Finally naming Syria’s dead: These are the victims of the Assad regime

The man credited with smuggling 50,000 photos said to document Syrian government atrocities, a Syrian Army defector known by the protective alias Caesar (disguised in a hooded blue jacket, C), prepares to speak at a briefing to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington July 31, 2014. Credit:Jonathan Ernst 

Editor’s note: This article contains graphic images that some may find disturbing. 

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Early last year, thousands of photographs purporting to show the tortured and emaciated corpses of detainees who died in Syrian government detention facilities were revealed to the world.

The grisly images, smuggled out of the country by a defector code-named Caesar, who worked for the Syrian military police, appeared to show killing by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on a grand scale outside the theater of war.

But much of the world saw them as just more dead bodies in a conflict that has produced more than 200,000 of them. Unlike the Islamic State, which publicized its brutality to the world, these killings were kept secret, and the victims remained nameless.

Commenting on the images earlier this year, Assad brushed away the allegations.

“You can bring photographs from anyone and say this is torture. There is no verification of any of this evidence, so it’s all allegations without evidence,” he told Foreign Affairs magazine.

Today, a new report by Human Rights Watch reveals the identities of a number of those pictured in Caesar’s archive. Those victims now have names, stories, and families.

“Just about every detainee in these photographs was someone’s beloved child, husband, father, or friend, and his friends and family spent months or years searching for him,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Among those identified by the rights group are a 14-year-old boy, a student, a carpenter and a number of peaceful activists. Many of them were detained in raids on their homes, others were caught at checkpoints.

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Houry added that the research conducted by Human Rights Watch made it “confident the Caesar photographs present authentic — and damning — evidence of crimes against humanity in Syria.”

To put names to the faces of the victims in Caesar’s photographs, HRW interviewed 33 relatives and friends of 27 victims, as well as 37 former detainees who say they saw people die in detention, and four defectors from Syrian government hospitals or detention centers where the photographs were taken.

“The last thing I heard was: ‘I have an injured terrorist, come and take him from here.’ Then I heard the sound of a car, I am sure it was not an ambulance, because they were still yelling at him…. I never saw him again.”
tal’at a former prisioner

The report found that some 6,786 detainees “died in detention or after being transferred from detention to a military hospital” since the start of the civil war in 2011. 

Former detainees and defectors revealed a shocking scale of death in the facilities, with up to seven people dying every day. 

“We have no doubt that the people shown in the Caesar photographs were starved, beaten, and tortured in a systematic way, and on a massive scale,” Houry said. “These photographs represent just a fraction of people who have died while in Syrian government custody — thousands more are suffering the same fate.”

The report comes at a time when the international community, including Assad’s principal backers in Iran and Russia, have been meeting to find a way to bring about an end to the Syrian civil war.

source: The World PRI

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