Sexual violence as a weapon of war in Syria

//A Syrian woman in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan

"The interrogator left me in the room and came back with three personnel who took turns raping me. I fiercely resisted the first but when the second started, I became more terrified and couldn’t resist. When the third started, I totally collapsed. I was bleeding all the time. As the last one finished, I fell on the ground. Ten minutes later, the prison doctor came in and took me to the bathroom where he gave me an injection to enable me to stand before the judge.”

19 years old Aida, who was arbitrarily detained from October 2012 to January 2013 tells of her ordeal to Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)…

Syrian women like Aida, are being increasingly exposed to violence perpetrated by all parties. According to a report by Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, rape is being used as a weapon of war in Syria and an estimated 6000 women have been raped in 2013.

The report by EMHRN titled “Violence against Women, Bleeding Wound in the Syrian Conflict” registers various cases of violence against women in the Syrian conflict such as “killings of women in the context of military fighting, execution of women during massacres, use of women as human shields, rapes during incursions and raids, rapes during kidnapping, rape inside governmental prisons and detention facilities, sexual harassment and humiliation during detention, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and abduction”.

According to the report rapes occur mostly in three situations: at checkpoints, detention centres, and during military raids. Information gathered indicates that members of state security apparatus have been involved in sexual violence.

And in a patriarchal society like Syria, the stigma of rape can easily discourage women from admitting what they went through, as they face the risk of being ostracized.   The EMHRN has documented cases of women that had to flee to refugee camps where they often face further discrimination and violence.

“Many victims of sexual violence chose or were forced to leave their homeland, carrying with them the physical and physiological marks to the country of asylum where they are subjected to deprivation of their economic, health, and cultural rights, and face more risk of sexual violence and exploitation through very early marriages, trafficking or forced labor, which forms a new burden on the female refugee who already suffers anxiety, depression and other mental issues due to their tragic memories of violations”, reads the report.

Amnesty International also warned that Syrian women in refugee camps risk sexual and other forms of violence in the camps. A delegation from Amnesty International talked to women living in the Zaatari camp in Jordan, which hosts 160.000 refugees. They found out cases of sexual aggression, molestation and forced marriages.

Aid workers and refugees say that many displaced families have married off their daughters early, either in the belief that it can protect them from rape, or to “cover” the disgrace of past sexual abuse both during the conflict and in the camps.  

The Rome statute of the international criminal law defines ccts of sexual violence as including “rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, persecution or any other form of sexual violence perpetrated in the same circumstances as rape” and states that these acts may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity if they are part “either of a government policy or a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government, de facto authority or organized armed group”. They may also amount to acts of torture if committed at the instigation of a public official or otherwise attributable to the state. “According to the international criminal law, sexual violence committed in the framework of a military conflict can therefore be considered as weapons or tactics of warfare if they deliberately target civilians and are used to fulfill military or political purposes”, the EMHRN report says.

But Syrian women may be too scared to declare having been raped. According to analists, only about 10 percent of these women speak out about a rape.

Lauren Wolfe, the director ofWomen Under Siege” says “Religion and culture in Syria have combined to create a perfect storm in which women risk very real dangers if they speak out about having been violated. It’s a crime on top of a crime. A woman is abused, attacked, raped and then forced to stay silent. The repression of women in Syria has put them in a place where they just don’t talk about anything. It’s a society where they’ve had 40 years of, “Who’s listening in, and who’s going to report you to the government?.”



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