
While Caesar’s photos would appear to offer evidence of war crimes by the Syrian government, Araud and Crane said that crimes had also been committed by opposition forces, though their actions were not documented by Caesar.
“All sides are committing international crimes,” Crane said. “We’re well beyond a good-guy, bad-guy scenario here. We just have human beings killing human beings at a scale that has not been seen since Rwanda.”
Crane added that Caesar’s evidence was of very high quality.
“The photographs, the witness himself, are credible and sustainable in a court of law at the international or domestic level,” he said.