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Survivors of sexual violence and torture in Syria are owed reparation

Press Release / Syrian Arab Republic 14 September 2023

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  • Throughout the 12 years of conflict in Syria, sexual violence has been used as policy by the Syrian regime, militias, and terrorist organisations, and especially in detention settings; 

  • Reparations remain elusive for the thousands of Syrian survivors of conflict-related sexual violence as perpetrators have not yet acknowledged their responsibility; 

  • The international community must come together to create an international fund or programme to provide interim reparative measures to victims of gross human rights violations, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

Geneva/Gaziantep – As the Syrian regime and other armed groups involved in the Syrian conflict in the last twelve years are unlikely to recognise their responsibility for committing gross human rights violations – including torture and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) – survivors of these crimes are asking the international community to step up and provide interim reparative measures to victims. 

"The whole world is responsible. The whole world has had a hand in the Syria situation," says one survivor. 

Twelve years have passed since peaceful protests in Syria were brutally cracked down on, launching a conflict that came to involve national and international actors. Sexual violence has been a key feature of the conflict, used mostly by the Assad regime to intimidate, threaten, humiliate, or punish opposition communities and persons, or those perceived as such.

The whole world is responsible. The whole world has had a hand in the Syria situation.

— A survivor from Syria,

The Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison (ADMSP), Women Now for Development, and the Global Survivors Fund (GSF) release today their new Syria study on opportunities for reparations for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence which calls on all parties to the conflict to halt all gross human rights violation and release all unlawfully detained persons. 

Survivors and Syrian civil society groups are urging the international community to recognise and address the devastating harms they have experienced. They are calling for the international community to establish an international fund for the victims. This fund should consider innovative ways of financing reparation, such as the repurposing of seized, frozen, and confiscated assets from the perpetrators of the violations. 

“In 2020, a French court ordered the seizure of €90 million worth of assets from Rifaat al-Assad,” says Danae van der Straten Ponthoz, Head of Advocacy and Policy at GSF. “In 2022, cement company Lafarge forfeited and was fined a total of $778 million in the United States for conspiring to provide support to ISIS. There are many more examples of assets that could be channelled to an international fund to benefit Syrian victims.”

The three partners involved in the study already began providing what are called interim reparative measures to survivors of sexual violence and torture from Syria who have fled to Türkiye. The project, which provides acknowledgement of the harms done, medical and psychological care, legal support, and financial support, is benefitting 820 survivors. 

These survivors include former detainees of the infamous Sednaya Prison, which is renowned for its inhumane treatment of detainees. 

Given that the conflict is ongoing, it is impossible to provide an accurate estimate of survivors that are owed reparations for the harms they have suffered. 

The 40 survivors who participated in the in-depth study described the devastating impacts that sexual violence, torture and other degrading treatments has had on their lives. They are living with physical injuries, including those which affect their ability to reproduce. They have long-term psychological trauma, which is compounded by the stigmatisation they face because of what they have been through. 

Survivors had major disruption to their life plans. Many lost livelihood, economic, and education opportunities because of their years spent in detention. 

“Survivors must define their reparative measures because only they know what will repair the harms they have suffered,” says Sabreen Shalabi, GSF Project Coordinator for Syria and Türkiye. “Reparative measures decided by survivors are truly transformative- and we know that survivors can be the decision makers for reparative measures that are financed by an international fund.” 

In the study, survivors made strong connections between reparation and justice, saying that reparation could not be realised without perpetrators being brought to justice and the cessation of arbitrary detention and CRSV. While this means true reparation will remain elusive as long as the conflict is ongoing, it is possible to begin providing reparative measures that will allow survivors to rebuild their lives.

Before this project, I could not find work due to my injuries. I did not have a medical certificate. Now I feel optimistic that I can work again and take care of my children by myself.

— A survivor,

“Before this project, I could not find work due to my injuries. I did not have a medical certificate. Now I feel optimistic that I can work again and take care of my children by myself,” says one survivor participating in the interim reparative measures project. 

The international community has an opportunity to scale up the work of GSF and its partners and reach more survivors, especially considering the availability of the seized, frozen, and confiscated funds of Syrian perpetrators of gross human rights violations and their associates. It is possible for these funds to be repurposed into reparations for victims of gross human rights violations, including survivors of CRSV. 

Consult the full report

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