the youth are in the streets!
This is a guest post by Leeds Friends of Syria
Trigger warning: contains details of female and male rape.
The use of rape as a weapon is commonplace throughout history and landmark judgments in tribunals related to Rwanda and former Yugoslavia were heralded by some as bringing about an end to notion of culture of impunity regarding the issue of rape during times of conflict. The conflict raging in Syria however has shown that the idea of rape not been used as a weapon has not abated at all, as reports of horrific levels of rape against civilians are emerging increasingly. The issue of rape as a weapon has received some Western media attention, however considering how widespread rape is been utilised as a weapon by Assad’s forces and the levels of brutality and violence used within these rapes, the international community it appears is not giving this issue as much attention as it deserves.
The sexual violence which many Syrian women have to endure is often extreme, with unimaginable acts frequently committed. Numerous women are reported to have had rats and mice inserted into their vaginas as part of these methods of torture for example. It is unclear how many women have been sexually assaulted throughout the conflict, due to problems collecting testimonies and statements including the conservative backgrounds many rape victims come from. What is clear from women who have spoken out and organisations which work with victims of sexual violence is that the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon by Assad’s forces is commonplace (especially in rural areas and the city of Homs in particular) and the methods of sexual violence are often brutal and monstrous.
Women are not the only victims in the growing use of rape as a weapon by Syrian government forces. Many victims are sexually assaulted whilst their families are forced to watch, causing emotional trauma for all generations and genders of families. Increasingly men are also the victims of sexual assaults as well in Syria, with the Women’s Media Centre estimating 20% of rape victims are male, however some suggest that this figure may be much higher. Male rape and sexual assault victims report a multitude of different barbaric methods used by Assad’s forces including victims being anally penetrated with guns and genital mutilation.
It is important that the issue of rape is discussed and is not allowed to disappear into the background of issues emerging from within Syria. Soldiers who have defected from the Syrian army have on occasion stated that they were ordered to rape women then shot them so that the victims would not be able to testify about the atrocities that they had suffered; the Syrian army wants communities to know that women are been raped so that a culture of fear is spread, whilst at the same time these soldiers are protecting themselves from accountability for these crimes. It is therefore extremely important to vocalise the issue of rape and sexual violence within Syria, so that it does not simply become a forgotten issue in the shadows of other equally heinous crimes committed in Syria.
Whether the use of rape and sexual violence within Syria is an organised concept orchestrated from the top, or whether it is simply a response to the lack of accountability Assad’s soldiers are currently facing it is clear that this is another fundamental way in which Assad is failing the Syrian people. At worse Assad and others at the top of power are intentionally ordering the use of rape as a weapon, however even if this awful trend within Syria is not a constructed plan, Assad has completely denied that the Syrian army is partaking in these crimes, hence doing nothing to prevent yet more cases of rape against civilians. Whichever of these scenarios is true, it is simply a further example of how Assad has no legitimacy to maintain his position of power.
By Alice H, Leeds Friends of Syria