Horrific New Evidence of Syrian War Crimes Emerges

The Guardian has published a piece describing the emergence of disturbing new evidence of the commission of “industrial scale war crimes” in Syrian detention centers.  The evidence was smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman who had been hired to photograph the corpses of dead detainees.  Mirroring the bureaucratization of death in the Khmer Rouge killing fields, the photos were apparently taken in order to prove both the death of the detainees to family members and that orders were being faithfully carried out.  The 55,000 digital images suggest upwards of 11,000 detainees were subjected to starvation, beatings, strangulation, and electrocution.  The full report is available here.

The materials were obtained by three former international criminal law prosecutors.  The first is David Crane, former Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a law professor at Syracuse University School of Law, and the Vice President of I Am Sryia, a non-profit dedicated to educating the world, and especially young people, about the conflict in Syria.  With colleagues, Professor Crane has drafted a statute for a hybrid tribunal that could be established by the Security Council or in agreement with a transitional Syrian regime as well as skeletal indictments of President Assad and his inner circle.  The recent report was prepared in conjunction with Sir Desmond de Silva QC, also a former Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the former lead Prosecutor of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, who died pre-verdict.

This evidence does much to confirm accounts by Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry, the Syrian Justice & Accountability Center (SJAC), and other documentation centers of the rampant use of torture and extrajudicial killing in Syrian detention centers.  It also affirms that the issue of accountability must remain central to the Geneva II discussions. 

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About the Author(s)

Beth Van Schaack

Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor of Human Rights, Stanford Law School; Former Deputy to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the U.S. State Department. All views are her own. Follow her on Twitter (@BethVanSchaack).