Senior UN official warns of ‘widespread and systematic’ sexual violence in Syria, Iraq

Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura briefs the press. At left is Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the Secretary-General. UN Photo/Mark Garten

7 May 2015 – Sexual violence is being committed strategically, in a widespread and systematic manner, and with a high-degree of sophistication by most parties to the conflict in Syria and Iraq, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, said today as she briefed journalists on her “scoping mission” to the region in April.

“Women and girls are at risk and under assault at every point of their lives,” Ms. Bangura declared, emphasizing that the threat of brutality followed them “every step of the way…in the midst of active conflict, in areas under control of armed actors, at check-points and border crossings, and in detention facilities.”

Ms. Bangura’s trip lasted from 16 to 29 April and took her to Syria and Iraq, as well as to neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where she met directly with women who escaped the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) captivity and survived sexual violence.

She pointed to instances of forced, temporary and early marriage and described how such practices were encouraged for fighters as part of Jihad and used as a “protection” mechanism for families with no other means of providing for or ensuring safety of young girls. She also noted the sale of women for sex.

“Girls are literally being stripped naked and examined in slave bazaars,” she said, describing how they were “categorized and shipped naked off to Raqqa or Mosul or other locations to be distributed among ISIL leadership and fighters.”

She listed examples of the horrors suffered by women, including one who had been temporarily married over 20 times, after each occasion forced to undergo surgery to repair her virginity.

“ISIL have institutionalized sexual violence and the brutalization of women as a central aspect of their ideology and operations, using it as a tactic of terrorism to advance their key strategic objectives,” she said, going on to describe how women were promised to fighters and how ISIL raised funds through trafficking, prostitution and ransoms. Sexual violence was used to displace populations, to punish, humiliate and demoralize dissenters, to extract information for intelligence purposes and to dismantle social, familial and community structures in order to construct a new “Caliphate.”

The Special Representative said she had requested that the Security Council integrate protection and empowerment of women into its counter-terrorism response and she stated concerns about children born of rape, as they were unable to be registered. That risked creating “a generation of stateless children” who could provide fertile ground for future extremism.


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