Sara you made a touching documentary about mass atrocities committed in the last few years in Syria’s detention facilities according human rights organizations. There would be over some 20, 000 young rebels disappeared since 2011. It is an astonishing number of forced disappearance. How did you get involved in this story in the investigation that Steven Rapp and Bill Wiley are conducting so firmly and courageously collecting irrefutable evidence to bring Assad and his inner circle before an international court?
Well, I first saw the Caesar photographs when they first came out in January 2014. At the beginning they were just 30 photographs released in the public demain. I was really shocked, first I thought how can this be true. I thought if these phographs are real this would certainly change things, because they reminded me photos of Holocaust. I was interested in it and began looking into it. Quite few months passed I noticed, I realized that nobody was going to do this just seemed to be forgotten. I think partly was forgotten because happened during the same time ISIS became a force in Syria and me as a journalist for twenty years I was being asked to make a film about ISIS. I understand you want make a film about ISIS, I said, but what about this? Have you seen these photographs they are really appalling. They weren’t really interested in it so I just started to work myself, set up my production company and started investigating on my own. I met Steven Rapp the Prosecutor you see in the film. He was in the State department at that time, he was very open with me, we started a dialogue then I contacted them all the people of CIJA, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability.
As time went by, more and more survivors and family started to talk at the beginning they were really afraid of talking I interviewed a lot of survaivors and their families before deciding of interviewing Maryam and Mazen, the people who are in the film. I spent about two years investigating the subject. I even met Ceaser myself which not many people met him. With my collegue investigating journalist as well worked togheter, we had no funding from anyone, and we went to Channel 4 “you want to broadcast this film?” They were supportive. We really investigated in that we could write a book now we have so much testimony information corraboration. I have never worked in an investigation in my life where I had so much evidence.
The reason why these gruesome Caeser’s photos have had so little attention even in Italy? Nothing happened nobody campaigned for this. It is enough to affirm that this was only for Isis drawing all the attention?
People that are still there they need to be freed. The reason of so little attention is partly because it is a so horrific subject, when I was making the film I had to think carefully about how to make it so that people do not switch off because it’s about torture and the photographs are so horrific. I hoped people connected with the human stories and human beings in the films. But I do think in Europe we are obsessed by ISIS because ISIS affects our life. In the West everything is looked at through what affects our lives and what is important to us. I don’t think people think of what affects Syrian people Syrians are in Syria this affects so many Syrians every one I spoke with have families and friends killed or missing in detention. We understimate the numbers of people who are affected by this in th end we will find out the scale of this is massive. Most of the refugees now in Europe when you speak to them they have families missing in detention or killed in detention. A lot of them have escaped because they were afraid to be arrested and they don’t really talk about that only if speak with them you find out.
In last few months more than one Government trying to negotiate with the Syrian regime and it is not the right time to come out with things like that.
Yes, you are right. It is an Inconvinient truth that is another reason I started with the project because I realized people wanted to sweep it under the carpet do not want to talk about that and under the carpet because it maybe be unhelpful in the negotiations and again that links to ISIS. When ISIS came up, they thought we have to talk to Assad because of ISIS. It is appalling they do not discuss properly in the negotiations. That is we are trying to do with the film we are trying you put the discussion at high level properly. I really hope some politicians will start talking about it and that is what we try to do with the screenings.
Did you have any political support after coming out with the film?
I am still working on it. We just went to the European Parliament to screen there. We were to have a screening in the UK Parliament, unfortunately it has not happened yet because of the elections, the terrorists…we also are going to have screenings to the Foreign Office I spoke to people at the State department of America. I am trying to speak at many people as possible.
What about chances that Steven Rapp and Bill Wiley concretelly file cases before national courts? The most difficult in cases of international justice is to prove these mass crimes were State policy, prove that the regime knew about this repression and torture policy.
That is the point. Even if Assad did not give orders to committ abuses and torture the fact that is so wide spread, so sistematically.. he could not know about it, there is no possibility he did not know about it.
Is there any real chance to bring him and his inner circle before a court ? And more importantly to free who is still unwarrantly in detention?
In the medium term I do not think it is possible to arrest people around Assad or himself he would have to leave the country to be arrested; the case is opened in Spain, in Germany arrest warrants will be issued then if there are people from the regime travell in the Schenghen area or any country having an extradition treaty with the EU they can be arrested and extradated. They can be arrogant in confidence. To free the ones in detention we have to raise the issue with specific politicians and thye have to put forward the issue strongly especially they have to talk with the Russians and people who can influence Assad regime and say you need to do this, even a confidence building measure you need to free the detainees at least the children, there two thousands children alone.
Sara you spoke to lots of eye-witnesses and survivors which of them affected you most?
I am grateful to each of them. I knew it was really hard for them to speak and different people deals with their experience in different ways. Some people they don’t want to speak at all. The person who affected me most is Mazen who you see in the film. From my very first meeting with him I could see that he wanted be really opened about what happened. He is very vulnerable, he is one of that kind of people who even though went through something so painful he is willing to open up. In terms of family I was massively affected by Myriam. She is such strong woman so determined, so intelligent. I found she so dignified. She has not his body to bury. In the future, in the next years, I will make the long version of the film whenfull story and outcome. For me this film is just the beginning I want to see justice done the route justice is long way we have to campaign and shout out what happens in detention facilities.