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Residents walk through damaged streets in the Damascus countryside, Syria, May 18, 2017.
Photo/Hassan Ammar/AP
Citizenship

In Syria’s Civil War, Rape Has Been Used As a Weapon Against Men, Women, and Children

The civil war in Syria began seven years ago today and in that time more than 5.4 million people have fled the bloody conflict, and over 6 million remain trapped in their war-torn country and in need of help.

The destruction and devastation the Syrian people have seen and survived throughout this war is unimaginable, but a UN report released on Thursday paints a clearer picture of the use of sexual violence in the war.

After conducting an extensive, independent inquiry into the ongoing conflict, UN investigators said that the Syrian government forces — under Bashar al-Assad’s regime — and its allied militias have used rape and sexual violence against, girls, women, and men as a weapon of war.

Take Action: Tweet at President Trump urging him to open our borders to Syrian refugees

The use of sexual violence in this manner, as a weapon to punish communities that support opposition forces, can be considered a war crime and a crime against humanity — putting it on the same level of gross violation as genocide — according to the UN.

The report, called “I Lost My Dignity,” details the use of rape and sexual violence, primarily though not exclusively, by government forces and their allies as a torture tactic and a means of getting information, Reuters reported.

For the past seven years, Assad’s forces and the militias that support his regime have raped and sexually assaulted people during ground operations, like house searches, at checkpoints, and while in detention, according to the report.

Investigators found that sexual violence had been used against both males and females to intimidate them into giving confessions or information, rather than to simply terrorize.

“Male officers subjected women and girls to intimate and humiliating body searches and – in at least 20 detention facilities countrywide – raped women and girls during interrogations,” the UN said in a statement. Investigators interviewed more than 450 survivors (and their relatives), lawyers, community members, and healthcare practitioners to put the report together and found that many women and girls had been raped — and gang-raped — several times.

Many men and boys were also victims of sexual violence. According to the report, “Men and boys were most commonly raped with objects including batons, wooden sticks, pipes, and bottles,” and others had their genitals electrocuted and mutilated.

Read more: Nearly 500,000 People Have Died in Syria Since 2011

Investigators also found that militant groups, including ISIS and the Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate had begun enforcing strict religious codes that "caused severe physical and psychological harm to women, girls, and men.”

In particular, the report said that the insurgent groups have restricted the rights of women and girls, “prohibiting their free movement unless accompanied by a male relative,” according to Newsweek. Similar laws are enforced in Saudi Arabia which continues to uphold its male guardianship system.

“It is utterly repugnant that such brutal acts of sexual and gender-based violence continue to be perpetrated throughout Syria by warring parties,” Commission Chair Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro said in a statement. “These violations affect Syrians from all backgrounds, including men and boys, though women and girls are disproportionately impacted, and continue to be victimised on multiple grounds.”

Global Citizen campaigns for freedom, for justice, for all. You can take action here to help stop sexual violence in conflict and emergencies.