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15 April 2014 - Security Council Meeting on the “Caesar” report concerning mass torture perpetrated by the Syrian regime

Press conference with Mr. Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, Professor David M. Crane, chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and Dr. Stuart J. Hamilton, forensic pathologist from United Kingdom Home Office Register.

Unofficial translation

Introductive remarks by Mr Gerard Araud


Hello everyone,

The subject of this press conference is the presentation of the “Caesar” report.

This report was drafted by an investigative team of legal and medical experts led by Desmond Da Silva, former prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and including Professor Geoffrey Nice, former lead prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and Professor David Crane, the chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, who is here with us today. This commission also included three scientific experts: Professor Susan Black, a specialist in anatomy and forensic anthropology; Stephen Cole, an expert in medical imaging; and Dr. Stuart J. Hamilton, a forensic pathologist from the British Home Office Register, who is here with us today.

The Caesar Report is based on 55,000 photos that are believed to correspond to more than 11,000 corpses.

We received these photos from a Syrian who was code-named Caesar for security reasons.

César worked for the Syrian military police for 13 years; he was originally a crime-scene photographer. But beginning in 2011, when the Syrian revolt broke out, he was given a new job: to photograph the bodies of people in the Damascus area who had died under torture. These photographs were made with methodical precision: four to five high-resolution images per corpse, systematically accompanied by two identification numbers. They enabled the regime to know whether execution orders had been carried out.

For more than two years, from the summer of 2011 until he fled in the summer of 2013, Caesar and his team were responsible for this tracking. But every evening, during that period, Caesar made a copy of the “work” he had done during the day, and spirited it out of the military hospital where he worked by concealing it in his shoe.

He made contact with outside networks, and in the summer of 2013, exhausted, he asked them to organize his escape. He is now outside of Syria.

I want to emphasize that Caesar was working in a military hospital that centralized bodies for three detention centers in a suburb of Damascus. There are said to be more than 50 such detention centers on Syrian soil.

I will now give the floor to Professors Crane and Hamilton, who analyzed the photos, certified their authenticity and, on that basis, drafted the Caesar report.

(…)

I asked these two specialists to come and explain this situation to the Security Council and the media. It’s not a political gesture; we’re not trying to promote a specific cause. We know that the Security Council is divided (on Syria) and that it’s almost impossible to get a decision. But we hope that what will be expressed won’t be politics but merely the human conscience. This is an appeal for what the English-speakers refer to as “common decency.” We would like the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. It’s not a matter of accusing the regime or the opposition but of saying that all crimes against humanity, all the crimes contained in the Rome Statute that were perpetrated in Syria must be referred to the International Criminal Court and be investigated by it.

We don’t want this to be about politics but I believe that there are times when we must talk about morality. Times when we have to appeal to the human conscience. I told the Security Council that when we present this proposal to the Security Council we shouldn’t be too hasty. We could present this proposal tomorrow but we want to talk with the Security Council members who are resistant to this and secure the vote of 15 members, so we will take our time. But I told my 14 colleagues, “After you make your decision you will have to look yourself in the mirror and you’ll have to say to yourselves: What did I do on this occasion?”

This is an opportunity that we’ve rarely seen in the history of mankind to know what we’re going to do in the face of the horror committed by the regime. The International Criminal Court must be able to conduct an inquiry.

(...)

Other images have been shown to the Security Council besides the ones that have been presented to you. We have presented images here, which, for the sake of human decency since you’re in the public domain, do not allow the victims to be identified. Furthermore, we did not show images of women’s bodies.

We showed the Security Council members other photos which in particular demonstrated the industrial scale, the way in which the system operated. The Security Council members therefore had more information. After the film the initial reaction of the Security Council was silence. I asked the Security Council members to speak, and there were several minutes of silence in which they were clearly very moved.

Learn more on Syria.



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Organisation des Nations Unies Présidence de la République France Diplomatie La France à l'Office des Nations Unies à Genève Union Européenne Première réunion de l'ONU