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On International Women’s Day, the Devastating Earthquake that Hit Northwestern Syria Has Exacerbated the Dire Situation of Women, With No Fewer than 35,000 Women Losing Their Homes in the Earthquake

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The parties to the conflict are still committing violations against women working in the public sphere

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Press release: (Download the full report below)

Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its latest annual report marking International Women’s Day, March 8, entitled, ‘On International Women’s Day, the Devastating Earthquake that Hit Northwestern Syria Has Exacerbated the Dire Situation of Women, With No Fewer than 35,000 Women Losing Their Homes in the Earthquake’, noting that the parties to the conflict are still committing violations against women working in the public sphere.
The 21-page report outlines the patterns of violence and assaults documented as having been carried out against women and women activists due to their work and activism in the areas controlled by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Syrian National Army (SNA), and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the context of these patterns, their types, and the similarities and differences among the different parties. To that end, the report summarizes the statistics gathered by SNHR in the year since March 2022 up until March 2023, focusing on seven specific forms of violence against women due to their activism, as well as on gender-based killings. The report also outlines the toll from the most notable violations by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria against women (adult females) between March 2011 and March 2023, as part of the armed conflict or as violations of international humanitarian law.
Between March 2011 and March 2023, the report documents the killing of 16,298 women (adult female) by the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria, including 11,957 women killed by Syrian regime forces, who are responsible for nearly 74 percent of all cases of extrajudicial killing of women compared to all the other parties the conflict, which suggests that the Syrian regime’s killing of women is wholly deliberate. Moreover, Russian forces were responsible for the killing of 977 women, while ISIS and HTS killed 587 and 79 women respectively in the same period. According to the records documented on SNHR’s database, all armed opposition factions/SNA were responsible for the killing of 885 women during this period, while 169 women were killed by SDF, and 658 women were killed by the international coalition forces. Finally, 986 women were killed by other parties.
As the report further reveals, a total of 10,169 of the women arrested or detained since 2011 by Syrian regime forces and all other parties to the conflict and controlling forces are still detained and/or forcibly disappeared at the hands of these parties. Of this total, 8,473 women were detained by Syrian regime forces, while 255 were detained by ISIS, 44 by HTS, 873 by all armed opposition factions/SNA, and 524 by the SDF. Analysis of the data shows that the Syrian regime is responsible for nearly 83 percent of all arrests and enforced disappearances involving women in comparison to the other parties to the conflict. Such a high figure suggests that the Syrian regime has been persecuting, arresting, and detaining females under various pretexts in a wholly deliberate and calculated manner.
On a related note, the report reveals that no fewer than 113 women have been documented as dying due to torture at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria. Of this total, 94 women died at the hands of Syrian regime forces, while ISIS was responsible for the deaths of 14 women due to torture. Meanwhile, the SDF and all armed opposition factions/SNA were responsible for two women’s deaths due to torture, while one woman died due to torture at the hands of other parties. SNHR’s database show that among the women who died due to torture at the hands of Syrian regime forces was one whose photo appeared in what are known as the Caesar photos, with 21 of the women detained by the regime registered as dead in the state’s civil registry.
In the same period, the report documents no fewer than 11,532 incidents of sexual violence against females, including 8,016 incidents at the hands of Syrian regime forces and 3,487 incidents at the hands of ISIS. The report adds that SDF was responsible for 13 such incidents, while all armed opposition factions/SNA were responsible for 16. In this context, the report stresses that Syrian regime forces and ISIS have used sexual violence as a strategic weapon of war and a tool of torture and retaliation against Syrian society.
As the report further reveals, the earthquake that hit multiple areas in Syria and Southern Turkey at around dawn on Monday February 6, 2023, left no fewer than 35,000 women in Syria homeless. These women’s homes were either damaged and/or destroyed in the earthquake and are now completely uninhabitable. Even worse, most of these women had already previously experienced displacement on multiple occasions. Most of these displacements were concentrated in the region of northwestern Syria outside the Syrian regime’s control, and in nearby areas. The report adds that a total of 1,524 women died as a result of the earthquake and of the late arrival of UN and international aid between February 6 and February 27, 2023. The victims included 13 female staff with humanitarian groups, 22 female medical personnel, and one female Civil Defense (White Helmets) worker. The effects of the earthquake have exacerbated the existing suffering of the women affected, who have found themselves facing additional challenges as a consequence.
