Identifying 801 Individuals Who Appeared in Caesar Photographs, the US Congress Must Pass the Caesar Act to Provide Accountability
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) states in its latest report issued today that it has documented 72 torture methods which the Syrian regime continues to practice in its detention centers and military hospitals, calling on the US Congress to pass the Caesar Act to provide accountability after identifying 801 individuals who appeared in the photographs smuggled out by the former regime photographer codenamed Caesar.
As the report reveals, almost 1.2 million Syrian citizens have been arrested and detained at some point in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, including 130,000 individuals are still detained or forcibly disappeared by the Syrian regime, since the start of the popular uprising for democracy in Syria in March 2011.
The 65-page report states that torture in the Syrian regime’s detention centers still continues to date, with the report documenting the deaths of at least 14,000 individuals due to torture in the Syrian regime’s detention centers between March 2011 and September 2019, including185 individuals who were killed since the beginning of 2019.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of SNHR, says:
“The Syrian people have the right to help from the rest of the world’s states that have ratified the Geneva Conventions in ensuring that the Syrian regime respects the implementation of the Geneva Conventions and that it stops systematically torturing Syrians to death, both of which constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. This is not only the duty of the Security Council that failed in protecting the Syrians, but of all the countries of the world, which have a shared and urgent responsibility to help end the brutal torture that tens of thousands of Syrians continue to be subjected to. Moreover, Caesar’s photographs will always provide overwhelming evidence of the systematic torture inflicted on Syrians, with nobody helping to stop the recurrence of these atrocities since the rest of the world’s governments first saw the Caesar photographs and up to the current date. The sadistic methods of torture adopted constitute a threat to the very essence of all humanity, not just to the Syrian people or to the people of the region.”
The report stresses that, despite the overwhelming evidence against it, the Syrian regime has not admitted to any torture in its facilities or carried out any investigation. Instead, the regime continues to support the officers who issued the torture orders, promoting them to senior positions, and using other state institutions as part of its torture machine by registering the forcibly disappeared persons killed in its detention centers as deceased at civil registry departments often years after their demise, in violation of Syrian law and the rules of registration of deaths in prisons, which are provided for in articles 38 and 39 of the Syrian Civil Status Law. The Syrian regime also violated the Syrian Constitution, specifically in paragraph 2 of Article 53.
The report includes 20 accounts from torture survivors or victims’ relatives which we obtained through direct interviews with witnesses rather than from any open sources. In selecting the accounts included, the report takes into account the different years in which incidents took place and the diversity of governorates and detention centers where they happened, as well as the variety of methods of torture suffered by survivors, their severity, and in the detainees’ sex, gender, age, and religious and cultural backgrounds in order to emphasize that torture affects all segments of Syrian society.
The report is based on the SNHR’s database of detentions, enforced disappearances and torture, which have been documented through daily monitoring and documentation since 2011. The report is also supported by evidence from another Syrian Network for Human Rights’ database containing data on thousands of individuals, officials, leaders and officers with the regime whom multiple articles of evidence suggests are involved in violations, crimes against humanity and war crimes, with the report including details of those officials those who SNHR believes are the most notable individuals responsible for torture in order that they may ultimately be prosecuted and convicted.
The report notes that the SNHR team conducts regular periodic correspondence with the UN Group on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions concerning victims who died due to Torture in Syria. The report further notes that SNHR has issued a special form dedicated to documenting such incidents on the SNHR official website that families can fill out, with the completed forms submitted automatically to the SNHR team responsible for following up on each case, which then communicates with the families to complete the documentation and registration process.
The report reveals that between March 2011 and September 2019, at least 14,298 individuals, including 178 children and 63 women (adult female) were documented as dying due to torture at the hands of the main parties to the conflict in Syria, including 14,131 killed at the hands of the Syrian Regime forces, 173 of whom were children and 45 of whom were women. In addition to this, a further 57 individuals, including two children and 14 women, were documented as dying due to torture at the hands of Extremist Islamist groups, 32 of whom, including one child and 14 women, died in ISIS’ prisons, while 25 others, including one child, died as a result of torture in Hay’at Tahrir al Sham’s prisons.
The report also reveals that 43 individuals, including one child and one woman, were documented as dying due to torture in prisons of factions of the Armed Opposition, with 47 other individuals also documented as dying due to torture at the hands of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, including one child and two women. The report also notes that at least 20 individuals were documented as dying as a result of torture at the hands of other parties.
The report explains that the methods and patterns of torture used by Syrian Regime forces in regime detention centers are numerous and so widely practiced that there was hardly any survivor who did not report being subjected to at least one and usually several of these methods. The report classifies patterns of torture into seven main categories, with each sub-type consisting of several secondary methods, constituting a total of 72 methods of torture used by the Syrian Regime forces against detainees, noting that there may be other methods used which SNHR has not yet been able to identify and document. The report emphasizes that a detainee may be subjected to a variety of torture methods during a single torture session.
The report reveals that the basic torture patterns are: physical torture, consisting of 39 methods, health neglect and conditions of detention, consisting of six methods, sexual violence, consisting of eight methods, psychological torture and humiliation of human dignity, consisting of eight methods, torture in military hospitals, consisting of nine methods, in addition to forced labor and the phenomenon of ‘separation’.
