[JURIST] A human rights group report was released on Wednesday documenting 81 instances of sexual assault and rape in Syria since anti-government demonstrations began in March 2011. Women Under Siege [advocacy website], a project of the Women’s Media Center, has been collecting reports of sexualized violence in Syria for several months, creating a crowd-sourced map [materials] of independently confirmed attacks. The team of doctors, activists, and journalists [The Atlantic report] has taken the 81 confirmed stories and broken them down into 117 separate pieces of data on everything from rape to the consequences of sexualized violence, such as depression, HIV and pregnancy to create a sense of the scope and impact of sexualized violence in Syria. The resulting picture shows that sexual assault appears to be widespread, not limited to any particular city and often involves rape. Women Under Siege reports that while there is no evidence of the government ordering its soldiers and militiamen to rape, nearly 67 percent of the reported assaults were allegedly carried out by government and plainclothes militia forces [Reuters report]. The data collected suggests that sexualized violence is being used as a tool of war in Syria, although probably indiscriminately and not necessarily with an organized strategy. Rape and sexual assault are particularly serious in the Middle East, where the stigma from an attack can shame the victim’s entire family and women rape victims can be punished for sexual indiscretion or even forced to marry their rapist.
Syria has been plagued with violence over the past year and a half, and human rights groups have blamed both the government and anti-government groups for the resulting deaths. This week UN Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan on Monday said that he had reached an agreement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC News backgrounder] to end the violent conflict in the country. Annan, who met with Al-Assad on Monday, said the president was committed to ending violence in Syria [UN News Centre report] and that he would continue to work with the UN to achieve peace. Annan said that Al-Assad reaffirmed the Syrian government’s commitment to implementing the six-point peace plan [JURIST report] generated at the end of June. Last week Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported that Syrian authorities have been maintaining secret detention facilities [JURIST report] to hold and torture prisoners.