Wars that threaten human life and nature by definition lead to deaths, injuries, mass migrations and collapse of the society as a whole. The recent events in Syria represent the most tragic example in this respect. Disproportionate use of force by the Syrian government against the civil movement that started with peaceful protests in March 2011 provoked the war in the first place and then caused hundreds of thousands loss of lives and the displacement of millions of people. The intervention of international actors to the already chaotic region also intensified the current problems in Syria.
Women and children are the ones that suffer the most due to the increasingly chronic crises in Syria, particularly in terms of humanity, politics and economy. In the country, despite all the rules and regulations, including that in the context of human rights, violations, including the violence and rape against women have become a weapon of war and magnified the social collapse. Moreover, the suffering of millions of vulnerable and innocent women that died, injured, prisoned or became refugees inflicted deep and incurable wounds in the Syrian community. Saving the Syrian women and children from death does not sound sufficient enough for them to live an honorable and peaceful life. The tragic events in the past and the condition of thousands of women that are still doomed to live as captives demonstrate a sad realization that no one is safe in the country.
The present report
narrates the conditions and experiences of the women that are unlawfully detained
in the Syrian prisons.
One of the most negative consequences of the warfare in Syria is the challenge in acquiring reliable information from the field. The primary data used to prepare this report were compiled by means of studying the reports prepared by human rights organizations. Among these, the field reports and observations of the following organizations have considerable weight:
United Nations Human Rights Council
Human Rights Watch,
Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR),
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR),
Humanitarian and Social Research Center (İNSAMER),
The Human Rights and Justice Movement (İHAK)
IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation
Besides written materials, the interviews with the women that were detained in Syrian prisons and then released also constitute an important data. This report was also generated based on their statements. These interviews were done voluntarily. The events told by the people who gave their consent for the interviews done while this field study were documented and recorded by means of voice recording and video shooting. The names of the interviewees have been changed and used in the reports accordingly to ensure both their safety and the safety of their relatives living in Syria.
The interviews were conducted through face-to-face meetings with former captive women who are now living in Syria and Turkey. The women were asked open-ended questions and their responses and the case studies were consolidated with the literature reviews in psychology, political science and human rights and incorporated into this study as data.
Current Situation and Human Dimension in Syria
Peaceful demonstrations that took place in Syria during the spread of “The Arab Spring” in the Middle East in 2011 degenerated into a civil war upon increased violence inflicted by the Assad regime despite calls for reform from international arena. Some countries and groups pursuing their own priorities and agendas took sides in the conflicts and this situation deepened the crisis and led the war to become chronic.
Although there are complex alliances in flux since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, we can refer to three major blocs as of the current stage: The first bloc is the Assad regime and its supporters Russia and Iran, and this bloc has a control on 60% of the country. The second bloc was created under the leadership of USA since 2014 in the name of the fight against ISIS and led today by PYD/YPG as an extension of PKK in Syria and it controls approximately 30% of the country. The third one involves regions under the control of Turkey and opposition groups that fall under Free Syrian Army (FSA), and this bloc holds approximately 10% fraction of the country.
Despite several meetings between the representatives of the regime and opposition in Geneva to bring a resolution to the war since 2012, no significant developments surfaced. A similar peace process was initiated in Astana-Kazakhstan, held by Turkey, Russia, Iran and the opponents but this too did not result in a radical outcome so far. Even though Turkey pursued a common diplomatic process with Russia and Iran during the summits in Astana, it dissociated from them with respect to the schemes about the future of the Assad regime. Following the call made after the quarto-lateral summit (Turkey, Russia, France, Germany) held with the participation of major European countries in Istanbul on October 27, 2018, it is expected that the relevant committee will assemble to draft the constitution in 2019.
