The information below is based on the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2020/487) issued on 03 June 2020.

After nine years of armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, ongoing hostilities continue to inflict disproportionate and devastating suffering on civilians. Incidents of conflict-related sexual violence continue to be reported, although the prevailing security situation and generalized context of structural gender-based inequality prevent the collection of comprehensive data. Available information indicates that rape and sexual exploitation are prevalent in internally displaced person and refugee camp settings and conflict-affected areas, and that fear and threats of sexual violence, including in the context of abduction or detention, has been a major factor in inducing displacement and driving families to flee their homes.

Humanitarian partners have signalled the use of negative coping mechanisms, such as the early marriage of girls in the name of physical and financial security and/or to overcome the stigma affecting actual or perceived victims of sexual violence. Threats of sexual violence have been documented as a recurrent pattern, circumscribing the mobility of women and girls. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic reports that civilians have been subjected to various forms of sexual violence in government detention facilities, at checkpoints and in areas under the control of armed groups throughout the conflict (see A/HRC/43/CRP.6). This includes the rape of women and girls to extract information from them or to compel family members to surrender, as well as the systematic sexual torture of men and boys. Moreover, as fighting between the Syrian Democratic Forces and ISIL escalated in the north-east, larger numbers of survivors of sexual slavery reached the camp for internally displaced persons in Hawl, with 125 survivors having been identified to date. It was verified that 39 children born as a result of sexual slavery were subsequently left in orphanages by their mothers. A Yazidi woman who refused to abandon her children has remained in the camp, as she is therefore precluded from rejoining her community. Indeed, the lack of community acceptance of children born of rape is a factor inhibiting return.

The United Nations has supported capacity-building for local service providers on the clinical management of rape. Gender-based violence specialists note the limited availability of services in many locations, critical funding gaps, access challenges and a lack of respect for safety and confidentiality principles in certain health facilities. Justice remains elusive, with not a single perpetrator having been prosecuted for sexual violence offences. Recently, however, the German federal public prosecutor indicted and arrested a former Syrian official, Anwar R., affiliated with the Syrian General Intelligence Service’s Division 251, for more than 4,000 counts of torture as a crime against humanity, including rape and aggravated sexual assault.

Recommendation

I urge all parties to the conflict, including the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, to immediately cease the perpetration of sexual violence and to ensure that victims of sexual violence committed by terrorist groups designated as such by the United Nations are treated as victims of terrorism and entitled to holistic support, including reparations and redress. I further call upon the parties to provide full cooperation in identifying missing, abducted and arbitrarily detained women and girls, and facilitating their safe return to their families. I recall that any decision regarding children should be guided by the principles of the best interests of the child and family reunification. I commend the countries hosting Syrian refugees and encourage them to enhance protection measures for persons affected by, or at risk of, sexual violence and/or exploitation.

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