Syria told a UN Committee that women’s rights in the country are excellent and rapes never happen.
On Friday, July 4, the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) reviewed women’s rights in Syria. Syria, among the 188 States that are subjected to the scrutiny of the Convention, is required to submit regular reports to the 23 independent experts to evaluate the implementation of the Convention in the country.
The five hour session began with a presentation of a report from Ms. Kinda Al-Shammat, the Syrian Minister of Social Affairs, highlighting the actions taken by the Syrian government to combat harmful stereotypes, illiteracy, lack of support for rape victims, and other forms of discrimination against women.
However, the report failed to acknowledge any fault among the Syrian government itself. In a 2012 report, Human Rights Watch shared the story of witnesses and victims who testified to the sexual abuse of women and girls as young as 12 at the hands of the military and other pro-government forces during home raids. Similarly, a 2012 report from the BBC quoted a woman formerly held in a military detention center in Damascus who described the “daily rape” committed against girls while other girls were forced to look on. At the 2012 Geneva Summit, Hadeel Kouki described unspeakable violations of women’s rights in the country.
Furthermore, the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria described other forms of sexual violence — often against both men and women — committed by government or pro-government forces such as torture, sexual assault, gang rape, electrocution, beatings, firing gunshots to the abdomens of pregnant women and to men’s groins.
The Syrian delegation did not deny the myriad of abuses taking place in their country, but rather refuted that government forces had anything to do with it. “There is no immunity at all! There is no impunity for the government officials,” Ms. Al-Shabbat claimed. She attempted to invalidate the reports of rapes committed against women at security checkpoints by government officials by explaining that at the checkpoints there are only “three or four army officers” and that “there are no buildings where rapes can take place!” as if thereby disproving the claim.
Despite the HRC’s report and the personal testimonies of women abused in prison, other members of the Syrian delegation stated with confidence that there are “no rapes” perpetrated against female prisoners and that they “are not subjected to torture.”
In another effort to shift the blame away from their delegation, the government stated that the media is subjecting their army to a “ferocious attack” and that the armed forces truly are protecting the people, despite what “all the distortions” would have the international community believe.
Finally, the delegation claimed that “sanctions are preventing Syria from returning to a normal situation.” Even the chairperson seemed clearly frustrated by the level of ambiguity and avoidance, reminding the delegation that the source of the suffering is due at least in majority to the conflict and that should be remembered.
For her final statement, Ms. Al-Shabbat’s indicated that the ongoing violence was due to Western countries’ funding of armed groups and the lack of agreement by the international community, effectively summing up the Syrian government’s staunch unwillingness to admit to any responsibility.