Syria crisis: 'Torture' photos shown to UN Security Council

(L-R) UN representative from France Gerard Araud, and forensic pathologist Dr Stuart Hamilton give a report on the allegations of torture in Syria at the United Nations on 15 April 2014 in New York City. The photos are among 55,000 digital images apparently provided by a former Syrian police photographer

Graphic photographs of prisoners allegedly tortured by Syrian government forces have been shown to members of the UN Security Council.

The images, reportedly smuggled out by a defector, appear to show evidence of abuse, including beatings, strangulation and long-term starvation.

The photos were first released in January in a report commissioned by Qatar, which backs Syria's opposition.

The Syrian government has dismissed the report, saying it has no credibility.

The meeting was called by France, which wants the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate crimes against humanity.

President Bashar al-Assad's main ally, Russia, has the power to veto that.

'Gruesome'

Security Council members fell silent as the images were shown on Tuesday, said France's UN ambassador, Gerard Araud.

Forensic pathologist Dr Stuart Hamilton gives a report on the allegations of torture in Syria at the United Nations on April 15, 2014 Investigators have examined thousands of images of dead prisoners

"The gruesome images of corpses bearing marks of starvation, strangulation and beatings... indicate that the Assad regime has carried out systematic, widespread and industrial killing," said Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN.

"Nobody who sees these images will ever be the same."

'Credible'

The report, by three former war crimes prosecutors, is based on the evidence of a defected military police photographer, referred to only as Caesar

He, along with others, reportedly smuggled about 55,000 digital images of some 11,000 dead detainees out of Syria.

Who is 'Caesar'?

  • Source of roughly half of the 55,000 images
  • Military police photographer who worked for the government for 13 years
  • Since uprising of March 2011, his job was to photograph bodies of detainees believed to have died under torture
  • "Significant number" of bodies show signs of starvation, other injuries include burns, bruising, gouged eyes, ligature marks indicating strangulation, and signs of electrocution
  • Sent images to relative by marriage outside Syria
  • "Caesar" and family smuggled out after he feared for his safety and amid psychological strain of work

He said his job had been to take photographs of corpses, both to allow a death certificate to be produced and to confirm that execution orders had been carried out.

He did not claim to have witnessed killings or torture himself.

The photographs in the report cover the period from the start of the uprising in March 2011 until August last year.

All but one of the bodies shown are male. Some had no eyes, and some showed signs of electrocution.

Syria's Justice Ministry dismissed the photos and accompanying report as "lacking objectiveness and professionalism", according to the Associated Press.

But one of the authors of the report, former Sierra Leone Special Court prosecutor David Crane, said the photographs - and the witness himself - were "credible and sustainable in a court of law".

While Caesar's photos would appear to offer evidence of war crimes by the Syrian government, both Mr Araud and Mr Crane said that crimes had also been committed by opposition forces.

More than 150,000 people have been killed since the conflict began, with millions forced to flee their homes.

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