BERLIN — The advocacy group Human Rights Watch sharply criticized international powers Tuesday for the way they are dealing with the civil war in Syria, saying that the desire to bring President Bashar Assad’s government to the negotiating table should not become a pretext for failing to protect civilians caught in the conflict, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives.
The group included the criticism in an annual accounting of human rights records around the world Tuesday, the day before an international peace conference on the Syrian conflict was set to begin in Montreux, Switzerland.
Separately, a team of legal and forensic experts commissioned by the government of Qatar said Monday that thousands of photographs showing scarred, emaciated corpses offered “direct evidence” of mass torture by Syrian government forces.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, which has its headquarters in New York, said the images were consistent with what his organization had seen when it visited detention centers in Syria. The photographs, provided to the Syrian opposition by a man who described himself as a defector from Assad’s security forces, highlight the importance of opening up Syrian detention facilities to international inspection, he said.
Speaking at a news conference in Berlin, Roth said that Western governments, and especially the United States, had not spoken out strongly enough about the violence for fear that it could endanger the peace talks.
“It is essential that the mass atrocities being committed in Syria be a parallel focus of any diplomatic effort,” Roth said.
Human Rights Watch said the rest of the world had done too little to intervene in Syria to protect civilians, in contrast with the efforts mounted by France, the United States and the United Nations in African countries like the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
President Barack Obama’s record on national security issues was criticized in the report, from the continued existence of the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to what the group called the unlawful killing of civilians through drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Egypt, Myanmar and Thailand, as well as Ukraine were singled out as examples where governments pledged to make democratic changes that never came to fruition. Human Rights Watch praised the resulting widespread protests as an indication that the public is not willing to be denied basic freedoms.