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SETF’s Ceasar Exhibit at Denmark’s People’s Democracy Summit/Folkemødet, June 2023

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It’s been now over 12 years that the Assad regime has been waging war on the Syrian people, simply and precisely because they dared to demand freedom. Yes, the Syrian context has become complicated since the uprising in March 2011. Yes, protesters took up arms to defend themselves and their quest for human rights and a more just and democratic state. Yes, the Assad regime, with Russia’s and Iran’s support, orchestrated a conflict with extremists that would otherwise not be. Yes, things escalated and imploded in myriad ways over the now over 12 years of a crisis that devoured and defied even the most basic tenets of human rights, humanity and justice. A couple of obscene constants remained: the regime’s crudest, most barbaric disdain for the life of Syrians with the most salacious support it receives from Russia in particular. And the sheer, excruciating pain the Syrians are going through at the hands of this hydra-like usurper.

The hydra’s heads only compete with each other in terms of brutality: disappearing, torturing and killing in detention dungeons that are more brutal and grotesque than the imagination can bear; wounding, maiming and killing in airstrikes on hospitals, bakeries, civil defence, schools and markets; suffocating and killing in chemical attacks; raping; starving; displacing; expropriating, deporting and cleansing; stealing and robbing; denying; preventing treatment and leaving untreated; extorting; separating; haunting the loved ones who are still alive – and, like the Nazi regime, even documenting its own atrocities. As Steven Rapp, former US Ambassador for War Crimes and member of SETF’s Board of Trustees, said: we have got better evidence against the Assad regime than we had against the Nazis. That is not least because of the length of time the regime has been allowed to operate with impunity. Wherever you look, civilians suffer a burning, at once acute and chronic pain.

The hydra doesn’t care that tyrannizing women, children and the elderly with unspeakable cruelty did nothing to deter the Syrians’ quest for freedom. That it continued to punish in atrocious ways the hundreds of thousands disappeared and languishing in jails is a testament to its belonging in the underworld of evilness. It does it arbitrarily, because it can, because it is not punished itself, because it is not stopped by those with a mandate to protect civilians and stop it.

So how can we help? What can we do? The evil going on every second for over 12 years must stop. In order to help, we must care. And in order to care, we must know. Once we see, we cannot unsee; once we know, we cannot unknow. We can talk about it and we can pressure our governments, our institutions, our politicians to do something about it, to never normalize atrocities, impunity and sheer evil and rather to hold it accountable.

This was what the Syrian Emergency Task Force/SETF meant to achieve when we brought the Caesar exhibit to Denmark’s annual People’s Democracy Festival/Folkemødet on the island of Bornholm in June. Displaying photographs of victims of torture from the Assad regime’s dungeons was a way to share their pain with the world – and no less in a country that considers itself a bastion of human rights and a promoter of justice and accountability.

To bring this to Denmark and make it care many efforts were spent: of Caesar, the codename military photographer who painstakingly copied and smuggled out of Syria 55,000 photographs of victims of torture he himself was tasked to take from Syria’s military and intelligence detention facilities – and this only between 2011 and 2013! Of the US Holocaust Museum, who took custody of these photographs. Of, the Syrian Emergency Task Force, who made it its mission to inform the world about these atrocities and the need for accountability for them. Of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, who made it is mission to document these atrocities and advocate for accountability, too. Of Baytna, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke, and The Day After, Syrian and Danish organizations who support the pursuit of justice and accountability and sponsored this exhibit, too. It is now your turn to help us spread the word – after all, this is your world, too.