The report reveals that the SNHR has recently confirmed the identities of 29 more of the individuals who appeared in the Caesar photographs smuggled out of military hospitals, noting that the previous reports issued by the SNHR had identified 772 of these victims. The latest cases mean that, between March 2015 and September 2019, the SNHR has managed to positively identify a total of at least 801 of the victims shown in the Caesar photographs, including two children and 10 women, after receiving approximately 6,189 of the photographs smuggled out by Caesar.
In this context, the report states that SNHR cross-checked these 801 photos with those included on its database listing cases of enforced disappearance, finding that most of the victims shown had previously been registered there as enforced disappearances, in addition to cross-checking each of the people shown against the database of individuals believed to have died due to torture; the report points out that there was an intersection of 16 percent with the database of victims of torture, that is to say, 124 of the cases registered in the SNHR’s database out of the 801 forced disappearance cases had died due to torture. The report further reveals that following the release of the Caesar photos, all 801 cases were confirmed as having died due to torture. These individuals whose identities have been confirmed are thus no longer registered as forcibly disappeared, despite the fact that their families haven’t received their bodies, because the Caesar photographs clearly prove the deaths of these detainees.
The report distributes these 801 cases across the Syrian governorates, with the highest percentage of victims whose photos we have identified being from Damascus Suburbs with 65.42 percent, followed by Daraa governorate with 25.84 percent, and thirdly, Homs governorate with 2.62 percent.
The report also distributes the same 801 cases according to the security branch’s detention centers where believed they died, noting that the highest death rate was recorded in Branch 215, followed by Branch 227.
As the report notes, Syrian Regime forces have systematically and extensively practiced the crime of torture, reaching the extent of deliberately killing victims, violating the right to life, as well as constituting a flagrant violation of international human rights law. It has been proved beyond doubt that the Syrian regime is fully aware of this and of the certainty that the inhuman conditions of detention and the brutal methods of torture routinely and inevitably lead to continuous suffering and pain and regularly to death. Despite knowing all of this, the regime has done nothing to stop these criminal actions. Killings as a result of torture constitute crimes against humanity under Article VII of the Rome Statute and flagrant violations of international humanitarian law, which amount to war crimes, forming a systematic and repetitive pattern, and can thus be classified as extermination. This is also a flagrant violation of Syrian law and of the Syrian constitution.
The report recommends that UN Security Council should protect civilians detained by the Syrian regime from torture and lethal torture, rescue those who remain alive, establish a mechanism to compel the Syrian regime to end practices of torture, and to reveal the whereabouts of the bodies of the victims and to hand these over to their families. The report also recommends that all UN relief agencies should search for families that have lost their primary breadwinner or one of their children due to torture, to ensure that aid is continuously delivered to their beneficiaries, and to initiate rehabilitation.
The report also recommends that the United Nations General Assembly should take the initiative in the Syrian situation and resort to invoking the principle of Uniting for Peace, given the total paralysis affecting the Security Council due to the Russian-Chinese veto, blocking the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
The report stresses that states which are parties to the Convention against Torture must take the necessary measures to establish their jurisdiction over perpetrators of torture and make all the necessary material and security efforts for this objective, and to take serious punitive measures against the Syrian regime to deter it from continuing to kill Syrian citizens under torture, including political, economic, and military measures, including no-fly zones.
The report urges the international community to form a coalition of civilized nations as a matter of urgency to intervene politically and militarily to protect civilians and save tens of thousands of detainees from death due to torture, given the failure of the Security Council to protect detainees who have become hostages to the Syrian regime which is, as a result, killing whoever it wishes by torture.
The report calls on the international community to provide more funds, support and sufficient grants to local organizations concerned with the care and rehabilitation of torture victims and their families, and to provide support to individual activists and local organizations that document violations without imposing tutelage or political directives.
The report also stresses the need for international unity in implementing the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law, by establishing a special criminal court to hold the Syrian regime accountable for crimes against humanity and war crimes it has committed, and to take a clear, unanimous and repeated international consensus of not accepting that it continues to dominate the Syrian state.
The report calls on the OHCHR to make greater efforts to combat and condemn systematic torture in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, to issue periodic reports and repeated condemnation statements addressing this sensitive issue, and to repeat its requests that the Security Council refers the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
The report further recommends that Human Rights Council should allocate a special session to discuss the crimes of torture in the Syrian regime’s detention centers as it reached a level of ugliness never witnessed in modern times, should request that the Security Council and relevant international institutions assume their responsibilities in this very serious matter, and should put pressure on the Syrian government to stop torture, open prisons and detention centers to see the situation of thousands of detainees and conditions of their arrest.
Finally, the report calls on the Syrian regime to immediately stop using all torture methods and deploying the capabilities of the Syrian state in torture and in its reign of terror over Syrian society, to immediately allow access for the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, the International Committee of the Red Cross and all objective human rights organizations to detention centers, to take legal and historical responsibility for this comprehensive national catastrophe, to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of all those arbitrary detained, particularly children and women, and to stop violating the Syrian constitution and international law in a horrific and monstrous way, which grotesquely insults the Syrian constitution and the Syrian state.