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On International Women’s Day, Growing Protests and Worsening Access to Basic Rights for Women in Syria

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About 16,442 Women Killed Since 2011 and 21 Incidents of Violence Against Women Over their Activism From March 2023 – March 2024

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Press release: (Download the full report below)

The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released its annual report in observance of International Women’s Day, March 8. In the report, which is entitled, ‘On International Women’s Day, Growing Protests and Worsening Access to Basic Rights for Women in Syria’, the group reveals that16,442 women have been killed in Syria since March 2011, while 21 incidents of violence against women, mostly for their activism, have been documented between March 2023 and March 2024.

The 25-page report focuses on the gross human rights violations committed against women (adult females) which have been perpetrated in a systematic way since March 2011 up until March 2024, in the context of the internal armed conflict and in violation of international human rights law. The six primary violations in this category are: Extrajudicial killing, unlawful detention, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, and sexual violence. Beside those, the report also sheds light on patterns of violence and assault that women and women activists suffer over their activists in the areas under the control of Syrian regime forces, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Syrian National Army (SNA), and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), while detailing to some degree the contexts within which those patterns emerge, their types, and to what extent they differ from or resemble one another in terms of the parties to the conflict. To that end, the report documents and provides details on six different forms of violence recorded by SNHR in the last year – March 2023-March 2024.

Between March 2011 and March 2024, the report documents the deaths of at least 16,442 women (adult female) at the hands of the parties to the conflict in Syria, including 11,999 women killed by Syrian regime forces, who are responsible for 73 percent of all cases of extrajudicial killing involving women which further confirms that the Syrian regime has been deliberately targeting and killing women. Meanwhile, Russian forces killed 983 women, while ISIS killed 587 women. Furthermore, the HTS were responsible for 82 women’s deaths, whereas all armed opposition factions (SNA) killed 886 women. Lastly, 117 women were killed by the SDF, 658 by the US-led International Coalition forces, and 1,070 were killed by other parties.

As the report further reveals, no fewer than 10,205 of the women arrested/detained at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces since March 2011 up until March 2024 are still imprisoned/forcibly disappeared. Of this total, 8,497 women were arrested by the Syrian regime, 225 by ISIS, 45 by HTS, 879 by all armed opposition factions (SNA), and 529 by the SDF. In other words, the Syrian regime has been responsible for about 83 percent of all documented arrests and enforced disappearances, far more than all the other parties to the conflict separately or combined. This indicates that the Syrian regime has been hunting down, arresting/detaining, and disappearing women for various motives in a calculated, deliberate manner.

Relatedly, the report documents the deaths of 115 women due to torture at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria since March 2011 up until March 2024. Of those 115 women, 95 were killed by regime forces, while 14 were killed by ISIS. The SDF and the SNA were responsible for two deaths each, while HTS and other parties were responsible for one death each. Additionally, among the women who died under torture were 11 who were identified in the photos of victims who died due to torture at the hands of regime forces that were leaked by a former regime military photographer, commonly known as the ‘Caesar Photos,’ and 21 women who were registered by the regime as dead in the civil registry records.

In the same period, the report documents at least 10,063 incidents of sexual violence against women at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria since March 2011 up until 2024. Syrian regime forces were responsible for 7,576 of these incidents, while ISIS was responsible for 2,451 of them. The report adds that 16 incidents of sexual violence were committed by the SDF, 19 by all armed opposition factions/SNA, and one by HTS. In this context, the report notes that, according to these figures, the Syrian regime is responsible for at least 75 percent of all incidents recorded, followed by ISIS, with both of these parties using sexual violence as a strategic weapon of war and instrument of torture and retaliation against Syrian society.

The report further stresses that humanitarian needs have been rising steadily since the beginning of 2023, not least because of the February 6 Earthquakes that devastated large areas of Syria, whose effects have yet to be fully and properly addressed to this day. In addition to this crisis, there are the compounded and continuing effects of 13 years of military offensives which include vast numbers of civilian deaths, the displacement of millions of people, and unimaginable devastation to infrastructure and vital facilities. This suffering has all been dramatically exacerbated by the shocking decision by the World Food Programme (WFP) to largely reduce its humanitarian assistance across the country, while other international humanitarian organizations are also ending their projects, which are primarily supported by the UN agencies, and which target various sectors such as healthcare, education, water, and shelter. Tragically, we are already seeing the effects and implications of these continued reductions with respect to the humanitarian situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 2024, particularly among women and children who are more dramatically affected by the worsening conditions, as their already greatly limited ability to address their basic needs is seriously compromised.

Besides this rapid humanitarian deterioration, many areas in Syria have seen an escalation in the number of military offensives in the last year (March 2023-March 2024). SNHR has documented the killing of at least 132 women in the military attacks carried out in Syria since March 2023 up until March 2024, noting that these attacks have also resulted in the displacement of thousands more civilians, mostly women and children. With new displacements being documented to this day, IDPs are still struggling to obtain adequate support from local humanitarian organizations and UN bodies, which further adversely affects their ability to meet their basic needs, especially in light of waning support. This is taking place in areas that are already suffering from rapidly falling levels of humanitarian support. Under such conditions, women are enduring unbearable conditions, facing double burdens to secure their basic needs and those of their families.

Meanwhile, the report records no fewer than 21 incidents of assault and intimidation against women mostly over their activism between March 2023 and March 2024, noting that women are facing multi-faceted challenges including restrictions on basic freedoms and denial of employment opportunities These attacks seem to have deliberately targeted women activists working in civil society and local service institutions, in addition to women who are active in sectors such as the media, politics, and human rights. As we have also documented, many of these women have faced restrictions, harassment, and intimidation over their activism, especially in regard to activities serving other women. These violations range from threats and assaults in public places, to attacks on their homes. Some women activists have also been summoned to security facilities for questioning, where they’ve faced various accusations, including scurrilous allegations related to their personal moral conduct, which can have a deeply harmful effect on one’s social standing. The aim of such accusations has been to blackmail these women and tarnish their image. Some extreme cases have even led to women activists being murdered. In addition, many women have been subjected to assaults or violence while travelling between areas controlled by different parties, or when they tried to stop raids on their houses by the various parties to the conflict. In the course of these attacks, many women have sustained physical injuries, some of them serious.

The report calls on the parties to the conflict and controlling forces to respect the rules of customary international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and end all forms of discrimination against women. The report also calls for the immediate release of all arbitrarily detained women, particularly those detained in relation to the armed conflict. Furthermore, the report calls on all parties to the conflict to launch comprehensive investigations into all violations and acts of violence against women and hold those responsible for crimes accountable according to an independent judicial body and in line with rules that take into consideration international law, while also beginning to compensate victims and enacting reparations for the damages that have occurred. Parties to the conflict must also ensure that women have protection and security in their work and movement, and provide support for women, and end all forms of restrictions and limitation of freedoms, as well as supporting women’s efforts to resist the violence perpetrated against them, and working to alleviate the conflict’s economic and social ramifications on their lives.

The report calls on the international community and the UN Security Council to ensure protection and assistance for forcibly displaced women, including women IDPs and refugees, to pay attention to their special needs, particularly with relation to protection, and to take all measures possible, legally, politically, and financially, against the Syrian regime and its allies, and all perpetrators of violations in the Syrian conflict, in order to apply pressure on them to respect women’s rights. Steps must be also taken to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), or establish a tribunal for trying crimes against humanity and war crimes as soon as possible, in order to put an end to the climate of impunity in which such crimes have been perpetrated for over a decade in Syria.

The report also makes a number of additional recommendations.

Download the full report

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