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Concerns over “Caesar” from becoming “political bazaar”

The defected Syrian officer, known as Caesar, wearing a hood, testifies before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC- 31 July 2014 (Getty)

The defected Syrian officer, known as Caesar, wearing a hood, testifies before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC- 31 July 2014 (Getty)

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The former Syrian military photographer known only as Caesar rarely grants media interviews. However, in an exclusive interview made on 16 May, by the Suadi newspaper Okaz/ Saudi Gazette, the first Arab newspaper to have spoken to Caesar, Caesar accused “the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces” of “blackmailing him, putting his life and his families’ at stake.”

Caesar also said that a section of the Syrian opposition tries to take over his file, freezing it and turning it into a tool for negotiations with the Syrian regime.”

Caesar’s accusations did not go unnoticed, as “the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces,” commonly named “the Syrian National Coalition (SNC)” quickly replied by denying the accusations, confirming that the SNC had made “all efforts to support “the enforcement of H.R. 1677, or the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act (CSCPA).” The SNC added that “Caesar did not nothing by his duty, without obtaining an exclusive power of attorney for the victims.”

“Caesar” is one of the most prominent officers to defect from the Syrian regime, after the Syrian revolution erupted in 2011, due to the severe threat that his defection posed to the regime, by leaking thousands of photos of the bodies of detainees who died under torture in detention centers.

“Caesar” testified before the U.S. Congress about the atrocities of the Syrian regime in “a real” step to hold the Syrian regime accountable for its crimes against humanity. Subsequently, U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Caesar Act to become law on 20 December 2019, which is due to come into force next June. 

What did Caesar say?

The Saudi Gazette interviewed with both “Sami” and “Caesar” who are responsible for leaking 55,000 photos of 11,000 detainees killed under torture. 

“Sami,” highlighted that the Syrian opposition, including the “SNC,” have not provided any political, financial, or international support.

Both “Sami” and “Caesar” indicated that some figures claimed to be part of the Syrian opposition blackmail them seriously, putting their lives in jeopardy. They noted that they would reveal the names of those people and the bodies they work for one day. 

Furthermore, “Sami” and “Caesar” accused a section of the SNC of “taking over the Caesar file” and freezing it as the SNC has frozen itself.”

“Sami” and “Caesar” expressed fear that the file and the law of “Caesar” have turned into a negotiating paper in the hands of a group “not trusted in the revolution of the Syrian people.”

Caesar said that more than 20 organizations and institutions are working under the name of Caesar’s team, which obtain thousands of dollars from donor countries, taking advantage of his security situation and his inability to show up.

SNC ignores the direct response

Enab Baladi had tried to contact members of the SNC to have clarification on Caesar’s accusations and the reasons for his attack, as well as their impacts on the file’s progress, and the steps that the SNC will take if the allegations are true.

Enab Baladi did not receive any reply from the SNC members: Hisham Marwa and  Abdul Majid Barakat, while Yaseer al-Farhan, a member of the political committee of the SNC, requested an exclusive interview so that he could answer all the questions. 

The SNC had previously responded to Caesar’s accusations through a statement published on 17 May, in which it said that “the SNC is making every effort possible to help the U.S. government  implement  the Caesar Law.”

The statement added, “the SNC did its utmost in the U.S. scenes and decision-making circles to support law enforcement.”

The statement highlighted that “The SNC has a duty as an institution, which obliges it to invest in any law that serves the interests of the Syrian people and to act according to this duty. Any person who documents crimes is doing his duty, without becoming an exclusive agent for the victims.”

Fears of a “political bazaar”

The Head of “Syrians for Truth and Justice (SJT)” Bassam al-Ahmad, told Enab Baladi that these accusations directly affect the progress of the sanctions file “whether we like it or not,” as it “takes the file out of the context of legal and human rights, placing it in a purely political context, subject to different criteria.”

He explained that politicizing the file means using it in the “political bazaar” as a bargaining chip on the future of Syria, in isolation from justice and accountability.

Al-Ahmad added that several parties, including the SNC, tried to use the detainees’ cases for their interests, highlighting and concealing them according to their interests.

There will be negative impacts on the file of Caesar, under which America imposes sanctions on the Syrian regime; its opponents will claim that it is a political file and has nothing to do with human rights, according to al-Ahmad who said that the days will prove that, especially as the goal of the file is shifted from justice to the field of the “political bazaar” among the conflicting parties.

He pointed out that several human rights organizations had previously warned against transferring the Caesar file to the hands of the SNC.

Thus, the international organizations aiming to hold the Syrian regime accountable through the “Caesar” Law will question after these accusations, and perhaps revise their decisions, and ensure if the available information in the “Caesar” file is correct.

Al-Ahmad gave an example of what happened in the trial of former political security officer Anwar Raslan, whose defense lawyers relied on a loophole stating that one of the sources of information mentioned in the text of the accusation came from an organization accused of embezzlement.

Resentment among human rights activists and organizations

Many Syrian jurists expressed their surprise at the timing and place of leveling these accusations, taking into considerations territorial disputes between the axes of Turkey and Qatar on the one hand, and Suadi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates on the other hand, and the direct consequences of these disputes on the  Syrian file. 

 

Syrian journalist and human rights activist, Mansour Omari, posted on his Facebook account, on 17 May, that “It is shameful that Ceasar and Sami (who leaked the photos of victims killed and tortured in the Syrian regime’s prisons and help the issuance of Ceasar Law) and the Syrian torture file are transformed into tools in the Saudi-Turkish propaganda war. 

Al-Omari added, “It is unfortunate that Caesar’s first press interview has been conducted with a newspaper loyal to the regime which kills and tortures dissidents and journalists.”

Bassam al-Ahmad agreed with al-Omari, indicating that the Ceasar’s move called on followers to say that it comes in the context of “Saudi revenge” against Qatar and Turkey because of the differences between them, stressing that political and military bodies only concern their interests.

Caesar Act

  • The U.S. President imposes his sanctions within 180 days of its approval.
  • It lasts for five years.
  • It considers imposing sanctions on the Syrian Central Bank.
  • It economically, militarily, and informatively penalizes foreigners supporting the Syrian regime, including individuals, companies, and countries.
  • It penalizes human rights violators and their accomplices.
  • It helps Syrians, researches means to protect them and supports the gathering of evidence and investigative methods to hold war criminals accountable.
  • It makes the lifting of sanctions subject to the Syrian government’s commitment to human rights, stopping violations, and releasing detainees.

 

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