Justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Syria
Since the start of the uprising in 2011, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has been perpetrated by various parties to the Syrian conflict, mainly the Assad regime, rebel groups and the Islamic State. Perpetrators resorted to this kind of violence to instill fear, weaken political opposition, punish and deter civilians and further sectarianism. As the UN Commission of Inquiry emphasizes in its report ‘I lost my dignity’, the suffering induced by these practices impacts Syrians from all backgrounds. Women and girls, however, have been disproportionally affected and victimised, irrespective of perpetrator or geographical area. And justice for survivors of SGBV is an uphill battle.
In this episode, we talk to Mona Zeineddin, of the Syrian NGO Women Now for Development, about the prosecution of SGBV. Mona is part of the campaign ‘A Syrian Road to Justice’ that Women Now For Development launched together with four other feminist organizations, to support the first criminal complaint on SGBV that was filed in Germany. The complaint pertains to sexual and gender-based crimes committed in Syrian government-run detention centres. As their recent report ‘Surviving freedom’ demonstrates, the suffering of victims often continues upon release as they are exposed to discrimination and stigmatization. ‘There’s a lot of hesitance from witnesses or survivors to talk about these sorts of crimes’, elucidates Mona.
The relentless efforts of activists, NGOs, and international bodies have put SGBV higher on the agenda, raising awareness about the obstacles to justice and the need to address the physical, psychological and socio-economic harm that survivors have endured and continue to endure. Mona emphasizes that these joint efforts will eventually lead to transformation. ‘This is a structural issue and it’s not binary in the sense that men are not affected also by the patriarchy, by toxic masculinity, by militarism. It affects both genders, albeit differently, of course.’