The Syrian was has not just stolen the present life of the Syrians, but also the future of the country. To put in numeric figures the human and pecuniary losses of the war, approximately 450 thousand civilians were killed in Syria since the beginning of the war. More than 6 million Syrians were internally displaced and more than 5 million people had to migrate outside of the country due to security concerns. Statistics derived from several researches reveal that 75% of the Syrians refugees are women and children. Based on the UN data, it is estimated that there are still 540,000 people living in the regions under siege as of June 2017. On the other hand, it is identified that there are currently more than 13.1 million people and 5 million 300 thousand children in need of help in Syria.
85% of deaths in Syria is a direct consequence of the war and the remaining %15
resulted from the war-related conditions such as famine, disease etc. It was
highlighted that 77% deaths out of 85% direct mortality rate pertain to the
civilians living in the war territories and 8% was comprised of the people who
were displaced in the country. Women and children constitute the majority of
people who lost their lives under circumstances such as famine, diseases or
deprivation due to the war.
Violation of International Laws in Syria
UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry published numerous reports and press releases up to the present day about the violation of rights in Syria. Several international organizations such as Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) also produced various reports during the eight years of warfare. Considering these reports and in conclusion of the one-to-one interviews with the victims in Syria, it is evident that the Syrian people were subjected to all kinds of acts prohibited under international treaties during the war and imprisonment.
The violations during the civil war in Syria are considered to be “war crimes” due to breach of common Article 3 of Geneva Convention and its 2. Supplementary Protocol dated 1977 as well as La Haye Convention dated 1954 and “crimes against humanity” due to breach of Article 7 of ICC (International Criminal Court) Rome Statute.
International laws of war are regulated in general through Geneva Conventions (1949) and its Supplementary Protocols (1977) and La Haye Conventions (1899 and 1907). These conventions regulate armed conflicts between countries in general that have international impact in a sense. Common Article 3 of four separate Geneva Conventions stipulates the regulations with respect to the protection of civilians during conflicts, which have various definitions such as “civil war” or “riot” and are considered not to have an international impact. Additionally, Supplementary Protocol No. 2 dated 1977 also addresses aforementioned matter.
On the other hand, “Crimes Against Humanity” are defined as “acts including widespread and systematic attacks against a civil population” in the article 7 of Rome Statute which is the constituent document of International Criminal Court (ICC). Acts of crimes against humanity include homicide, rape, exile, mass killing, torture, forced disappearance of people, unlawful imprisonment in violation of international rules of law and deliberate aggravation of living conditions.
Despite the fact that armed conflicts in a country involving the state and non-state actors are defined as “non-international armed conflicts” in terms of war laws, there is no detailed description in the relevant conventions. Taking Syria into consideration where the conflicts involve multiple actors, it is a crystal clear fact that the concepts are open to debate. Therefore, the conflict in Syria was defined as “civil war”, although the warfare of eight years can be subject to different descriptions due to the intervention of several countries and groups and its widespread impacts.
The soldiers of the regime, intelligence agency and Shabiha militia are the actors that commit the crimes against humanity and numerous violations within the scope of war crimes during the civil war in Syria. Certain terrorist organizations and opposition groups in the region, the extensions of ISIS and PKK in Syria in particular, also engage in activities contrary to international laws.
World public witnessed countless violations of rights in Syria since the very beginning. People demonstrating peacefully with political and economic concerns suffered from suppression of demonstrations by the regime through violence. The demands that can be considered as part of freedom of opinion and expression pursuant to article 18 and 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights were suppressed murderously. Homicides, arbitrary detentions, torture and inhuman conducts by the regime constitute clear violation of demonstrating people’s basic rights such as life and freedom. There are tens of reports prepared by Syrian human rights organizations about these incidents.
According to the Common Article 3 of Geneva Convention, people without any active role in the conflicts, including members of armed forces who laid down their arms and people who cannot combat due to factors such as disease, injury, arrest, should be treated humanly under all circumstances regardless of any criteria such as race, religion and belief, gender etc. Offenses against the lives and physical integrity of aforementioned people, mutilation, all types of torture and persecution, abduction, taking hostage, degrading and dishonorable treatment, convictions made without a court that satisfies legal assurances deemed indispensable by civilized nations and implementation of such convictions are absolutely forbidden.
People who were detained and then released by the regime forces described in detail how they were subjected to violation of rights in every way. As a consequence, the addresses indicated by the witnesses and the treatment they were inflicted there legally constitutes important pieces of evidence for the lawsuits to be filed against the regime. Another important problem is that there are many detainees who disappeared without any further sight or sound. The regime does not share any information about the disappearances and people investigating about their missing relatives are hindered under the threats of the regime as well.
Forced disappearance or abduction is one of the major violations in Syria. 95.056 people are believed to be missing, according to the figures published by international organizations. It is stipulated in the “International Convention for Protection of All People Against Forced Disappearance” of United Nations that no one shall be subjected to forced disappearance.
One of the most dramatic developments about “forced disappearances” was that a Syrian military police who defected with code name “Cesar”, photographed cases of criminal offense as a crime scene officer in Syria for 13 years, delivered 55 thousand photographs of 11 thousand people in January 2014. The authenticity of the photographs were confirmed upon examinations by the experts and they revealed that 11 thousand people including women and children were murdered by means of several methods such as systematic torture and starvation.
The use of weapons and bombs by the Syrian regime against their own people constitutes one of the main violations in terms of war crimes. Cluster munitions containing other explosives at the size of a grenade to make a wider impact have been used in Syria since 2012. More than 90 countries, except Syria and Russia, signed The Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo in 2008.
Barrel bombs, made by filling petroleum barrels and cooking vessels with glass shards, nails and explosives up to 1000 kilograms, were dropped by the regime to places densely populated by civilians such as schools, hospitals and market places. According to the reports of Syria Human Rights Monitoring Agency, the regime declared that they killed 12,179 people with 5150 barrel bombs between 2012 and 2015 and 96% of casualties were civilians.
Chemical weapons causing instantaneous and drastic killings are prohibited by international law in the strongest terms. The Assad regime proclaimed in 2012 that they had chemical and biological weapons but they would never use them providing there was no foreign intervention. This is because they are a party to “Geneva Protocol on Prohibition of Choking, Poisonous and Similar Gases and Bacteriological Agents Used in Wars” that was enacted in 1928 and they are forbidden to use such weapons. Moreover, on September 14, 2013, the Syrian regime also signed “The Convention on Prohibition of Development, Production, Storage and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Annihilation” dated 1992.
During the autopsies conducted following the attack in Saraqib in 2013, sarin gas was detected in the bloods of the deceased, which is included in the UN’s prohibited weapons list as a kind of chemical weapon. The report presented to UN Security Council after the observations by UN confirms the use of chemical weapons and the report explains that “most probably” the Baath Party was responsible for the attack.
As per articles 7, 10
and 11 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone is equal under the
law and when incriminating a person, he/she should be judged in a public trial
by unbiased and independent courts, allowing him/her to defend him/herself.
While Syrian judicial system already had structural defects, punishments of
civilians at military courts continued since Hafız al Assad period on the
grounds of “threatening the national security”. People judged at military
courts could not benefit from several basic rights, pursuant to “Governmental
Decree no.109”. To list a few of these rights deprived are the right to an
attorney, right of the detainee to see his/her family and attorney, the
requirement of starting interrogation within 24 hours of detention. Due to
secret trials, information about the fate of the judged could only be obtained
after the sentence of the court was passed but sometimes their relatives could
not get any information at all.
Violations Against Women in Syria
Women suffer from various violations of rights during armed conflicts in different parts of the world, despite the regulations for protection of civilians under international law. Between 1992 and 1995, thousands of Bosnian women were prisoned, inflicted with physical and psychological torture and raped by Serbian soldiers. Israel imprisoned more than 10 thousands of Palestinian women during last 50 years and as of 2019, 52 women are still held in Israeli prisons. 2100women in Egypt and more than 1400 womenin Iraq – due to being wives of ISIS members – are still in prisons. The Chinese government captivated at least 2500 Uyghur women in the places they call “the training camps”.
