We want to make you infertile, we want to vanish you from earth, we don’t want you to exist and this is just the beginning: Syrian survivors of sexual violence make victims’ submission to the ICC Prosecutor
Monday 17 May 2021, The Hague
Legal Action Worldwide (‘LAW’) filed a victims’ submission to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on behalf of 20 Syrian refugees in Jordan. This is the first time that Syrian survivors of sexual violence are urging the Prosecutor to open an investigation into crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Syrian government. The victims, 13 men and 7 women, are all survivors of sexual violence and many were children at the time of the violations. They were subjected to mass rape, gang rape and other forms of sexual violence, electrocution, sleep deprivation, humiliation, beatings and starvation. Many witnessed civilians being summarily executed and tortured to death. One victim described being detained for a year and eight months.
The victims in LAW’s submission are representative of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have been subjected to cruel and degrading treatment for daring to oppose the Syrian government. Victims’ statements confirm that the government used immense authority and resources of the state to carry out its oppression including the Syrian armed forces, government detention centres and controlling news broadcasting networks.
“I think maybe 10 or 15 people would rape me. When they were raping me, it would last maybe 4 or 5 hours. That was the worst torture that I ever experienced.”
The victims were targeted on the basis of their religion, political ideology and gender. Their testimonies confirm that the Syrian government used sexual violence as a tool to terrorize, humiliate and instil fear in the civilian population. It was an indispensable component in the Syrian government’s campaign to expel and exclude perceived opponents from the country. Sexual violence was used to shame victims and to alienate them from their families and their communities. Syrian army officers forced detainees to watch fellow detainees being publicly raped, adding to their humiliation. Male victims and survivors of torture stated the sexual violence was worse than any of the physical acts of torture to which they were subjected.
The victims’ case builds on the precedent set by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2019 when it concluded that it could open a full investigation on the situation of the Rohingyas when they fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh based on the international crime of forcible deportation and Bangladesh’s ratification of the Rome Statute. Legal Action Worldwide represents hundreds of Rohingyas in their victims’ submissions before the ICC, many of whom were subjected to horrific sexual violence. For Syrian victims, the situation in Myanmar/Bangladesh is analogous to their own. Millions of Syrians have been forced from their homes and the continued threat of violence prevents them from returning home.
“Too often, victims of sexual violence suffer in silence. Syrian victims have had the bravery to stand up and tell their stories. They have a right to be heard. Their demands must be taken seriously. The ICC now has a chance to restore some of the dignity that was stolen from them” said Antonia Mulvey, Executive Director of Legal Action Worldwide (LAW).
The opening of an ICC investigation represents a unique and important opportunity for victims to obtain the justice that has been denied to them. Victims and survivors of sexual violence have clearly voiced their wish for the Syrian government’s crimes to be investigated and the perpetrators to be brought to justice. Let’s support them in their decision.
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