UNITED NATIONS— As part of its effort to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, France presented graphic images Tuesday from the so-called Caesar report of individuals allegedly tortured, starved and killed by the Syrian government.
Nearly 60 countries have demanded that Syria be referred to the court in The Hague. But it is up to a majority in the U.N. Security Council to decide to send it there. The Council has been very divided over the Syrian crisis, and the Russians and Chinese have previously blocked other resolutions related to the situation. They could veto any effort to refer Syria to the ICC.
French Ambassador Gérard Araud told reporters his government is going to try to persuade all Council members to support a referral.
“It will be to the ICC to investigate everything and to decide on every crime committed in Syria by the regime," he said. "I have said it several times, we are not politicizing, it is not a charge against the regime. It is all the crimes committed and crimes are also committed by the opposition."
At the news conference with the French ambassador were two members of the team of legal and medical experts that studied the 55,000 photographs of 11,000 bodies smuggled out of Syria by a former sergeant in the Syrian military police. Earlier Tuesday, the experts briefed members of the Security Council.
Their job was to give an opinion on the credibility of the man who was given the code name “Caesar,” and on the authenticity of the pictures.
David Crane, the former first chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, told reporters it is rare to receive such a cache of what they determined to be credible evidence.
“In our business we rarely have direct, specific photographic and written evidence of crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide. Most of these thugs don’t write this stuff down," he said.
Crane and his colleague, British forensic scientist Stuart Hamilton, showed a series of disturbing and graphic photos of corpses that had endured horrific torture, including what appeared to be brutal beatings, chemical burns, bruises, strangulation and starvation.
Hamilton said there are few reasons an individual would have such injuries unless the intent was to inflict pain.
“I have not seen much like this in my career, and I can think of no natural or innocent explanation as to how someone could come to look like this," he said.
The investigators said “Caesar” did not receive any compensation for the photographs, and that he put himself at great personal risk over a two-year period to copy the pictures and then smuggle them out of Syria.
Before the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, “Caesar” had worked for 13 years as a crime scene photographer for the Syrian military police. After 2011, he was assigned to photograph corpses at a military hospital that received bodies from three detention centers in the Damascus suburbs. Working through another individual, he was eventually smuggled out of Syria last year, in an elaborate ruse that included faking his own death.
A handful of the pictures were first made public in a British newspaper in January, as the government and opposition were meeting in Geneva in a bid to end the conflict.
Those talks ended in failure.
The investigation was funded by the Arab Gulf state of Qatar, which has supported the opposition in the Syrian crisis, leading to some skepticism about the credibility of the photographs. The Syrian government has dismissed the “Caesar” report as politicized.