As part of a series of events highlighting the recent exhibition of the Caesar Photographs at Smith College, three activists and scholars–Robert Ford, Mouaz Moustafa, and Sarah Leah Whitson–came together to discuss the violations of human rights currently taking place in Syria. Combining their different perspectives on the issues at hand, the three speakers each gave a short presentation about the photos and the ways in which the conflicts surrounding Syria are not appropriately being addressed.
In January of 2014, news surfaced of a Syrian defector who had left the government’s mukhabarat (security agencies) with tens of thousands of images displaying the bodies of detainees who died in state detention centers. Many have died or have disappeared after being detained by the government since the beginning of the uprising in 2011. Code-named “Caesar”, the Syrian defector stated that as an official forensic photographer for the Military Police, it was his personal duty to photograph the bodies of deceased detainees and assist in archiving thousands more similar photographs. Photographed in Syria between May 2011 and August 2013, this striking collection of images was put on display during a two week exhibition at the college. (This panel discussion and exhibition includes graphic content.)
Robert Ford, the former US Ambassador for Syria (2011-2014), focused on developing U.S. international policies implementation in areas like Syria, Iraq, and Algeria. After spending nearly two decades on diplomacy work in the Middle East, Ford resigned when he became frustrated with the lack of work being done to stop human rights injustices taking place amidst the Syrian conflict.
Mouaz Moustafa is a Syrian and US citizen who has traveled back and forth between Syria and Washington since he was a teenager. As Executive Director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, Moustafa organizes in-country peace work, training programs, and emergency relief.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Middle East and North Africa division, has lead dozens of advocacy projects and investigative missions in over 19 countries. Recently, she’s been involved in the HRW’s report on the current genocide being committed by the Syrian government and has organized the exhibition of the Caesar Photos in places like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C.
At the conclusion of this talk, the speakers discussed ways in which American citizens can call for action within the U.S. government as well as support different organizations currently supporting Syrians affected by the war.
This panel was held on February 11th in the Carroll Room at the Smith College Campus Center.