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Thread: Syria News

  1. #121
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    'Raped below a picture of Assad': Women describe abuse at hands of Syrian forces


    Eight women have spoken for the first time about repeated rape, extreme sexual violence and brutal torture

    Ayda was first arrested by Syria’s elite Republic Guards at a check-point in Aleppo. She was taken to their local headquarters where, under a picture of Syria's president Bashar al-Assad, she was beaten, tied, and then raped.

    She was taken to a hospital to treat the bleeding stemming from the rape, but after seven days and against the better advice of doctors, security forces brought her to a prison where she was locked in a cell with 20 other women.

    Ayda endured three months of repeated rapes and a month of solitary confinement, where she shared a cell with a rotting corpse. She found a razor in the cell and tried to take her own life.

    She was twice put onto the notorious "flying carpet" (a wooden plank to which the detainee is attached and then bent backwards) and was made to watch a group of young male detainees sexually abused with bottles.

    By the time she was released, her husband had left her and married someone else. Authorities then forced her to sign an undertaking to leave Syria and never return.

    Ayda is one of eight women who have spoken about their treatment at the hands of Syrian authorities for the first time.

    Their stories were included in a new report by the NGO Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights (LDHR) and include horrific details of repeated rapes, extreme sexual violence and torture.

    Their names have been changed to protect their and their family’s identities.

    Commenting on the case, Toby Cadman, head of chambers at Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, which is offering legal support to LDHR on the cases, told Middle East Eye: "It is regrettable that there is presently no international accountability mechanism; that will come.

    “Everyone is working together towards justice - and we know from history, justice and accountability comes, even if it takes time. Pushing for accountability and ending impunity is absolutely essential for a future democratic Syria based on the rule of law.”

    The experiences - which have all taken place during the country’s civil war - have left the women with indelible psychological and physical scars and made them outcasts in their own communities.

    “Without exception, these women are still haunted by the terror of detention. They have become withdrawn, fearful and anxious,” the report said.

    Each of the women were medically evaluated by LDHR trained doctors. Medical experts then determined whether the findings were consistent with international standards of sexual violence and torture so that they could serve as evidence in court.

    While in detention, the women “in some cases were treated no differently from men”, the report said but there was “no regards to their differing health and personal needs.”

    “Against a background of forced nudity on arrival and the spectre of sexual harassment and insults in their cells, in bathrooms and in corridors, the women’s bodies were not their own,” it said.

    “There are many cultural, societal barriers to discussing detention and what happens there, particularly for women. Unfortunately, instead of care and support, women who have been detained face stigma and shame in their communities.”

    'Human slaughterhouse'

    The report is the latest in a string of revelations about the inner workings of Syria’s depraved prisons to emerge in recent years.

    Earlier this year, Amnesty International said that as many as 13,000 people had died from torture and starvation at Saydanya prison near Damascus which it described as a “human slaughterhouse”.

    The US administration has claimed that the dead bodies at the prison have then been incinerated in a giant crematorium to hide the scale of the mass killing and abuse.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimated that as many as 45,000 opponents of the Assad government have been killed inside prisons alone.

    However, justice for victims and their families remains elusive, human rights activists said.

    Russia - Assad’s key backer - has vetoed proposals at the UN Security Council to set up a court similar to those for the Rwanda and Yugoslavian conflicts.

    And Syria has yet to ratify the Rome Statute which allows for the International Criminal Court to prosecute core international crimes should the state not do so.

    In February, lawyers for Madrid-based Guernica 37, representing the sister of a Syrian man alleged to have been tortured to death in a Damascus prison in 2013, launched a criminal complaint against nine members of the Syrian security forces in Spain’s national court.

    The case was brought to light after a defector known as “Caesar” escaped from Syria in September 2013 with more than 50,000 photos documenting the deaths of more than 6,000 people.

    The case is thought to be the first in a western court brought against Syrian authorities.

    The case was made possible because the man’s sister is a Spanish citizen, and under international law, relatives of victims of crimes against humanity committed elsewhere are also considered victims.

    Last month Spanish courts reversed an earlier decision to hear the case. Guernica 37 have appealed.

    Cadman said that Guernica 37 was working on a number of investigations related to Syria and described the LDHR report as “highly credible and focuses on an issue of very real concern”.

    “We will continue to work with Syrian civil society and human rights organisations to document these crimes and bring cases before national courts and to work with Syrian civil society to develop the institutional framework for Syria that will one day bear the greatest burden of holding the perpetrators accountable.”


  2. #122
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    Day of the Disappeared: Don't forget the 80,000 who are still missing in Syria

    Human rights groups urged the world on Wednesday to not forget about the tens of thousands of Syrians who have been forcibly disappeared or abducted since 2011.

    On International Day of the Disappeared, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, as well as armed rebel groups involved in the country’s conflict, to disclose the fate and whereabouts of almost 80,000 missing people.

    "Amid the brutality and bloodshed of the Syrian conflict, the plight of those who have vanished after being arrested by the authorities or detained by armed groups is a tragedy that has been largely ignored internationally," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

    "Russia and the United States, in particular, must use their influence to pressure respectively the Syrian government and armed opposition groups to grant independent monitors access to places of detention, disclose the names and whereabouts of those deprived of their liberty, and allow all detainees to communicate with their families."

    Even before the crisis began in 2011, Syrian authorities followed a policy of forcibly disappearing people for peaceful political opposition, critical reporting, and human rights activism. The use of enforced disappearances dramatically escalated since the uprising.

    According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), 75,000 people have been subjected to enforced disappearance by the Syrian regime since 2011.

    Meanwhile more than 2,000 individuals have gone missing at the hands of armed opposition groups and the so-called Islamic State.

    Total impunity

    Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that those nations involved in negotiations to end the conflict should ensure that any transitional process includes an independent body to investigate the fate of the disappeared.

    "Syria will not be able to move forward if negotiations fail to adequately address the horrors of detention and disappearance," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

    "This should not be ignored. Without progress, each day that passes will likely see more of the disappeared tortured or executed."

    Russia and Iran, Assad's most prominent backers, should press the regime to immediately publish the names of all individuals who died in Syrian detention facilities, HRW said, and to inform families of the deceased and return the bodies to their relatives.

    They should also press the regime to provide information on the fate or whereabouts of all those forcibly disappeared, end the practice of enforced disappearance, and allow independent humanitarian agencies access to detention facilities.

    Backers of non-state armed groups, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the US, should compel groups they support to reveal the fate of detainees in their custody and allow humanitarian agencies access to their detention facilities.

    The UN mediator, Staffan de Mistura, should publicly address the reasons for lack of progress on Syria's disappeared and strengthen efforts to address this devastating problem, HRW added.

    "For any resolution to the conflict to be sustainable, the issue of the disappeared needs to be addressed in a manner that delivers both news of their fate and justice," Whitson said.

    "There has been total impunity for those responsible for disappearances in Syria," Amnesty's Philip Luther added.

    "This issue must be addressed by the international community at every opportunity, including peace talks in Geneva and Astana, or else its consequences will be felt for generations and the prospects for healing and reconciliation will be undermined."

    Living in hope and agony

    Fadwa Mahmoud has described the agony of not knowing the fate or whereabouts of either her husband Abdulaziz Al-Kheir or son Maher Tahan since September 20, 2012.

    They disappeared after being arrested by Air Force Intelligence at a checkpoint in Damascus, although the Syrian regime denies this.

    "The days pass by extremely heavily," she said. "I live on hope, which allows me to go on and pushes me to work hard for their release. I never lose hope that they will return. I always imagine that moment when I learn of their release."

    For some families, their quest for information ends in heartbreak. In March 2012, regime forces arrested Bassel Khartabil, a peaceful, free-speech advocate and founder of Creative Commons Syria, a non-profit organisation that helps people share artistic and other work using free legal tools.

    In October 2015, Syrian authorities transferred Khartabil from 'Adra prison, where his family could visit him, to an undisclosed location.

    On August 1, 2017, nearly two years after his disappearance, Khartabil's wife learned that regime forces had executed him.

    'Tens of Thousands'

    To mark the International Day of the Disappeared, Amnesty International has launched an art exhibition in Beirut entitled Tens of Thousands, which aims to raise awareness of Syria's disappeared and missing and give a voice to their families.

