On March 15, UN investigators revealed in a 29-page report that in six and a half years of Syrian civil war, Syrian government forces and allied militias have raped and sexually assaulted thousands of women, girls, men, and boys.
The report, which was titled “‘I lost my dignity’: Sexual and gender-based violence in the Syrian Arab Republic” and released by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, examined sexual and gender-based violence during the time period from March 2011, when the conflict in Syria first began, to December 2017.
It relies upon testimony provided from 454 interviews with “survivors, relatives of survivors, eyewitnesses, defectors, healthcare practitioners and medical personnel, lawyers, and members of affected communities.”
The report is dated March 8, which coincides with International Women’s Day, and exposes the horrifying ways that sexual and gender-based violence has been used to intimidate, punish, and terrorize the women, girls, men, and boys of Syria; such methods include rape, torture, and genital mutilation, and were sometimes done in front of strangers as well as family members such as spouses, siblings, and children.
According to the report, such behavior was not “isolated accidents, but rather part of a pattern observed countrywide.” Government forces raped and mistreated civilians of both sexes during ground operations and house searches, as well as at checkpoints and detention facilities: The report states that “rape of women and girls was documented in 20 Government political and military intelligence branches, and rape of men and boys was documented in 15 branches.”
The youngest known victims were as young as nine years old.
The report concludes that such acts amount to war crimes and therefore recommends that the UN Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court for further action and that the international community “investigate and prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence”; use its collective influence to demand release of women, men, and children; and “encourage efforts to promote accountability,” among other actions.
However, this report is far from being the first indicator of sexual and gender-based violence in Syria.
Last August, eight women shared their stories in an NGO Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights report about Syrian forces committing rape, sexual violence, and torture. One women said she was beaten, tied, and raped under a photograph of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad.
Other torture tactics included use of the “flying carpet” (in which a detainee is attached to a wooden plank, which is then bent backwards) and the sexual abuse of young male prisoners, which other prisoners had to watch and listen. Another woman was forced to raise her child for several years in jail, where she covered his ears to prevent him from hearing the screams of tortured prisoners.
In 2014, the Guardian covered another UN investigation that showed Assad’s forces were arresting, beating, torturing, and sexually mistreating children.
And an even earlier UN report, from 2012 and therefore just the year after unrest began, revealed that Syrian government forces and allied militias were mistreating children and using them as human shields:
Most child victims of torture described being beaten, blindfolded, subjected to stress positions, whipped with heavy electrical cables, scarred by cigarette burns and in one case subjected to electrical shock to the genitals, the report says. One witness reported seeing a boy about 15 years old die as a result of repeated beatings.
That same year, BBC reported that former detainees had revealed men, women, and children were raped, tortured, and violated. (Warning: Link contains graphic detail of torture that included use of rats.)
Unfortunately, Syria’s civil war will soon enter its eighth year with no clear end in sight. On February 24, the UN Security Council unanimously voted in favor of a 30-day cease-fire in Syria after several days of delays by Russia, causing UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to be critical of Russia and vocal about the need to help the Syrian people.
"In the 3 days it took us to adopt this resolution, how many mothers lost their kids to the bombings & shelling?" Haley says. "The Syrian people should not have to die waiting for Russia to organize instructions from Moscow or discuss it with the Syrians." https://t.co/CsNlvSN0P7 pic.twitter.com/MXKeTsIpi0
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 24, 2018
And while the world waits to act, every day more Syrians are mistreated, raped, and killed, and the refugee crisis grows.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan