More evidence of crimes against Assad than Nazis: prosecutor
In an interview with CBS Television's 60 Minutes programme, Stephen Rapp, who chairs the independent Commission for International Justice and Accountability and previously served as the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, said that thousands of documents have been collected and show a clear line between the Syrian leader and war crimes committed on the ground.
"There's no question they lead all the way to President Assad. I mean, this is a top down, organized effort. There are documents with his name on it. Clearly, he organises this strategy,” said Rapp.
"We've got better evidence against Assad and his clique than we had against Milosevic in Yugoslavia… even better than we had against the Nazis at Nuremberg, because the Nazis didn't actually take individual pictures of each of their victims with identifying information on them.”
Previously, Rapp has prosecuted war crimes in Sierra Leone and Rwanda.
More than 500,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict there began in 2011, mostly as a result of regime bombardment of civilian areas.
The conflict began after the regime brutally suppressed pro-democracy protests associated with the Arab Spring, and accusations of horrific crimes have been a feature of it since its earliest days.
Much of the best evidence of war crimes was smuggled out of the country by a defecting military photographer, who used the name Caesar, and showed the world the brutal torture and execution of Syrians in Assad’s prisons.
Speaking to 60 Minutes, Caesar described how the bodies of murdered Syrians were marked with three numbers.
"The first being the number of the detainee, the second is the number of the intelligence branch that tortured that individual to death. And the third number was given by the doctor which was a sequential number signifying which number of dead body he or she was," he said
Caesar’s testimony to the US Congress and further evidence he provided to US authorities led to the passing of the Caesar Act in 2020, which imposed sanctions on leading figures in the Assad regime, those accused of war crimes, and companies and organisations which have aided the regime.
Several organisations around the world, including the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and Rapp's Commission for International Justice and Accountability are working to investigate crimes in Syria and achieve justice for the victims.
"I'm an optimistic American. I've seen other situations that we thought were pretty hopeless, where nobody thought there'd ever be justice where we succeeded. The possibilities are there and one of the ways that we build toward that is get the solid evidence now,” said Rapp.
Members of the US Congress have recently submitted legislation which would pursue those who help violators of human rights evade US and international sanctions.
The Bassam Barabandi Rewards for Justice Act gives incentives to those who have information about the evasion of US or UN sanctions, by expanding the US State Department's "Rewards for Justice" programme.
It was submitted by Representative Joe Wilson, a Republican, and Representative Ted Deutsch.
This is the second time the bill has been introduced to Congress, after its first passage to the Senate was disrupted by the US presidential election.
Bassam Barabandi, for whom the bill was named, was a former Syrian diplomat and defector, who until 2013, served as consul and first secretary at the Syrian Embassy in Washington.
“I am grateful for Bassam, who inspired this bill, and has advocated expanding the US State Department Rewards for Justice program, incentivising people around the world to provide information on sanctions violators to improve enforcement,” said Congressman Wilson.