Syrian Conference Approaches: Reports of War Crimes Released


The United Nation’s Syrian conference — set for Wednesday — dealt with a major diplomatic bump in the road as the UN first made and then rescinded an invitation for Iran to join the peace talks in Switzerland. The talks, slated to discuss an end to the Syrian civil war and its almost three full years of violence, come in the wake of two reports outlining the cruelties and human rights violations in Syria.

The first, the Human Rights Watch’s World Report, claims that the “slaughter of civilians” in Syria has “continued with only a weak international response.” The second is a legal report ascertaining the credibility of photographic evidence put forth by a Syrian defector — which reveals torture and death of individuals at the hands of the Syrian regime.

Iran’s historical position as a major Syrian ally made its attendance at the peace conference a hoped for accomplishment — but one that teetered on Iran’s ability to abide by the plan outlined in the Geneva Communique of 2012. The UN’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, was forced to remove his invitation to Iran after the nations public statements did not line up with the assurances it had made in private — according to the UN News Centre.

The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment” from Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that Iran fully understood and would work in accordance with the Geneva Communique of 2012 — said Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for Secretary General Ban, in a statement in New York on Sunday.

Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, released a statement Sunday noting that the United States would look at the UN’s invitation to Iran as being upon the condition that Iran gave “explicit and public support for the full implementation of the Geneva communique.” In the same statement Psaki expressed doubts as to the likelihood of this, saying that, “This is something Iran has never done publicly and something we have long made clear is required.”

Still planned to be in attendance at the conference are forty States and organizations, including the United States and Russia, which has been rumored to be a provider of weapons to Syria. “I don’t have any independent confirmation of those reports [about Russia]. I did discuss the report with the Secretary this morning, and his view is that if these reports are true, that would certainly raise great concerns about the role that Russia is playing in continuing to enable the Assad regime of brutalizing the Syrian people,” said Ms. Psaki in a press briefing last Friday.

The two reports were well timed with the upcoming conference, both revealing atrocities in need of prevention and repair, with the Human Rights Watch highly critical of foreign government’s involvement. “The international community’s response to this slaughter and suffering has been painfully narrow. In recent months, international efforts to address the Syria conflict have focused mainly on peace talks known as Geneva II,” reads the 2014 World Report. It also notes Russia’s resistance to imposing an arms embargo on Syria.

“But while the likelihood of reaching a political accommodation among the warring factions anytime soon is remote, the fear of doing anything that might dissuade Damascus from participating in Geneva II has become the latest excuse for not putting real pressure on Syria to stop killing civilians by conventional means and to permit the free flow of humanitarian aid,” it reads.

This same sentiment was echoed by the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, when he spoke on the report in a Berlin press conference Tuesday. He said that while the “Geneva II” peace conference is slated for tomorrow, and everyone has hopes for an end to conflict, “I don’t think anybody believes that these peace talks are going to lead to a peaceful conclusion to the conflict and a transitional government any time soon.”

“Atrocities in Syria are not an unfortunate bi-product of the war they are the way the Syrian government has chosen to fight this way, this is a war strategy of war crimes,” Roth said, stressing the need for efforts beyond internationally aided diplomacy.

Finally, Carter-Ruck and Co., a major international legal firm based out of London, released its report on the legitimacy of some 55,000 photos brought to light showing the effects of violence from the Syrian regime. The report is the collective effort of a legal and forensics team, including Sir Desmond de Silva, the former Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court of Sierra Leone, and Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice, formerly the lead prosecutor of Yugoslavia’s ex-President Milosevic in the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia.

The photos in question were taken by a Syrian defector — discussed under the pseudonym “Caesar” — who was previously in the service of the military police wing of the Syrian government. During his time there he was charged with photographing crime scenes, and eventually his work changed to photographing detainees. The report released findings that his photos and evidence were non-partisan, and while he supports the removal of Syria’s current regime, it was found that his testimony was credible.

The photos were evaluated based upon the injuries and suffering inflicted, as well as on the validity of the photos themselves. Anthropological and pathological findings examined scarring, injuries, ligature marks, and other evidence of “either injury or emaciation” showing the percentages of each represented in the images assessed. “Such evidence would support findings of crimes against humanity against the current Syrian regime,” read the report. The report also included a disturbing sample of the photographs in question.

“The photographs that were released yesterday give further urgency to this call. Human Rights Watch has not been able to authenticate these particular photographs although we’ve known of them for some time, but I can say that the torture and executions that they illustrate — thousands of them, actually 11,000 dead — are consistant with what Human Rights Watch saw when we visited detention centers in Syria,” said Executive Director Roth. CNN spoke with authors of the report shown in this video interview.

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