PDF In a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, Syrian National Coalition Vice President Noura al-Ameer called attention to the growing gravity of the situation of Syrian women:
Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
8 December 2014
As Vice President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, it is my responsibility to draw your attention to the growing numbers of Syrian women gravely affected by the crisis in Syria, and the ongoing assaults perpetrated by Syrian regime forces against women and girls illegally detained in regime-held prisons across Syria.
Close to four years into the conflict in Syria, women continue to bear the burden of the Syrian crisis. Women and girls now account for more than half of Syria’s 3.2 million refugees and internally displaced persons. Over 12,000 women have been killed by Syrian regime forces since the start of the Syrian revolution in March 2011 (see Annex I). Thousands more have suffered from assault, torture, harassment or deprivation at the hands of regime and pro-regime forces and terrorist extremist groups. Sexual violence, in particular, has been endemic. More than 7,500 cases of sexual assaults against women have thus far been recorded, with the real number likely to be far higher given the secrecy and shame that often prevents victims from coming forward and seeking support.
Nowhere has women’s suffering been more acute than in Syrian regime prisons and detention centers. Since the start of Syria’s revolution in 2011, Syrian regime forces have violently sought to silence Syrian women. Having myself been detained in several of Syria’s most notorious prisons, including the infamous Adra prison in Damascus, I have experienced first-hand the brutality of Assad’s prisons and the cruelty that often awaits young women who advocate democratic reform for their country.
While I survived months of captivity and abuse, too many women have not. Since 2011, over 100 Syrian women and children have died under torture in regime prisons. This includes Nora of Damascus, an opposition activist who on 14 March 2013 was detained in Assad’s hidden prisons, never to be heard from again. Nora was five months pregnant at the time of her detention. Her family received news of her death in September 2014, yet they never received her body or were informed of the fate of her child.
Tragically, Nora’s story is one of many. It demonstrates the degree to which violence against Syria’s women affects not just women themselves, but society at large: their children, their husbands and Syria’s very future. It also underlines the failure of the international community to respond effectively to Syria’s crisis, despite existing international legislation designed specifically to protect women in armed conflict, including UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).
Your Excellency, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights you are uniquely empowered to speak out against the human rights abuses perpetrated against Syria’s women and, most importantly, to take direct action to alleviate their suffering. On behalf of the people of Syria, I ask that you use this authority to call upon UN Member States and concerned UN agencies to:
require the Assad regime to immediately halt its practices of abuse, sexual violence, torture and unlawful detention of women by sending UN monitors into Assad’s prisons and detention centers to ensure regime compliance;
expand funding for humanitarian aid for all Syrian women, including easily accessible medical, psycho-social, and rehabilitative services for victims of abuse, sexual violence, torture, trauma, detainment and war-related injuries;
design financial assistance to better support female-headed households by addressing their economic and social needs through vehicles including monetary assistance and material grants;
tailor aid to the specific needs of Syrian women and girls to ensure their safe and secure access to essential goods and services;
demand accountability for the widespread violation of women’s rights in Syria, including through the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, so that victims of violence may see justice served.
Your Excellency, as you are aware, 25 November 2014 marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Let us work together to ensure that this is the last such day in which the world stands by as Syria’s women suffer. The Syrian National Coalition and our forces on the ground, the Free Syrian Army, are working hard to redress the suffering of Syria’s women. On behalf of the Syrian people, I welcome your thoughts on how we may continue to do so with greater success.
Please accept the assurances of my highest consideration.
National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces
Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women
Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict
Ms. Leila Zerrougui, SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict