Syria – Sexual & Gender-Based Violence in Syrian Detention Facilities


Sent by Sissy Vovoy


German authorities must finally prosecute sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Syrian detention centers for what it is: a crime against humanity. This is the aim of a criminal complaint that seven survivors of Bashar al-Assad’s torture system submitted in June 2020 to the German Federal Public Prosecutor in Karlsruhe. ECCHR drafted the complaint with support from its partner organizations Syrian Women’s Network und Urnammu.

The complaint is directed against nine high-ranking officials of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Service and National Security Bureau. The witnesses ask the German judiciary to investigate and criminally prosecute SGBV in Syria as a crime against humanity. This legal action complements a previous criminal complaint against the same suspects that ECCHR submitted in November 2017 and which contributed to an arrest warrant against Jamil Hassan, then head of the Air Force Intelligence, issued by the Federal Court of Justice in June 2018.


The complainants and witnesses, four women and three men who were held in four prisons run by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence between April 2011 and October 2013, survived or witnessed various forms of sexual violence, such as rape or the threat of it, sexual harassment, electrical shocks targeting the genital area, or forced abortion.

These and other related crimes are not isolated incidents. Sexual and gender-based crimes in Syrian detention facilities – including also castration or forced nudity – were and are a part of the widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population. The Assad government targets persons because of their perceived sex or sexual orientation: females, males, LGBTQI persons. The aim is to weaken the political opposition and those directly affected, but also their families and Syrian society as a whole.


Rape, sexual assault, forced pregnancy and sexual slavery: these are all sexual violence. In repressive regimes and armed conflict, the military, secret services and police often use these and similar methods as part of their strategy to oppress the civilian population. SGBV is used as a tool against women and girls, as well as men and boys – based on their socially-assigned roles or deviation from such norms.

Those affected, ECCHR and its partners demand that German authorities prioritize the investigation and prosecution of SGBV in its work on Syria. This means that they must examine structural inequalities and differences between men and women, boys and girls and that they include this approach in their investigation measures.

This complaint is part of ECCHR’s work on Syria, which includes seven other criminal complaints in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Norway. It is also part of a series of legal actions challenging sexual and gender-based violence in Colombia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Chechnya.

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