On February 15, 2014, the UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi ended in Geneva the second round of peace talks concerning the war in Syria without any progress. The Syrian Civil War began in March 2011, after demonstrations organized in the context of the Arab Spring, where the protesters demanded for democratic and economic reforms. It confronts those who are opposed to the regime and those who remain loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed by defected Syrian Armed Forcespersonnel and volunteers from the begining to fight against the regular troops. Gradually, the FSA has been overpassed by the Islamic Front. Today, the casualties of the conflict are estimated between 102,000 and 146,000 killed, among them over 11,000 children. Before 2011, Syria was regularly denounced by the international community and NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch regarding civil and political rights. The fact that the judicial process, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, LGBT rights and freedom of religion are violated proves that Bashar al-Assad failed to improve the situation of human rights in the country. Besides, the war made it worse and led to the outbreak of the arbitrary and barbaric practices. The latter are a subject of survey by the international community, including the use of chemical weapons by the regime’s forces. But some investigative reporters revealed that the government forces were using an underrated weapon. “The world cares about chemical weapons, but for us, Syrian women, rape is worse than death”, says a law student who keeps her drama in silence. Rape as a mass crime is devastating the population, attacking the purity of the women in a traditionnal society, destroying families and rising atrocity to its highest level.
A practice with appalling historical precedents
The use of rape as a weapon by itself in an armed conflict is not a new practice. Since Antiquity, sexual violences perpetrated during conflicts have been reported. Regarding recent wars, mass rapes took place in Bosnia (1992-1995), where the number of victims of this crime is based between 20,000 and 50,000, in Rwanda (1994), where the casualties range from 250,000 to 500,000, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where around 500,000 women have been raped since 1996. In Rwanda, rape has been redefined. Being a sexual assault initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person’s consent, it included the intention to commit genocide, perpetrating torture and mutilations.
Abdel Karim Rihaoui, the president of the Syrian League for Human Rights, now in Egypt, estimates as 50,000 the number of rape victims in Syria, whereas according to the Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network, 6,000 women would have been raped since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in March 2011. Abdulkarim Rihawi argues that out of the more than 100,000 women who has been jailed at one time or another, half of them at least could have been abused by Bashar al-Assad’s forces insofar as the rape became systematic. The range is very large and no serious survey can be done as silence is kept by the victims. Only testimonies of rare women who accept to talk to journalists about what they lived and what they saw around them permit to know more about this practice. Sexual violences have increased during the war, women being used by armed forces to attack their enemies, women’s fathers, husbands, brothers. Women and girls are raped during raids in villages, in front of their families, and in detention centers, where soldiers make them undergo the worst sexual abuses and force them to watch torture scenes. Often, their husbands are jailed in the same detention center and hear or see their wives being abused. Everything seems planned : the women are blindfolded in order not to recognize the soldiers, who take sexual stimulants (some lawyers have the picture of pills’ boxes) and who sometimes inject paralyzing product in the women’s thighs.
A silent crime absent from the international negotiations
The physical and mental consequences of the rapes are desastrous. Doctors on the spot describe “ravaged” vaginas, battered bodies, “incurable” traumas. In some detention centers, soldiers follow up the dates of the women’s periods and give them contraceptive pills. Nevertheless, those rapes generate pregnancies and dramas. A girl committed suicide as she could not abort, another has been hurled by his father from the first floor, babies are also abandoned in the streets. As the weight of the traditions is heavy, some doctors, allied to the opposition, accept to do hymen reconstruction surgeries. All their lives long, the victims will carry the burden of this drama. If they talk, they can be killed by the regime’s forces or repudiated by their families or their in-laws. That’s why the high majority of them keep the silence, which stifles the society and whose benefits the regime.
This terrible breach of human rights is not yet a matter dealt with during international negociations. The reason is that the taboo feature of this crime and the fear of retaliation prevents women to talk about it and to collect evidences. The latter could permit to call what is happening as a crime against humanity. Indeed, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) considers rape as a crime against humanity when it is committed as part of a widespread or a systematic attack. The ICC has initiated legal proceedings against formers responsibles of mass rapes in Sudan, Uganda, Congo-Kinshasa, Darfur and Central African Republic. However, these investigations are long and convictions generally occur a long time after the abuses. Concerning the situation in Syria, the NGO Women’s Media Center created on Internet an interactive map in order to collect testimonies, coming from international newspapers or women’s testimonies on Internet, though it is difficult to authenticate them. This kind of attempts to break the silence should be encouraged and until the intervention of the international community, violence in Syria is keeping on going.
COJEAN, Annick, (2014, 4 mars) “Le viol, arme de destruction massive en Syrie”. Le Monde, online, http://www.lemonde.fr/proche-orient/article/2014/03/04/syrie-le-viol-arme-de-destruction-massive_4377603_3218.html
MORIN, Maeva (2014, 6 mars) “Le viol, une arme de guerre en Syrie : les précédents historiques sont terrifiants” Le Nouvel Observateur, online http://leplus.nouvelobs.com/contribution/1155096-le-viol-une-arme-de-guerre-en-syrie-les-precedents-historiques-sont-terrifiants.html