The report also outlines the patterns of documented violations against women, particularly activists and working women, in northeastern and northwestern Syria due to their activism and during the performance of their professional duties, whether these are in the service, humanitarian, political, media, or specialist women-oriented fields, or even during raids and military operations. The report documents no fewer than 86 incidents of assault and intimidation targeting women by the parties to the conflict. Those violations have caused serious physical and psychological harm to women, driving some to leave their areas, give up work altogether, limit their activism, or flee to other areas to escape the threats and intimidation against them.
The report also sheds light on domestic violence and gender-based violence against women, stressing that such violations have not stopped throughout the armed conflict. Indeed, the report stresses that those violations have increased against displaced women already affected by conflict and humanitarian crises, to the point of women being murdered, primarily due to what are colloquially known as “Honor Killings”. Such crimes, the report adds, are a reflection on the weakness or absence of effective protection mechanisms due to the fragility of the legal and judicial structures regulating women’s rights. Between March 2022 and March 2023, the report documents no fewer than 16 incidents of violence against women, including two cases of gender-motivated murder of women at the hands of their families or spouses, most of which were carried out under the pretext of ‘honor’, or because of the women’s refusal to enter into a forced marriage, or as a result of domestic violence by men.
The report further notes that the Syrian regime, which controls all aspects of the Syrian state, was the first party to violate international human rights law and international humanitarian law and to practice many types of widespread violations against women, including killing, torture, and enforced disappearance, with the other parties to the conflict following in its footsteps, though never on the same massive scale, to varying degrees. The report adds that many of the practices that are based on laws and regulations put in place by the parties to the conflict violate women’s rights in ways that conflict with the international standards for human rights.
This report also emphasizes that dozens of the basic rights of women are being violated, foremost among which are the rights to life, to not being tortured, arbitrarily arrested, or forcibly disappeared, to freedom of movement, clothing, freedom of opinion and expression, work, and other rights. Enhancing the role of women and protecting them from violence and violations, including their right to political and media work and to freedom of expression and opinion, will reflect positively on the whole of society, as all of these factors are essential in the pursuit of equality and development.
The report calls on all the parties to the conflict and controlling forces to respect the rules of customary international humanitarian law and of international human rights law, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to end all forms of discrimination against women. Furthermore, all parties to the conflict should immediately release forcibly detained women, particularly those detained in the context of the armed conflict, abide by international laws on the detention of women and girls, including segregation from male prisoners, appoint female guards and security personnel to conduct searches, and implement appropriate protocols for searching prisoners upon entering custody to allow female detainees to report incidents of sexual violence. The report further calls on the parties to the conflict and controlling forces to conduct investigations into the perpetrators of violations and violence against women, hold them accountable in accordance with an independent judicial system and with provisions that take into account international laws, and begin the process of paying compensation and reparations to victims. The report also stresses that the parties to the conflict and controlling forces should provide protection and security for women’s work and movement, provide them with support, end all forms of restrictions and suppression of freedoms, support the efforts made by women in combating violence against them, and mitigate the economic and social repercussions that the conflict imposes on their lives.
The report additionally calls on the international community and the Security Council to provide protection and assistance to forcibly displaced women, including IDPs and refugees, taking into account their specific needs, primarily for protection. It further calls on the international community and the Security Council to take all possible legal, political, and financial measures against the Syrian regime and its allies, as well as against all perpetrators of violations in the Syrian conflict, to pressure them to commit to respecting the rights of women, and should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, or quickly establish a tribunal dedicated to trying crimes against humanity and war crimes to end the cycle of impunity that has extended for over a decade in Syria, in addition to making other recommendations.

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