Groundbreaking Syrian Accountability Project Details Sexual Crimes in Syria’s War
As the civil war in Syria enters its sixth year, the Syrian Accountability Project (SAP) at the College of Law has released a groundbreaking report—“Looking Through the Window Darkly: A Snapshot Analysis of Rape in Syria”—about sexual crimes committed by forces on all sides of the protracted conflict.
The report can be found at http://syrianaccountabilityproject.org/.
Compiled using international legal standards—and with an eye toward future justice for the victims—the white paper will be distributed to United Nations and other international legal organizations to support the creation of a transitional justice mechanism—such as an ad hoc tribunal—once the fighting in Syria ends.
United Nations Undersecretary-General and Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura provided keynote remarks at the white paper release event—“Spotlight on Syria: The Gendered Perils of War and Forced Migration”—held at the Maxwell School on March 24. The event—held in partnership with SAP, the College of Law and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications—was livestreamed by Syria Deeply, a digital platform that provides comprehensive information about the war.
Remarks and the release of the white paper were accompanied by Clouds Over Sidra—a virtual reality, 3D video journey out of Syria—and a multimedia presentation about the conflict, curated by Professor Ken Harper, director of the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement. They were followed by an expert panel on gender crimes in war, moderated by Catherine Bertini, professor of practice in the Maxwell School; Bangura; Lamis Abdelaaty, assistant professor of political science in the Maxwell School; and Lynn Levey, legal writing professor in the College of Law.
The SAP report begins by noting that rape and sexual violence have been a means to terrorize and a weapon of war since ancient times. These crimes received little mention in international law until the 20th century, but today rape is a violation of several international statutes and its use imposes criminal liability on its perpetrators.
While some accounts of rape during the Syrian civil war exist, the majority of acts go unreported, partly because of social, religious and cultural stigmas around rape, making it particularly difficult for victims to tell their stories. Underreporting, therefore, is a significant barrier to finding those responsible for these crimes and holding them accountable under law.
To bring some of these incidents into the light, SAP’s snapshot carefully documents and analyzes 142 alleged incidents of rape and sexual violence. Using open sources, it describes the perpetrators, victims and types of violence that occurred in these cases. It also applies relevant laws and treaties—the Geneva Conventions, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and/or Syrian Penal Law—to highlight potential sources of liability, in anticipation of a transitional justice mechanism for Syria.
Key findings include:
- The 142 reported incidents affected at least 483 Syrian women and girls across the country.
- The Syrian regime perpetrated 62 percent of the total incidents.
- Shabiha, the regime’s affiliate, was responsible for the second most rapes: 23 percent.
- Rebel forces of the Free Syrian Army were one of the least responsible perpetrators at 2 percent.
- The majority of rapes, 34 percent, occurred while the victim was detained or imprisoned.
- Rapes during home raids and rapes resulting from abductions were also commonly reported.
The report was written by SAP Executive Director Peter Levrant, a J.D. candidate (2017) at the College of Law. Other contributors were INSCT CAS in National Security and Counterterrorism Law alumna Callie Moncus L’15; M.A./J.D. candidate (2017) Marlana Shaw-Brown; and Levey. SAP Project Leader is David M. Crane, professor of practice at the College of Law and founding chief prosecutor of the Special Court of Sierra Leone.