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UN Council Sees Images of Syrian Dead  04/15 06:06

   On Tuesday, the Security Council will meet privately to view projected 
slides of the dead, who offer mute testimony to the savagery of a Syrian civil 
war in which more than 150,000 have died.

   UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The bodies of the young men in the photographs are 
emaciated, their bones protruding. Starvation was only one form of torture they 
endured. Some bear the marks of strangulation. Others have vivid bruises and 
welts from being beaten.

   On Tuesday, the Security Council will meet privately to view projected 
slides of the dead, who offer mute testimony to the savagery of a Syrian civil 
war in which more than 150,000 have died.

   France, which is hosting the closed-door meeting, says the photos to be 
displayed are part of a collection of 55,000 digital images of Syrians who were 
tortured and slain by Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. France says a 
majority of them were collected by a Syrian military police photographer 
code-named "Caesar," who smuggled them out on flash drives when he defected.

   Syria's Justice Ministry has dismissed the photos and accompanying report as 
"politicized and lacking objectiveness and professionalism," a "gathering of 
images of unidentified people, some of whom have turned out to be foreigners." 
The ministry said some of the people were militants killed in battle and others 
were killed by militant groups.

   The presentation at the Security Council is part of a process of documenting 
evidence of Syrian war crimes in the hope of eventually referring the 
perpetrators to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

   That is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Because Syria never accepted the 
jurisdiction of the ICC, the only way a case can be opened while Assad is in 
power is for the Security Council to order a referral.

   Russia and China have used their veto power three times to block resolutions 
threatening sanctions on Syria. The hope is that Russia and China will 
eventually agree to an ICC referral if a resolution names both Syrian 
government officials and rebels as war crimes perpetrators, according to a 
Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because no resolution is 
in the works.

   U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay has been pushing the council to refer 
Syria to the ICC for three years, but Security Council President U. Joy Ogwu 
said last week there is no consensus for such a step.

   Still, France's U.N. mission said in a statement that the meeting Tuesday 
"will also allow a discussion on the means to ensure accountability for these 
crimes."

   Pillay said last week that abuses by both the Syrian government and rebels 
should be documented and brought to the international court. But she added, 
"you cannot compare the two. Clearly, the actions of the forces of the 
government ... killings, cruelty, persons in detention, disappearances, far 
outweigh those by the opposition."

   Ten of the photos were publicly released in January in a study known as the 
"Caesar Report," which was funded by the government of Qatar, one of the 
countries most deeply involved in the Syrian conflict and a major backer of the 
opposition. More will be seen Tuesday by the council.

   Two of the authors of the "Caesar Report" will brief the council: David M. 
Crane, who was first chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, 
and Dr. Stuart J. Hamilton, a forensic pathologist from Britain. The third 
author was Sir Geoffrey Nice, the lead prosecutor of former President Slobodan 
Milosevic before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

   "Caesar" had been a crime scene photographer for the Syrian military, the 
report says. When the civil war began, he and his colleagues were reassigned to 
photograph the tortured bodies of rebels and dissidents, providing proof to the 
regime that its enemies had been liquidated in detention. Victims were assigned 
a code number. Their relatives were told that the victims had died of "a heart 
attack or breathing problems" and their number was reassigned to a hospital. 
Bodies were then buried before relatives could view them.

   A relative of "Caesar" who defected early in the civil war kept in contact 
with him, and persuaded "Caesar" to collect the images over the next three 
years, the report says. The report's authors found "Caesar" to be credible when 
they debriefed him in January, they wrote. They said "he made it plain that he 
had never witnessed a single execution," though he and his team had to 
photograph as many as 50 bodies a day.

   In the collection of 55,000 images, each body was photographed four or five 
times, so the authors estimate that about 11,000 victims are pictured.

   "Caesar" smuggled out almost 27,000 of the images, the report said. It said 
the others came from similar, unnamed sources.

   The forensic team examined about 5,500 of the images and found that almost 
all were of men aged 20 to 40; only one woman was pictured, and she was 
clothed; and there were no children in the images.

   The forensic team found that in a representative sample of images they 
studied, 62 percent showed emaciation. Nineteen percent showed neck injuries, 
and "16 percent showed evidence of ligature marks on the neck."

   Based on the systematic pattern of injuries, the report said "there is 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" that would support "crimes against humanity" charges against the 
Assad regime.


(KA)


 
 
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