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Opposition: Assad forces torturing women and children in Syria

Women are being tortured and raped in government run prisons, according to the vice-president of the opposition Syrian National Council
Estimates say more than 162,000 people have been killed in the three-year long Syrian civil war (AFP)

There have been 7,500 confirmed cases of women being raped by government forces during Syria’s three year long civil war, according to a prominent member of the country’s opposition.

At a press conference on Friday in Istanbul covering women’s rights violations in Syria, Noura al-Ameer, vice-president of the Syrian National Coalition, told reporters that an accurate number of rape victims is likely to be much higher due to many cases going unreported.

“The experience that many women have lived is beyond imagination,” Ameer said. An unknown number of women, she said, have died as a result of sexual violence committed by Syrian army officers.

Ameer said the 7,500 cases had been confirmed by the opposition and various human rights groups.

No one can ask a Syrian woman whether she was raped in prison or not, according to Alaa Homsi, a human rights activist detained for six months in a Damascus military prison.

“That is a delicate issue,” she said at the Istanbul press conference.

Homsi says guards tortured her while in prison.

“I was electrified, hanged from the ceiling by hands and left in that position for hours and beaten,” said Homsi, who added that many women are stripped of their clothes before being hanged in this position.

Asma Faraj, who was detained for 13 months at the same prison, told reporters that she heard sounds of women being raped in prison and knew of cases where prison officers would distribute birth control pills to inmates.

Faraj was jailed because she was found with first-aid kits and a satellite phone at a checkpoint and says she was regularly beaten in prison.

“Investigators beat me every day. I was tortured systematically,” she said, adding that prison guards would deny sick inmates treatment. “Guards yelled at them: ‘Die, we do not care’.”

Syria has been in the midst of a deadly civil war since peaceful protests were brutally put down by Assad’s forces in 2011. More than 162,000 people have been killed and nearly half the population displaced, according to the UN.

Former detainee Faraj urged the international community to act against the proliferation of violence against women in the conflict.

“We are not here to say how they tortured us, but we want those files sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the international community to stop this calamity,” she said.

Efforts to refer Syria to the ICC by the UN Security Council have been blocked by Russia and China, viewed as close allies of Assad’s government.

Hunger as a weapon

On Thursday, the UN held a discussion at their New York headquarters organised by Denmark on the use of hunger as a weapon in Syria, which included local journalists speaking about their experiences in the war.

“During the regime’s blockade in the town [Mudamiyah, near Damascus], no food or medicine were allowed,” Qusai Zakariya told the panel. “Protests did not calm down, so the regime laid siege to the town."

“The message of Assad’s regime to the Syrian people is ‘kneel or die starving’," he said.

President Bashar al-Assad secured a third seven-year term in office this week, with 88.7 percent of votes in an election described by the opposition and their international backers as a “farce”. 

Marking his victory, Assad granted an amnesty releasing hundreds of people from government prisons. 320 people were released from Aleppo Central Prison in the north and 480 others, including 80 women, were freed from Adra prison in Damascus, according to the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory estimates 18,000 people continue to be held in government-run prisons across Syria.