Sexual and gender-based violence against women, girls, men, and boys has been a persistent issue in Syria since the uprising in 2011. Parties to the conflict resort to sexual violence as a tool to instil fear, humiliate and punish or, in the case of terrorist groups, as part of their enforced social order. While the immense suffering induced by these practices impacts Syrians from all backgrounds, women and girls have been disproportionally affected, victimised on multiple grounds, irrespective of perpetrator or geographical area.
Government forces and associated militias have perpetrated rape and sexual abuse of women and girls and occasionally men during ground operations, house raids to arrest protestors and perceived opposition supporters, and at checkpoints. In detention, women and girls were subjected to invasive and humiliating searches and raped, sometimes gang- raped, while male detainees were most commonly raped with objects and sometimes subjected to genital mutilation. 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. Sexual violence against females and males is used to force confessions, to extract information, as punishment, as well as to terrorise opposition communities. Rapes and other acts of sexual violence carried out by Government forces and associated militias during ground operations, house raids, at checkpoints, and during detention formed part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population, and amount to crimes against humanity. After February 2012, these acts also constitute the war crimes of rape and other forms of sexual violence, including torture and outrages upon personal dignity.
Though considerably less common than rape by Government forces and associated militias, incidents of female rape by members of armed groups were also documented. Rapes and other forms of sexual violence carried out by armed group members after February 2012 constitute the war crimes of rape and other forms of sexual violence, including torture and outrages upon personal dignity. These acts also contravene fundamental international human rights norms including the right to life, liberty and security of person, the right to freedom from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
Throughout areas under its control, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (led by former Jabhat al-Nusra command) caused severe psychological and physical harm to women, girls, and men, by imposing religious dress codes and, in the case of women and girls, denying their freedom of movement without a male relative. Edicts formally delivered to populations residing under HTS control disproportionately impacted women and girls and evinced discriminatory treatment on the basis of sex, in breach of international human rights norms. The use of unauthorised courts by HTS and various armed groups to execute women and sexual minorities constitute the war crime of murder, and seriously contravene international human rights norms, including the right to life, liberty and security of person, the right to freedom from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
During the height of its power, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) discriminated against women, girls, and sexual minorities as a matter of policy. Stoning of women and girls on charges of adultery and executions of homosexuals were recurrent in areas under ISIL control, as were forced marriages of Sunni women and girls to ISIL fighters. ISIL’s rule placed women and girls under the control of male relatives, effectively restricting their freedom of movement and removing them from public life. Those found to violate ISIL’s strict dress code, most commonly women but also girls as young as 10, were punished with lashings. These acts constituted the war crime of torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, and outrages upon personal dignity against women. Executions further constituted the war crime of murder and also amount to serious breaches of international human rights norms, including denial of the right to life and the right to be free from discrimination. Further, the well-documented crimes of ISIL and their terrorising of the civilian population in ar-Raqqah and Dayr az-Zawr governorates formed part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population. By targeting sexual minorities and depriving them of their fundamental rights, ISIL’s treatment of sexual minorities constituted the crime against humanity of persecution.