2017 Prizewinner of the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award
For its courage in bringing the systematic torture and mass murders in Syria to the attention of the world public.
When in spring 2011, revolutions shook the Arab world, in Syria, men, women and children took to the streets peacefully and demanded reforms. Security forces fired into the crowds. In an attempt to break the movement, the secret services made innumerable arbitrary arrests.
At the time, “Caesar” was stationed in the military police headquarters in the north of Damascus. As military photographers, he and his colleagues were sent to take photographs of demonstrators who had been killed by firearms. In the eyes of the regime, these demonstrators were terrorists. After this, the photographers were commissioned to document the corpses of prisoners who had died during imprisonment. They had died due to torture, hunger and disease. Their tormented bodies are naked, they have only numbers, written on their skin.
“Caesar” soon realised that these were no terrorists, but simple civilians.
Over two years, he smuggled over 50,000 images out of the military hospital on memory sticks, and loaded them on to an external hard-drive. The images show humans starved and eviscerated, their skin carved with knives and burned by chemical agents, their eyes gauged and bones broken - horrendous acts done to people with the horror of the last hours of their lives still on their faces. His photos show at least 6,700 individual human beings who were tortured to death in the prisons of the Syrian state security services, with the number of the murderous facility marked on each body and on an accompanying white card.
When in summer 2013, “Caesar” was brought out of the country, the Syrian National Movement received the stolen photographs. They tried to publicise the regime’s crimes and with them approached government offices and diplomatic representations in Paris, Geneva and Washington. On July 31, 2014 “Caesar” testified before the US Congress.
But international jurisdiction has remained silent, blocked by conflicting diplomatic interests. At the UN Security Council, Bashar al-Assad’s Russian ally has vetoed all resolutions to condemn the Syrian regime or to demand referral to the International Criminal Court.
National jurisdictions are the only solution. Therefore western lawyers in Europe and in the USA have brought charges against the regime in their countries. In France (October 2016), in Spain (February 2017) and in Germany (March 2017), criminal charges against the rulers of the Syrian regime were filed.
“Caesar” was no activist.
He did not even demonstrate against the rulers. But one day, this man said No! No to the crimes of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and to the despotism of its intelligence services. He said No! without having any idea where his rejection might lead him and what a long and insecure path lay before him. Until today.