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UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: Sexual and gender-based violence against women, girls, men, and boys a devastating and pervasive feature of the conflict and must end now

15 March 2018

GENEVA (15 March 2018) – For the past six and a half years, parties to the Syrian conflict have subjected thousands of women, girls, men, and boys to sexual and gender-based violence, a group of UN experts said today. Such acts have been used as a tool to instil fear, humiliate and punish or, in the case of terrorist groups, to enforce draconian social order.

The report released today, “I lost my dignity: Sexual and gender-based violence in the Syrian Arab Republic”, is based on 454 interviews with survivors, relatives of survivors, defectors, healthcare practitioners, lawyers, and members of affected communities, and examines the perpetration of sexual and gender-based violence by parties since the uprising in March 2011 through December 2017.

“It is utterly repugnant that such brutal acts of sexual and gender-based violence continue to be perpetrated throughout Syria by warring parties”, stressed Commission Chair Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro. “These violations affect Syrians from all backgrounds, including men and boys, though women and girls are disproportionately impacted, and continue to be victimised on multiple grounds”.

During the uprising and initial years of armed conflict, Government forces arrested and arbitrarily or unlawfully detained thousands of protestors and opposition supporters. Most were male, though large numbers of female relatives of men perceived to be opposition supporters or armed group members were also detained.

In detention, male officers subjected women and girls to intimate and humiliating body searches and – in at least 20 detention facilities countrywide – raped women and girls during interrogations. Many women and girls reported multiple rapes, including gang rapes. Torture methods used on male detainees, including boys, often include rape with objects, electrocution of genitals, and genital mutilation. Men and boys were most commonly raped with objects including batons, wooden sticks, pipes, and bottles.

Beginning in 2011, rapes and other acts of sexual violence carried out by Government forces and associated militias during ground operations, at checkpoints, and in detention formed part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population, and amount to crimes against humanity, the report finds.

Members of armed groups have also on occasion used their position to rape and commit other forms of sexual violence against women and girls. These acts amounted to the war crimes of rape and other forms of sexual violence, including torture and outrages upon personal dignity.

Throughout areas under its control, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (led by former Jabhat al-Nusra command) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) caused severe physical and psychological harm to women, girls, and men, by imposing strict religious dress codes and, in the case of women and girls, prohibiting their free movement unless accompanied by a male relative.

During the height of its power, ISIL’s brutal practices included recurrent stoning of women and girls to death on charges of adultery, executing sexual minorities by throwing them off buildings, lashing those who violated its onerous dress code, and forced marriage of Sunni girls and women to ISIL fighters, many of whom were forced to re-marry when their fighter-husband was killed in action. These acts amount to war crimes and seriously contravene international human rights norms.

“By severely depriving sexual minorities of their fundamental rights, ISIL’s atrocious policy of targeting them seriously contravened international law, and amounted to the crime against humanity of persecution”, said Commissioner Hanny Megally.

“More must be done to address the physical and psychological harm that survivors of sexual and gender-based violence have endured, and to combat perceptions of shame or guilt that often compounds their suffering,” added Commissioner Karen AbuZayd. All parties to the conflict must proactively accept and reintegrate survivors of sexual and gender-based violence back into their communities, and facilitate the meaningful participation of women in all relevant peace processes and peace negotiations, and in any future truth and reconciliation mechanisms.


The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd, and Mr. Hanny Megally has been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic.

The full report and supporting documentation can be found on the Human Rights Council web page dedicated to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

The report is scheduled to be presented on 15 March during a side-event at the 37th session of the Human Rights Council.

For further media information:

(Geneva) Rolando Gómez, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Tel: +41-79-4774411, email: [email protected], and Sarah Lubbersen, OHCHR, [email protected], Tel: +41-22-9179689.