Ed note. This special guest post comes via UN Dispatch reader Madison Malloch-Brown who is the post-2015 development agenda and human rights intern at the UN Foundation. If you have maps of note, please send them to UNDispatch-at-gmail-dot-com.
By Madison Malloch-Brown
One aspect of the Syria crisis that has not received much attention is sexual violence against Syrian women. Women Under Siege is trying to change that through a new crowdsourced map of where incidents of sexual violence have been reported in Syria.
From April 1st 2011 to July 14th, 2012 Women Under Siege has gathered 90 reports of sexual violence in Syria. The map shows that the sexualized violence in Syria is widespread and is not limited to one city or region. The data suggests that 80% of the victims of sexual violence in Syria are women. Of the reports collected on female victims 89% reported rape, 6% reported groping, and 6% reported sexual assault without penetration. In addition 11% of the reports include details that suggest that these women were held against their will for the purposes of sexualized violence for over 24 hours.
However, because the Syrian government has denied access to outside observers there is no way for us to know exactly how many incidents have occurred or how many victims there are. This map this map gives the general scope and summary of the sexual violence occurring there. Women Under Siege believes that this infographic still grossly under-reports gender based violence.
Here is a sample of the kind of report you see on the map when you zoom in and click on a red dot:
A 21-year-old former soldier originally from Al-Hasaka, in northeastern Syria, told German news outlet Spiegel Online International about being forced to rape women held in detention. The man alleged that the rapes occurred at a sugar factory used by the Syrian army in Idlib. “The colonel from the military intelligence service selected me and 14 others for the operation as a ‘reward,’ but it was an order,’” he told Spiegel Online. He says that the group of men was forced to repeatedly rape women. “The first time it was three of them, and they’d already been drugged,” he said. “The security men undressed them, and they raped them first. Then it was our turn, in two shifts, and the men from security watched. They said they would shoot us if we didn’t do it.” Raping the women was difficult at first, he said, but became easier. The man explained that the “women were young” and “chosen specifically because they hadn’t been arrested together with other relatives who might have asked after them. “At first they chose the women from the prisoners, then they took some with them from checkpoints,” he said. He told the website that he took part in these rapes 11 times, but did not specify how many victims there were. When asked what happened to the women after being raped, the man simply said, “They were taken away.”
The dates of the reported rapes are unknown. Because Syrian government officials currently refuse to allow access to journalists, researchers, and aid workers, Women Under Siege cannot independently verify this report of sexualized violence in Syria.
The Syrian regime’s tactic is to instill fear into its people, and sexual violence is one of the mechanisms it uses to successfully do so. 61% of these documented incidents of sexual violence against men and women were committed by government officials, with an additional 6% carried out by government and shabiha forces working together.
The shocking data from this map highlights that one of the reasons that the Syrian government is not allowing outside observers into the country is because they are the ones committing these horrific war crimes. The international community needs to push harder to gain humanitarian access to Syria so it can provide aid and protect the Syrian women from sexual violence and other crimes.