The information below is based on the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2014/181) issued on 13 March 2014.
Fear of reprisal, social stigmatization and a lack of safe and confidential response services for survivors have severely limited reporting on sexual violence in the context of the Syrian conflict. Information gathered from displaced civilians outside the Syrian Arab Republic and reported by the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic indicates that sexual violence has been a persistent feature of the conflict and that the fear of rape has served as a driving motivation for families fleeing the violence (see A/HRC/23/58, para. 91). It has been difficult, however, for the United Nations to verify allegations within the Syrian Arab Republic, largely owing to a lack of access and considerations related to the safety of survivors. Similarly, assessments of the scale and the scope of sexual violence are limited. The United Nations in the Syrian Arab Republic reports that it has provided information and held awareness-raising sessions on protection issues, including sexual and gender-based violence, psychosocial support and first aid to over 38,000 women in connection with the crisis during 2013.
The commission of inquiry has reported that government forces and pro-government militias have used sexual violence, including rape, in detention centres and prisons throughout the country, often as part of interrogations by intelligence services (see A/HRC/23/58, para. 92). Former detainees have provided United Nations partners with accounts of sexual harassment and the abuse of women, men and children in overnight detention facilities. The accounts included descriptions of detainees being stripped of their clothes and receiving threats that they or their relatives would be raped, as a tool to intimidate those perceived of being associated with the opposition. The United Nations has also received allegations of rape, including gang rape and other forms of sexual violence, against women and girls, including in the presence of relatives, by government forces at checkpoints, during incursions and during searches of houses of families perceived to be pro-opposition. (See also my report on children and armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic (S/2014/31.))
With respect to allegations against armed opposition groups, credible information has been provided to the United Nations in Homs, Damascus and Rif Damascus of sexual violence perpetrated against young women and girls in shelters and in some opposition areas. Furthermore, the commission of inquiry has reported accounts of women being segregated during house searches in the city of Aleppo during joint operations by armed groups, with an implication of possible sexual violence (A/HRC/23/58, para. 94). Also in relation to armed opposition groups, the Commission found that, during the assault in Yarmouk, the war crime of sexual violence was committed (A/HRC/23/58, para. 95). Reports of the curtailment of women’s participation in public life in some areas where armed opposition groups operate are of concern. I am also deeply concerned by the prevailing climate of impunity for sexual violence crimes by all parties.
The Government refutes the assertions of the commission of inquiry and has expressed particular concern regarding media reports during 2013 on “sexual jihad” or “marriage jihad”. The Government regrets that United Nations actors operating in the Syrian Arab Republic, Lebanon and Jordan have not yet been able to verify such reports. The Government has also reported that women have been abducted and raped, sometimes on a sectarian basis, and that, while some of those victims are released in exchange for ransom, others are reportedly passed on to other armed elements and revictimized. The Government notes that intimidation, killings and incidents of sexual violence against women, including rape, gang rape and sexual slavery, have occurred in Homs, Damascus, Idlib, Dara’a and Raqqa, among other places. The United Nations has been unable to verify this information.
To date, some 6.5 million individuals are displaced within the Syrian Arab Republic, while over 2 million have been displaced to Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, as well as to Iraq, Egypt and other parts of North Africa. The vulnerability to sexual violence and sexual exploitation of those displaced is among the most acute concerns of those responding to the humanitarian crisis. In Jordan, as at 31 December 2013, 576,354 Syrian refugees were registered with UNHCR, with approximately one quarter of that total residing in camps and the remainder in urban and rural settings. Women and girls represent the majority of the registered refugee population. Refugee women inside and outside camps report restricted movement owing to perceived security risks, as well as for cultural reasons. Most Syrians in Jordan have limited or no income, placing them at risk of exploitation and abuse, and leading some to resort to prostitution. While early marriage was already a practice in rural parts of the Syrian Arab Republic, there are concerns that the number of early marriages may have increased as a result of displacement, out of economic necessity and because of the perceived need to protect young women. Forced marriage, particularly of single women and widows, has also been reported as a form of reparation for women, especially when they have been victims of rape. The risk of exposure to prostitution, including as a means to pay rent or gain access to services, is also severe. Similar patterns of risk and vulnerability are reported in Lebanon, where over 800,000 Syrian refugees are registered with UNHCR, and in other receiving countries. The situation for those displaced within the Syrian Arab Republic is also dire.
I call upon all parties to the conflict to immediately issue command orders prohibiting sexual violence and to hold perpetrators in their ranks accountable, in accordance with the prevention measures specified in paragraph 10 of Security Council resolution 2106 (2013). I urge the parties to ensure that any ceasefire and eventual peace agreement contains explicit provisions with respect to conflict- related sexual violence, and I reiterate the call on all parties to allow unfettered access by United Nations actors and humanitarian partners for monitoring and the delivery of aid and services to vulnerable populations.