UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Britain, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States are holding an exhibit at the United Nations of graphic photos taken in Syria by a former military police photographer that show what appear to be evidence of brutal torture.
About two dozen of some of the 55,000 photographs taken - some showing eye gougings, strangulation and long-term starvation - went on display at U.N. headquarters in New York this week as the conflict in Syria enters its fifth year.
Former war crimes prosecutors have described the pictures as “clear evidence” of systematic torture and mass killings in Syria’s three-year-long civil war. The photographer has been identified by the code name “Caesar.” The pictures were smuggled out of Syria between 2011 and mid-2013.
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the aim of the exhibit was to raise awareness of the human rights abuses that President Bashar al-Assad’s troops have been accused of committing against the Syrian people.
“As the conflict in Syria enters its fifth year, the number of those killed and displaced has reached 220,000 and 7.6 million, and over 3.8 million have been forced to flee the country,” Lyall Grant said.
“We hope that this exhibition will serve as a reminder of the imperative to pursue a political solution to the conflict with utmost urgency to end the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said.
Syrian’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari was not immediately available for comment on the photo exhibit.
Caesar was a senior sergeant in Syria’s army who spent 13 years working as a forensic photographer, say former war crimes prosecutors who examined the photos. Lawyers acting for Qatar commissioned the examination of the evidence. Qatar, like Saudi Arabia, is strongly opposed to Assad.
Between September 2011 and August 2013, Caesar worked at a military hospital, taking photos of bodies from three detention centers in the Damascus area. He smuggled copies of those photos out of the hospital on memory sticks hidden in his shoe.
The U.N. Security Council viewed the photos during an informal meeting last April. Russia and China vetoed a bid in May to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the civil war.
“These photos make clear the need for justice for the Syrian people,” said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis