Protecting Women in Syria Requires the Intervention of the International Community After Violations Have Reached the Level of Crimes against Humanity
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) states in its report issued to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women that violations in Syria have reached the level of crimes against humanity, and that the international community should intervene to protect women in Syria, noting that 28,076 females have been killed in Syria since March 2011, nearly 84 percent of these at the hands of Syrian Regime forces and its allies.
The 36-page report reveals that for more than eight years, the basic rights of Syrian women have further deteriorated at all levels, including the security, social, economic, health and psychological levels, in conjunction with the Syrian regime’s murderously brutal response to the people’s demands for freedom and fundamental human rights as a result of the eruption of the popular uprising for democracy in 2011. Whilst it’s true that all segments of Syrian society have been adversely affected by the repercussions of the conflict, women have been worst affected, firstly because of their multiple roles and responsibilities as mothers and caregivers, and secondly due to their social and health status.
The report explains that Syrian women and girls have not been accidental victims of the conflict, but have rather been directly and deliberately targeted by all parties to the conflict, primarily by the Syrian regime, which is by far the most prolific and most brutal perpetrator of violations compared to the other parties; females have been targeted either because of their active contribution to social, humanitarian, political, human rights, relief, medical, and media work, or simply because they are females, with the aim of marginalizing and breaking them, and as part of the regime’s effort to suppress and intimidate society and deter any further opposition to the authorities, particularly since the status of women in Syrian society is still strongly linked to customs and beliefs. Women have also been subjected to various types of violations, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture and executions, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, forced displacement, siege, and denial of healthcare and basic services, with the rates of these violations, particularly the killing, torture and enforced disappearance, being the worst in the world, according to the report. Women have been subjected to other types of violations, including restrictions on work, education and clothing, and access to adequate healthcare in areas controlled by ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, as well as forced conscription in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, along with persecution, threats, intimidation and extortion in areas under the control of factions of the Armed Opposition.
As the report notes, although most international legal instruments and covenants, such as the Geneva Convention and its two Additional Protocols, international humanitarian law and the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, give special protection to women in their articles, in all circumstances, given women’s specific needs, Syrian women still do not enjoy even the lowest levels of protection and security. Such security and protection can only be achieved through the creation of a stable and secure society, which is impossible to achieve in the absence of a democratic political system. Despite the massive and overwhelmingly vast number of problems and violations suffered by Syrian women, a large number of them still haven’t abandoned their resistance and the struggle to attain basic and fundamental rights and freedoms for the whole of Syrian society in order to achieve the democratic transformation of the Syrian state; their selflessness and self-sacrifice underlines the need for a guarantee of their active participation at every level.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“After suffering this terrible loss of their rights, Syrian women deserve all forms of support and advocacy from all women’s organizations and human rights bodies around the world, more especially since the world’s states have failed to fulfill their obligations to protect women in Syria and to ensure that the Syrian regime respect the Geneva Conventions to which it is a party. Syrian society cannot be stable without holding the perpetrators of crimes against Syrian women accountable and ensuring all their rights.”
The report outlines the record of violations committed by the main parties to the conflict in Syria against females between March 2011 and November 25, 2019, particularly outlining the violations that occurred between November 25, 2018, and November 25, 2019. The report also draws upon survivors’ accounts and outlines 11 accounts of survivors of various types of violations or of victims’ families or eyewitnesses to the incidents.
The report documents that 28,076 females were killed at the hands of the main parties to the conflict in the period covered by the report. Of those, 21,856 females were killed by Syrian Regime forces, 1,479 were killed by Russian forces, 959 were killed by US-led coalition, and 1,307 females were killed by factions of the Armed Opposition.
In addition, extremist Islamist groups killed 1,059 females – 980 of these were killed by ISIS and 79 by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, while Syrian Democratic Forces killed 245 females. Lastly, 1,171 females were killed by other parties.
As the report further reveals, at least 10,363 females are still detained or forcibly disappeared by the main parties in Syria between March 2011 and November 25, 2019, of whom 8,412 are still detained or forcibly disappeared by Syrian Regime forces, 919 are still detained or forcibly disappeared by factions of the Armed Opposition, 489 by extremist Islamist groups, including 426 by ISIS and 63 by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, while 543 females are still detained or forcibly disappeared by Syrian Democratic Forces.
The report includes the total record of female victims who were killed as a result of torture, which reached 90 women (adult female), 72 of whom were killed by Syrian Regime forces, 14 by ISIS, two by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, and one each by factions of the Armed Opposition and other parties.
The report notes that women and girls benefit from the general protection and special protection provided for them under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the two Additional Protocols as civilian individuals not taking part in hostilities, and enjoy all the rights provided for, including the right to life and the right to physical and psychological integrity, with the systematic killings, torture and enforced disappearances widely practiced by Syrian Regime forces in all Syrian governorates constituting crimes against humanity, as indiscriminate bombardment is indiscriminate and is daily recurring war crimes.
The report stresses that Syrian Regime forces have practiced sexual violence, effectively using it as a deterrent weapon to terrorize the whole of society. This has become a terrible everyday phenomenon with dire consequences for the victims, particularly women and girls, as well as their families and communities. In many such incidents, however, victims understandably don’t feel sufficiently confident to reveal the details of their ordeals, in most cases out of fear of retaliation, shame, or social stigmatization.
The report notes that at the 2005 Summit, states unanimously agreed that every country has a responsibility to protect its population from crimes against humanity and war crimes. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, the prevention of incitement to commit them by all possible means, and when the state clearly fails to protect its population from egregious crimes, or itself is committing such crimes as in the case of the Syrian regime, asserts that it is the responsibility of the international community to intervene to take protective measures in a collective, decisive and timely manner.
The report also notes that through indiscriminate bombardment and killings, Syrian Democratic Forces have committed acts which constitute war crimes, all in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, and have also carried out arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and forced conscription.
As the report states, ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham have both carried out the crime of killing, as well as indiscriminate shelling operations, which constitute war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law. ISIS has also tortured and enslaved women in a widespread manner which constitutes a crime against humanity, with these acts constituting violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and constitute war crimes.
The report further notes that forcing women to wear certain clothing and controlling their freedom of movement and expression constitute violations of a wide range of fundamental rights according to international human rights law.
Factions of the Armed Opposition have also committed numerous violations against Syrian women, some of which were committed against the backdrop of the armed conflict, which constitute a violation of the rules of international humanitarian law, and some of which took place in areas under their control, which constitute a violation of international human rights law.
The report calls on the Syrian regime to lift its reservation on the CEDAW treaty, to immediately cease the acts of willful killing, torture, and arrest which it carries out against Syrian women.
The report also calls on the Syrian-Russian alliance and Iranian militias to cease their deliberate bombardment of residential civilian neighborhoods and populated areas since these attacks result in civilian casualties, most of whom are women and children, to disclose the fate of the disappeared females in their detention centers, to investigate the torture and deaths of female detainees, and to end unfair and arbitrary trials and to repeal their sentences.
The report recommends that US-led coalition should investigate the incidents that resulted in the death of female victims in particular, calling on the US-led coalition to apply pressure on its allies, the SDF, to cease the conscription of female children, as well as abductions and arrests.
The report stresses the urgent need for all parties to the conflict to immediately release female detainees, particularly those detained against the backdrop of the armed conflict, and abide by international laws on the detention of girls.
The report urges the European States and European Union to escalate their economic sanctions on the two main supporters of the Syrian regime, namely Iran and Russia, and to provide every possible assistance to the active civil society groups working to rehabilitate and reintegrate female victims into their communities.
The report stresses that the UN Security Council must protect women in Syria from the Syrian regime, which has been perpetrating the most serious and major violations of every kind against Syrian women, and to put pressure on the Syrian regime to ensure that international observers, including the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, are given unconditional and unrestricted access to women and girls in detention centers.
Lastly, the report recommends that both OHCHR and the International Commission of Inquiry (COI) should issue a special report on the violations that Syrian women, in particular, have experienced.