    The exhibition at the Station Beirut gallery features items left behind by individuals who have been forcibly disappeared or abducted, as well as poems written by formerly detained poets describing their experiences in Syrian detention facilities.

    There is also a collection of portraits of women detainees by Syrian artist Azza Abou Rebieh. The exhibition will run from August 30 to September 6.

    Amnesty International has also launched an online campaigning platform to shine a light on those who have faced enforced disappearance and abduction in Syria and help families in their efforts to find their loved ones.

    The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

    According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

    The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.


  3. #123
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    'Syria is our new testing ground,' says Russia military

    Russian arms and weaponry are being tried and tested on Syria, Moscow admitted this week, where the devastating six-year war has cost half-a-million lives - mostly victims of bombing.

    Lieutenant General Igor Makushev, chairman of the Military Science Committee, told Russia's TASS news agency that the country's military intervention has allowed it to test out recently developed munitions.

    "More than 200 weapons have been tested during the special operation, which demonstrated high combat effectiveness and proved to be mission-capable," Makushev told TASS at a military expo in Moscow.

    "Special attention is paid to new arms models - including those that are undergoing state tests - in order to timely detect and quickly remove possible manufacturing and design defects."

    Open Russian military intervention in Syria began in September 2015, with the air force carrying out punishing airstrikes on opposition forces in support of Bashar al-Assad.

    The devastating air campaign is believed to be responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, most notably during the Aleppo offensive when the rebel-held east of the city was decimated by a Moscow-led blitz.

    Human rights groups, military analysts and NGOs - such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) - have presented strong evidence to show that Russia has deliberately targeted homes, hospitals, schools and other vital civilian infrastructure.

    Russian bombing is also thought to be behind Assad's change in fortunes in the war with the Syrian president on the ropes in 2015 and now in command of most Syria's major urban centres.

    It has also given Russia huge clout over the Syrian regime, allowed mining and oil companies to cement lucrative deals, and gifted Moscow with a semi-permanent air base in Latakia province.

    After losing some of its clients following the 2011 Arab Spring, Russia has also extended its military influence elsewhere in the region, including the expansion of its only warm sea port in Tartous, west Syria.

    It appears that Russian is not only interested in propping up the Syrian dictator, but also using the bloodshed to market its bombs to other clients.

    They are also using the war to fix defects in recently developed weapons systems.

    "The revealed defects and certain breakdowns did not affect the performed battle missions," Makushev added.

    "Each problematic issue was analysed in the most thorough manner - including with the assistance of defence industry representatives - and comprehensive measures to eliminate the causes for abnormal operation of weapons and military equipment were hammered out."

    Russia has faced criticism from many Arab countries for its merciless military campaign in Syria. It is viewed as an ally of counter-revolutionary forces and regimes in the region - including Israel - looking to halt the advance of democratic movements following the 2011 Arab Spring.

    But Moscow has also won several key arms deals since it backed the Assad regime, including with Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Qatar.


  4. #124
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    Russian airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians in Syria since 2015

    total of 5,233 civilians have been killed in Syria since Russia began airstrikes against opponents of the Syrian regime in 2015, according to a Syrian NGO.

    The fatalities included 1,417 children and 886 women, the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) said in a statement on Sunday.

    Syria fell into a civil war in 2011 after the regime of Bashar al-Assad put down pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

    In September 2015, Russia began airstrikes in support of the Assad regime on the ground of fighting the Daesh terrorist group in the war-torn country.

    The SNHR said most of the Russian airstrikes had targeted opposition-held areas in Syria.

    "Only 15% of the Russian attacks targeted Daesh-held areas in Syria," the NGO said.

    According to the SNHR, Russia used cluster munitions 212 times in Syria, citing that most of the attacks had taken place in the northwestern province of Idlib.

    The report said that Russian raids in Syria had forced 2.3 million civilians to flee their homes.

    A first round of peace talks between Syrian warring rivals was held in the Kazakh capital, Astana on Jan. 23-24 after a ceasefire was hammered out on Dec. 30.

    The Astana talks are being brokered by Turkey, which backs the Syrian opposition, along with Russia and Iran, both of which support the Assad regime.



    Syria has been a testing ground for both US and Russia with their new bombs and weapons of mass destruction. Who is the real terrorist in the world?


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