International Community Documents Crimes to Ensure Justice Does Not Elude Syrians for too Long | The Center for Victims of Torture

International Community Documents Crimes to Ensure Justice Does Not Elude Syrians for too Long

Friday, July 17, 2015

Marie Soueid is a legal fellow in the Washington, D.C. office.

Earlier this week, surrounded by some of the most horrid pictures of the torture taking place in Syria, a Syrian activist and torture survivor spoke at the U.S. Capitol about his experience and frustration at the utter lack of international intervention in Syria. Qutaiba Idlbi described how he was stripped naked and beaten for hours on end by seven men in a Damascus prison. He spent twenty days in solitary confinement. The display of photos surrounding him served as a sobering reminder that he was one of the lucky ones – he made it out alive. His voice never wavered until he described the torture and subsequent death of his friend Mahmoud, who was targeted simply for his association with Idlbi. 

Idlbi was joined by Margit Meissner, a Holocaust survivor, and several U.S. officials in an event hosted by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to display photographs documenting brutal torture and killing in Syria. A bi-partisan group of Senators and Representatives, including Senators McCain (R-AZ), Corker (R-TN) and Cardin (D-MD) and Representatives Royce (R-CA/39th) and McMorris Rogers (R-WA/5th), discussed what was on everyone’s mind: the growing complexity of finding a non-military solution to the slaughter in Syria and the increasing elusiveness of justice for the victims and survivors. The photo display takes a step towards remedying the latter.Senator Bob Corker

In 2014, a Syrian military photographer, code-named “Caesar,” defected to the West, carrying 55,000 photographs of human rights abuses in Syria’s prisons. The graphic photos, which were accompanied with a warning sign, show the emaciated corpses of individuals tortured and killed by a regime that systematically documented its abuse, presumably to ensure orders were carried out. Caesar’s photos are reminiscent of the suffering inflicted on many of CVT’s clients who have spent time in Syrian prisons. Clients from all over Syria describe sexual humiliation, sustained beatings, removal of fingernails, threats to their families’ lives, starvation, and cramped, unlivable prison conditions.

This trove of photos is one example of the extensive physical and testimonial documentation that Syrians, various governments, and non-governmental organizations across the world are amassing of the atrocities in Syria. Recently, U.S. investigators identified 10,000 people in Caesar’s photographs. Justice for their families, still a distant dream, is made increasingly likely by the growing efforts towards documenting crimes on all sides of the conflict.  

U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Stephen Rapp previously stated that when members of the regime and Assad himself are brought to justice, there will be more than sufficient evidence to convict them for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The photos along with other documentary and testimonial evidence leave no doubt that the Assad regime has tortured many of its citizens. The challenge now is to ensure that evidence meets the high international standards articulated by the Istanbul Protocol.  

That document, created and supported by NGOs and experts, outlines rigorous standards for documenting torture, both physical and psychological. While accountability measures for Syria’s crimes remain in infancy, local and international efforts to investigate and document torture and other human rights violations ensure that survivors and victims’ families can hope to receive justice in the future.

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