Critical Analysis: Report that alleges systematic killing in Syria released days before the start of the Geneva II peace conference

A report released just days before the scheduled start of the Geneva II peace conference “is a smoking gun,” for a war crime prosecution of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime according to David Crane, one of the report’s authors. Copies of the report, which allege the systematic killing of detainees in Syrian jails, were sent to both CNN and The Guardian. The Guardian noted the release “appears deliberately timed to coincide with this week’s UN-organized Geneva II peace conference.”

Detained Syrian men, blindfolded and handcuffed, in Qusair, near Homs. Photograph: Sana/Reuters.

Detained Syrian men, blindfolded and handcuffed, in Qusair, near Homs. Photograph: Sana/Reuters.

Evidence in the report comes from a single, unidentified Syrian government defector who shared close to half of the 55,000 images – equating to approximately 11,000 victims – he smuggled on memory sticks out of the war-torn nation. The defector worked as a photographer in the military police, and claims the photos were used to prove execution orders had been carried out, and to allow for death certificates to be provided without the need to show family members the bodies. The death certificates listed the cause of death as a heart attack or breathing problems that occurred in the hospital.

“Any prosecutor would like this kind of evidence – the photos and the process. This is direct evidence of the regime’s killing machine,” according to Crane. Activists say an estimated 50,000 detainees are unaccounted for, while tens of thousands of Syrians have been held and released. Released prisoners have shared stories of widespread use of executions and torture.

The gruesome photos include a variety of injuries, including beatings, strangulation and other forms of torture according to the report. A majority of the victims were men, estimated between 20-40 years old. One of report’s authors, Sir Desmond de Silva, the former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, told CNN the emaciated bodies were “reminiscent of the pictures of those [who] were found still alive in the Nazi death camps after World War II.”

Representatives from approximately 30 countries are scheduled to attend the Geneva II Conference in an attempt to implement the Geneva Communiqué. The communiqué is intended as a resolution to the civil war in Syria, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced 9.5 million. The two main protagonists in the conflict have irreconcilable objectives: namely the role current President Bashar al-Assad would play in the transitional governing body called for in the communiqué. The force of the talks will also be limited by the absence of several of the largest opposition groups including the Syrian National Council.

Caroline Marfitano is a 2L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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