Countless Syrian women are being raped, tortured and massacred as we speak. The international community is silent on this issue, preferring to focus on chemical weapons. If the world put the same amount of energy into pressuring Assad to respect women’s rights that they did in relations to his chemical weapons arsenal, perhaps we would see improvement on this front.
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Earlier in the week, Lauren Wolfe, an award winning journalist, a member of the advisory committee of the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, and the director of the Women Under Siege organization that documents gender based violence in various conflicts across the globe, wrote an article in the Guardian drawing attention to the mass rapes presently occurring as we speak in Syria. The stories that she sights are so horrifying that they should compel any moral government to want to go into Syria, with the aim of bringing a halt to the sexual violence committed both by Assad’s regime and by the radical Islamists rebels.
In one of the stories she described, a 14-year-old girl was abducted by the shabiha (plain clothed militias), raped, burned and tortured in gruesome ways. She is now experiencing a nervous breakdown in Turkey, where she lives in exile as a refugee. A 12-year-old girl, who is now living in Lebanon, was raped anally while she was in detention. A video of the rape was sent to her family, which in some families in the Arab world is considered as good as a death sentence. There have been documented cases of Syrian refugee girls that were raped being murdered in honor crimes.
In order to illustrate the stigma that Arab society possesses in regards to rape victims, it is important to cite the following case that Wolfe described in full: “There is a woman in her 30’s locked in her father’s house in Idlib. Upon returning home from eight months’ captivity in two separate shabiha-run houses in Syria, her husband turned her away, saying, ‘Now that all these men have been in and out of you, you are not fit to be the mother of my children.’ This is why she now lives with her father, who occasionally tells her, ‘I wish you’d died.’”
The internet is literally filled with cases of Syrian women getting raped in inhumane and grotesque ways. However, while the cases Wolfe cited focus primarily on the Syrian regimes’ atrocities, Islamist rebels are also guilty of sexualized violence. Jerusalem Online News reported yesterday about the sexual jihad in Syria, committed mainly by Islamist rebels. While many of these women were tricked into participating in it, others were forced into the sexual jihad against their will.
As Jerusalem Online News reported yesterday, one young woman confessed, “While I was taking a shower, a man came in and he was over the age of 50. He started to come close to me in the bathroom. I started screaming and yelling, so he grabbed me by the hair and took me to the room. My father could hear me but he never hesitated to do any thing or come to take the man away. He did what he did, unstrapped, and at the same time, another man came in.” She eventually passed out after being raped numerous times. When she asked her father why he didn’t rescue her, he responded that what she was doing was jihad, a good deed.
The international community has an obligation to ensure that both sides of the Syrian civil war uphold the basic human rights of women as well as international human rights law. Syrian women should not be permitted to be gang raped, tortured, and massacred. As Wolfe pointed out in the Guardian, the Syrian civil war is about so much more than the existence of chemical weapons. As Turkish journalist Aylin Kocaman stated, “They are being killed by sharp objects and other weapons, bombs, bullets, and not just chemical weapons. We need to consider the civil war as a whole. It is a crime. We cannot ignore these facts.”
The Syrian regime has demonstrated that they do respond positively to credible military threats. If the world stood up and told the Assad regime that unless his government stops raping women en masse and takes concrete actions to protect girls being swept away by the sexual jihad that the international community would intervene in the Syrian civil war, then perhaps Assad would start to move in a more positive direction on this issue as well. It was a drastic mistake for the international community to only care about the elimination of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal, without caring about the countless voiceless Syrian women whose human rights are being abused daily.