Human rights Human Rights Watch Syria

New Human Rights Watch Report and the Caesar photos

A comparison of the just-published Human Rights Watch Report on the cache of “Caesar” photos with the report prepared in January 2014 on behalf of Carter-Ruck indicates some remarkable discrepancies and raise some serious questions about the whole process of analysis of this cache of photographs.

HRW claim to have received the cache of “Caesar’s” photos in March 2015 and have now published a report based on them, just days before an important peace conference, again raising suspicions the timing has nothing to do with helping Syrian detainees and everything to do with political impact. (Regular readers will be familiar with HRW producing incorrect facts and pushing it out through the media in order to encourage military intervention in the wake of the Ghouta chemical weapons attacks.)

A previous report on the batch of “Caesar” photos, entitled “A Report into the credibility of certain evidence with regard to Torture and Execution of Persons Incarcerated by the current Syrian regime.” was prepared for Carter-Ruck and Co. Solicitors of London and issued through CNN and The Guardian on 20 January 2014, just prior to the start of the Geneva 2 Peace Conference on Syria.

A comparison of the HRW Report and the Carter-Ruck report reveals a stunning discrepancy between the two reports.

According to the Carter-Ruck report “In all, approximately fifty-five thousand (55,000) images have,to date, been made available outside Syria by these processes. As there were some four or five photographs taken of each body this approximates to there being images of about eleven thousand (11,000)dead detainees.”

However, according to the Human Rights Watch report, 24,568 of the photos are of dead soldiers and members of the security services and just 28,707 are ones which Human Rights Watch “understand to have died in government custody.”

This writer has asked all the authors of the Carter-Ruck report how they failed to notice that 24,568 of the photos are of dead soldiers and members of the security services and whether they would care to comment on the discrepancy and, given their study was based on a dip survey of the whole set, whether they would comment on how this revelation affects the credibility of their report and their assessment of “Caesar’s” credibility.

Human Rights Watch maintain in their report that they “understand” the photos include 6,786 separate dead detainees. HRI has asked the HRW why they “understand” these dead individuals are all detainees – rather than, for instance, individuals who have died in violence in Damascus or the surroundings or died of their wounds after being taken to the military hospital – particularly as HRW have, in their own words, only been “able to verify 27 cases of detainees whose family members’ statements regarding their arrest and physical characteristics matched the photographic evidence.

Other questions which arise from a comparison of the two reports include why the authors of the Carter-Ruck report say 26.948 images were provided by Caesar as well as “some ” of the other 20,000+ whereas HRW make no such distinction; why HRW have used a medical examiner, Dr Nizam Peerwani, who reportedly excited some controversy regarding a dead infant, a missing brain and missing slides; why HRW have only reviewed some of the 24,568 images of dead soldiers and crime scenes and why they describe the numbers attached to the bodies as being indicative of detention centers rather that military intelligence units.

The photos have, of course, come via the pro-rebel “Syrian National Movement” – HRW mention a contract under which these photos were provided and that should be published in full.

Those involved in producing the Carter-Ruck report are:

Chairman: The Rt. Hon Sir Desmond de Silva Contact
Sir Desmond was the former United Nations Chief War Crimes Prosecutor in Sierra Leone.
Dr Stuart Hamilton of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit Contact
Professor David Crane, formerly Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone who is on the leadership council of the American Bar Association’s International Law Section. Contact
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC who worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia – the ICTY – between 1998 and 2006 and led the prosecution of Slobodan Milošević, former President of Serbia.
Professor Sue Black President of Association for Science Education (Scotland) Contact
Stephen Cole of Acume Forensic a company which performs Expert Witness services for the Crown Prosecution Service

At the time of writing none of the authors have responded to our questions.

11 replies on “New Human Rights Watch Report and the Caesar photos”

I probably should point out the Carter Ruck report was paid for by Qatar – as Craig Murray put it: “The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it. Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech. What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case. It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.”

Human Rights Watch describe several pieces of information that distinguish the photos of dead soldiers and security force members from the photos of alleged detainees. In many cases, both the card (placed next to the body) and the file name contain the word martyr and the victim’s name and military rank:

“The second category of photographs are images of dead army soldiers or members of the security forces. These photographs were also taken in the morgues of military hospitals. However, unlike the first batch, the cards on these photographs include the name of the person who died, and sometimes the date of their death. In many cases, their name is prefaced by the word shahid, or martyr, in Arabic, as well as by their military rank. In addition to the cards, their name, the word shahid, and their military rank also often appear in the file name.”

In at least one case, a group of photos of dead soldiers was stored together in one folder, which should have made them easier to distinguish from the others:
“A folder of photographs in the second category, showing government soldiers, is labeled “Teshrieen Hospital,” [Tishreen Hospital] indicating that they were taken in another military hospital in Damascus.”

The Carter-Ruck report, on the other hand, says very little about the victims’ identities, apart from a pair of identification numbers for each body:
“Each murdered detainee was given two numbers with only the intelligence service knowing the identities of the corpses.”

Neither Caesar nor his associates nor Carter-Ruck’s investigators appear to have noticed the differences between the types of photos. These details didn’t appear to come up either in the investigators’ interviews with Caesar over a number of days, considering that they concluded that all 11,000 victims were detainees.

Another major discrepancy between the two reports is in the number of children among the victims. HRW report 114 boys, whereas Carter Ruck say there were no children in the photos they studied.

Out of the 6,786 bodies that were examined by a doctor in the HRW report, he found approximately 114 boys, or about 1.7%.

Carter Ruck found no children among the estimated 1,300 bodies in the images they examined. If it was a purely random sample, the bodies of 28 boys should have been found in the Carter-Ruck study, if HRW’s results are correct.

” Some five thousand five hundred (5,500) images were examined in total by the forensics team. It was apparent that most deceased persons had between four or five images taken of them allowing an estimate of images of one thousand three hundred (1,300) individual corpses being considered by the forensics team.

Initially two thousand (2,000) images were examined as an overview, to provide a sense of the nature and extent of injuries, then a further three thousand five hundred (3,500) were examined in more detail. The vast majority of the images were of young men most likely between the ages of twenty and forty, with a minority more likely to be up to sixty years old. There were no children.”

“[33] Human Rights Watch Interview with Dr. Mohammed Ayyash, June 9, 2015. According to the SAFMCD, 114 boys under 18 appeared among the victims, representing two percent of the total number of victims. The doctor who reviewed the photographs for the SAFMCD told Human Rights Watch he assessed age by looking for signs of puberty, but that errors were possible.”

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