Women walk past a shop in Old Aleppo. A UN report said rape and sexual violence has been a ‘persistent feature’ of the Syrian civil war. REUTERS photo
Rape and sexual violence has been a “persistent feature” of the Syrian civil war, a U.N. report said April 24, citing information from civilians who have fled the country.
The report names 21 countries where rape and other sexual violence has been committed in current and recent conflicts, from Afghanistan and Central African Republic to Myanmar and Syria.
It said there is now unprecedented political momentum globally to end conflict-related sexual violence, but more action is needed regionally and nationally to respond to these crimes. “Covering 21 countries of concern in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America
and the Middle East, the report shows that this truly is a global crime,” Zainab Hawa Bangura, the secretary-general’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, told a news conference in New York.
In Syria, it said information from displaced civilians outside the country and reported to the independent international commission of inquiry “indicates that sexual violence has been a persistent feature of the conflict and that the fear of rape has served as a driving motivation for families fleeing the violence.” The report identifies 34 armed groups, including militias, rebel groups and government security forces, “credibly suspected of rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict situations” in countries that are on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council.
Perpetrators never face justice
The groups listed in an annex to the report are from the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Congo, Mali, South Sudan and Syria. Bangura said perpetrators almost never face justice, and survivors often don’t get help to recover physically and rebuild their lives. In several conflicts, she said, her office has discovered a link between sexual violence and “the economic drivers of war” whereby armed groups use rape strategically to gain control of territories with valuable natural resources.
The report, covering 2013, details reported sexual violence in the 21 countries which also include Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Colombia, Guinea, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Yemen.
According to the report, for example, between March and September 2013, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission indicated a 25 percent increase in violations against women. In Central African Republic, the report said, human rights experts reported “clear indications that conflict-related sexual violence had been a main feature of attacks between March and December 2013.”
Bangura also cited “glimmers of hope” in Colombia, where the government is training security forces to prevent and respond to sexual violence and provide reparations for survivors; in Congo, where an increasing number of suspected perpetrators are being prosecuted, including members of the national security forces; and in Somalia, where the president has made a commitment that alleged rape victims will no longer be imprisoned.