Advocacy update

Justice Initiative Calls for Accountability for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Syria

June 18, 2020
Brooke Havlik

Today, the Justice Initiative co-signed a letter calling on European member states, prosecutors with jurisdiction over crimes committed in Syria, and other decision-makers to ensure access to justice for survivors of systemic sexual and gender-based violence during the Syrian civil conflict. The letter is organized by the Syrian Road to Justice, a new coalition of Syrian feminist, women-led, and human rights-based organizations calling for greater access to justice for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

It notes that access to justice requires that staff at all stages of the international criminal justice process have sufficient gender expertise and experience to properly support survivors and prosecute crimes. Survivors of sexual and gender-based violence often face barriers to justice, including discrimination, fear of stigma, backlash, and successive gender-based violence (for instance, so-called honor crimes), lack of specialized support and protection services, and post-traumatic stress.

“Since the Syrian uprising in 2011, women, girls, men, and boys have been subjected to an escalation of sexual and gender-based violence,” said James Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative. “Properly recognizing these heinous crimes must be a broader part of the project to hold accountable the perpetrators of crimes against humanity.”

The letter coincides with the first criminal complaint pertaining to sexual and gender-based violence in Syrian government-run detention facilities, which was filed with the federal prosecutor of Germany on June 17. The complaint was filed by seven survivors supported by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and the Syrian Women’s Network (SWN).

The letter appeals for the following:

·      legal accountability for all international crimes that took place during the Syrian conflict, including sexual and gender-based crimes, regardless of the perpetrators’ political affiliations;

·      gender-sensitive analysis for all international crimes committed in Syria from the beginning of investigations, entailing an increase of female practitioners with gender expertise at every step of the litigation process;

·      increased support and specialist services for survivors to ensure they are able to seek justice and hold the perpetrators to account;

·      awareness-raising and community-mobilizing initiatives to tackle social discrimination and stigma, which cause greater suffering for survivors and prevents them from seeking justice.

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