The UN Security Council has privately viewed grim photographs of Syrian dead bearing marks of strangulation, vivid bruises and welts from being tortured.
The pictures were part of 55,000 images taken by a Syrian government military photographer code-named “Caesar”, who defected last year and smuggled out the images on a USB card hidden in his shoes when he fled Syria.
“At the beginning, we thought the images were too good to be true,” former UN chief prosecutor David Crane told reporters on Tuesday after the Security Council meeting.
However, following a thorough investigation, the images were found to be credible, said Crane, who is part of a panel that investigated the images in a study known as the Caesar Report, funded by the Qatari government.
Some of the pictures shown to journalists depict people who seemed as thin as skeletons – a clear sign of starvation – while others were tortured beyond recognition.
Some had their eyes gouged out, while others were strangled or burnt to death.
Among the victims are young people, women and old men.
French UN ambassador Gerard Araud said that the presentation of the images was aimed at convincing the 15-member Security Council to refer the perpetrators of the Syrian war to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
The Syrian government has not accepted ICC jurisdiction, and the only way to open a case is Security Council referral.
Araud said that Security Council members “were moved” by the pictures and that they held a few minutes of silence after viewing the images.
British forensic pathologist Stuart Hamilton led a team that examined the pictures, inspecting 5500 images from 1300 bodies.