(NEW YORK) — There appears to be a new urgency for regime change in Syria following a new report by three former war crimes prosecutors who allege as many as 11,000 detainees were tortured and executed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
The report was unveiled just as talks are due to get underway Wednesday in Switzerland to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing three-year-conflict. Both Assad and opposition groups are sending delegations to the summit called Geneva II, although expectations are low that a settlement will be reached.
Meanwhile, accusations of systematic torture and killing of thousand detainees were raised by the prosecutors when a former Syrian military police photographer known as “Caesar” was reportedly able to smuggle 55,000 digital images of the victims. He said the reason for the photographs was to confirm execution orders were carried out.
In Washington, State Department Marie Harf told reporters, “These most recent images are extremely disturbing; they are horrible to look at and they illustrate apparent actions that would be serious international crimes, and we have long said that those responsible for these kinds of serious violations in Syria must be held to account.”
Harf’s sentiment was echoed by both British and United Nations officials.
Damascus tried dismissing the new controversy as Syrian Ministry of Information Bassam Abu Abdullah told the BBC, “I doubt this report. We should check these photos. Who are these people? Where are the names? From which prisons? Who is this person who has the authority to have these photos?”
It was unclear what kind of impact, if any, the report will have on the peace negotiations.
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Joshua Berlinger, Marilia Brocchetto and Fernando Ramos, CNN
Chandrika Narayan and Steve Almasy, CNN
Ben Westcott, CNN
Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN