“Honour crimes” in Syria

November 6, 2012

The international system is continuing to fail the people of Syria: the UN Security Council has not only lost sight of its role under the Charter to secure peace, but some of its members could be deemed to be in direct violation of international law. There is overwhelming evidence in the form of statements and reports from Syrian women and men, which bear witness to on-going systematic atrocities in the country such as massive and widespread rape, torture, gender based violence, disappearances, arrests and detentions of women and girls and compounding all of this horror: honour crimes.

In a highly militarised society, backed by the international arms trade to Syria, economic interests and massive use of weapons against civilians, there are an alarming number of women and girls facing the devastating consequences of acts performed in the name of “honour”. In short, women and girls who have been raped, are being killed by members of their own families. These “silent” crimes are becoming the most crucial security threat to women and girls and are hidden under the rubric of culture and tradition.

“Honour is everything to my family. I will kill all of you before I let anyone touch you”: quote from a Syrian refugee woman in a discussion, disclosing that honour is a primary concern that affects women’s decisions to report gender based violence. (IRC report “Syrian women and girls: Fleeing death facing on-going threats and humiliation”2012)

It is the issue of “honour” which makes sexual violence such a useful act, particularly in the context of war. It is used to humiliate and to destroy communities by turning those communities against themselves because honour has been violated. This culture of honour is one of the cornerstones in patriarchal societies – east and west – that build their power on fear.

There is now absolutely no excuse for the Security Council to remain incapacitated by its own power games. It can and should intervene on this issue even if it resolutely reneges on all its other obligations.

Picture of WILPF logoRussia and China have refused to recognise the situation in Syria as a threat to international peace and security and hence there has been no action under Chapter VII. There is an obvious fear of the use/abuse of any resolution to effect regime change. The issue of honour killings changes that. The crime is widespread and systematic; it is perpetrated by all parties. It is used as a weapon of war.

So the Security Council should remind itself of its SCR 1820 and we set out here the relevant parts:

“Noting that civilians account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict; that women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group;

…Despite its repeated condemnation of violence against women and children in situations of armed conflict, including sexual violence in situations of armed conflict, and despite its calls addressed to all parties to armed conflict for the cessation of such acts with immediate effect, such acts 
continue to occur, and in some situations have become systematic and widespread, reaching appalling levels of brutality,

Recalling the inclusion of a range of sexual violence offences in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the statutes of the ad hoc international criminal tribunals,

Stresses that sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a tactic of war in order to deliberately target civilians or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security, affirms in this regard that effective steps to prevent and respond to
such acts of sexual violence can significantly contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, and expresses its readiness, when considering situations on the agenda of the Council, to, where necessary, adopt appropriate steps to address widespread or systematic sexual violence;

This describes what is happening in Syria. It is being used to humiliate and hence to require the killing of women. It is being used as part of systematic attacks, which are “intended to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. And that means that it is genocide and the Security Council cannot sit back and yet again allow another genocide!

This transcends regime change and does not implicate it. It transcends factionalism. Since all parties to the conflict are engaged, the issue transcends the concerns of the Russians and the Chinese who should therefore be able to join with the other members of the Security Council to put into action the demands set out in SCR1820, namely:

  1. The immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians with immediate effect
  2. That all parties to armed conflict immediately take appropriate measures to protect civilians, including women and girls, from all forms of sexual violence
  3. Notes that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide
  4. And WILPF would therefore submit that the Security Council immediately seeks reference to the ICC to investigate with a view to future prosecution.
  5. Affirms its intention, when establishing and renewing state-specific sanctions regimes, to take into consideration the appropriateness of targeted and graduated measures against parties to situations of armed conflict that commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls in situations of armed conflict;

So WILPF would submit that it is now entirely appropriate to look at what measures can be put in place.

The doctrine of the Responsibility to protect is not just about pillar 3, it is about the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity. If the act of raping women and children is insufficient to invoke the obligations that the Security Council has, then surely the killing of those women and children by their families as a result of that rape, essentially instrumentalising culture to effect crimes, has to be the considered for what it is: a crime against humanity.

WILPF is not calling for armed intervention. The examples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya show that armed intervention only exacerbates violence in the short and the long term. Instead, commit to implementing 1820 and do so now.

Download this statement in pdf here.

Human Rights Violations Sexual Violence Syria Position

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