'Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War in the Ongoing Syrian Conflict:' Testimony of Hilmi M. Zawati Before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development of the House of Commons, the Parliament of Canada, Ottawa
8 Pages Posted: 6 May 2014
Date Written: May 1, 2014
This is a timely topic as the international community is failing in its obligation to protect civilians in times of war from crimes such as rape and other forms of sexual violence, which continue to be used as an adjunct to conventional warfare in the ongoing armed conflicts in Syria and other war-torn countries. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in March 2011, the international community, symbolized in the UN Security Council, has done less than nothing to condemn or stop the commission of crimes against humanity, particularly wartime rape and other forms of sexual violence, allegedly committed by all factions in the conflict but chiefly by Syrian official forces.
And it is critical, because rape in Syria (like in so many other traditional societies) has consequences that far exceed those in the developed world. It is more than a terrible, violent invasion of the victim’s body! It is more than a physical, mental, and emotional assault! In Syria, a woman’s chastity and honour are among the most highly regarded values in society! Rape is therefore a severe attack on the human dignity and wellbeing of the victims, their families, and their communities. It leaves women devastated and vulnerable to several forms of ongoing suffering and confronted with a cluster of overwhelming problems. Indeed, raping a Syrian woman effectively means sentencing her to death, whether physically, psychologically, or socially!
This testimony underlines several unprecedented conflict-related gender-based crimes, including arbitrary marriage, shame marriage, pleasure marriage, and the alleged jihad marriage. To help Syrian victims of sexual violence, the speaker appealed to the government of Canada to support an international campaign to end the culture of impunity that protects those who committed rape and other forms of sexual violence in the Syrian conflict, either through accountability measures or by extending a hand of support to survivors directly or indirectly through regional and international working groups. As well he urged the Canadian legislators to amend Canada’s State Immunity Act, which would not only allow victims with a real connection to Canada to pursue civil remedies against perpetrators of war crimes but also maximize Canada’s role in combating the culture of impunity, and contribute to the prevention of future human rights abuses, including conflict-related gender-based crimes.
Keywords: conflict-related gender-based crimes; wartime rape; sexual violence; sexual torture, Syria’s civil war; war crimes; crimes against humanity, Canada’s State Immunity Act, the principle of responsibility to protect, Syrian refugees
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