Syrian torture photos on display at United Nations

The photos have been shown to Congress and in media reports, but many people had no idea they existed.

Story highlights

  • 35 photos of tortured bodies are on display at the United Nations
  • Adviser to the Coalition for a Democratic Syria says they show actions of President Bashar al-Assad's regime

United Nations (CNN)Tour groups and diplomats breeze past a nondescript display of 35 blown-up photos printed on poster board. Suddenly, one tourist catches a glimpse of the subject of one of the photos: a man whose eyes have been gouged out.

Manjula Sharma, visiting the United Nations from India, gasps when she realizes what she is looking at.
"How could anybody do this?" she said, while looking at the photos with a pained expression. "It's not war. It's not drought. It's not natural calamity. It's torture."
    The exhibit is tucked away behind the lobby of the U.N. Secretariat Building. It's a no-frills exhibition of photos taken by a man who is being called "Caesar," a Syrian government defector whose job it was to take photos of dead detainees for the military police. Caesar claimed to take up to 50 photos a day, and brought nearly 27,000 images like these out of the country. Captions on the photos show that many of them were taken inside military hospitals, and accuse Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in the torture and killings.
    The photos show emaciated bodies. Some have eyes gouged out, some have genitals removed. And many are covered with wounds, the flesh peeling from their bodies.
    It's a sight that gave pause to Anders Frantzen, who works at the United Nations and was running late to a meeting.
    "I told myself I really wanted to come back here and take a proper look. It looks like something you haven't seen since the Second World War. It's very bad," Frantzen said. "It's difficult to put a face, an image to the numbers we hear about. So you see these pictures (and) it sort of puts things in a new perspective."
    While the photos have been shown before Congress and in media reports, many people, like Sharma, had no idea they existed.
    That's partly why Mouaz Moustafa, senior political adviser to the Coalition for a Democratic Syria, said he placed the photos in this location. He wanted to bring awareness to the public and put pressure on U.N. Security Council member states to vote for the International Criminal Court to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.
    "If you ask anyone about ISIS from Mississippi to Alabama, everyone is so well aware of this obviously evil entity," Moustafa said. "If you compare it to the horrendous crimes of the Assad regime, it doesn't get, I feel, it doesn't get the same coverage."
    The Syrian Mission to the United Nations did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the exhibit.
    The exhibit will be at the United Nations until March 24.