Instances of physical, psychological and especially sexual violence, which is used as a weapon of war to insult people’s dignity, are commonly experienced in Syria. Cases of violation in all sorts happen during the raids by the forces of the regime and – most frequently – in the prisons.
The decree of UN Security Council (UNSC) no.1325 issued in 2000 about actions of sexual violence that fall under the scope of both crimes against humanity and war crimes under international law calls for the protection of women during the conflicts and emphasizes the active participation of women in the resolution of conflicts. The decrees of UNSC with numbers 1820, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122 in the following years also address the protection of women and prevention of sexual violence.
The alleged grounds for detention and imprisonment of women are based on completely unlawful reasons. Some of the captive women in Syria were detained on the grounds of taking part in peaceful demonstrations at any given time, in defiance of their rights to congregate and demonstrate. Another group of women were detained in order to put pressure on someone who is a family member supporting the opposition or suspected to support anti regime groups. A third group of women is comprised of paramedics. These women were health officers who were also accused of providing medical assistance to the opponents in any way.
The first reason given for the detention of women is on the contrary to the practices of universal law regulating the right to demonstrate and also contradicts the current laws in Syria. The situation of women who were detained on the grounds of having a family member in support of the opponents complies with neither neither any international legal rule nor the principle of “individual criminal responsibility” stipulated in the laws of Syria in force. Moreover, the detention of health personnel is contrary to Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Protocol of Geneva Convention dated 1977 regulating “the conditions of medical staff under civil war”. Article 9 refers to the requirement of protection for medical personnel and Article 10 stipulates that personnel shall not be penalized provided that medical ethics is observed, regardless of who use medical intervention during warfare.
In brief, just as almost all of aforementioned international legal rules were breached in Bosnia, Iraq, Palestine and East Turkistan in the past, they are violated blatantly in Syria today. Women in particular became the number one target of the Syrian regime for the sake of silencing opposing voices in the country. Captivity, violence and rape against women turned in to a weapon of war. Both field studies and interviews with previously imprisoned women reveal that thousands of women were victimized in various ways in Syria by the forces of the regime and its supporting actors.
For instance, 22,823 civilian women were killed during a 5-year period between March 2011 and November 2016. 12,164 of these women killed were adults above the age of 18 and the remaining 10,659 were young girls. According to the researches conducted in 2015, 2,615 of 21,179 people killed were women. The Syrian regime is responsible for 15,748 of these deaths, 1,957 being women. It is known that 1,546 of these dead people were killed by means of torturing. Based on a study done in 2016, 2,562 out of 16,913 killed by the Syrian regime and other actors in the region were women. The Syrian regime is responsible for 8,736 of these massacres 1,237 being women, and Russia is responsible for killing of 3,967 of which 684 were women. 1,536 out of 10,204 civilians slaughtered in Syria in 2017 comprised of women that had nothing to do with the war. 4,148 of these dead people (of which 591 were women) were killed by the Syrian regime and 1,436 (of which 284 were women) were killed by Russia. The number of civilians massacred in December of the same year is 569. 285 of them, 34 being women, were killed by the Syrian regime. It is known that the death of 211 people killed in 2017 was caused by infliction of tortures on them.
A special report issued for World Women Day mentions that it is the Syrian regime and its allies who were responsible for 91% of 23,502 women who were killed during first 6 years of war. It is known that 65% of these women were killed as a result of bombings in Syria.
The losses of war increase exponentially each day. A dramatic example in this respect is where there were 976 people being killed under tortures just in 2018. It is also known that 1,361 women were killed by bombings and due to conflicts in the same year. Another research in 2018 states that 13,084 out of 111,330 people which were killed by conflicting groups in Syria were women.
The current violations of rights in Syria do not stop here. Right after the eruption of anti-government protests against the Syrian regime in March 2011, Syrian authorities started mass arrests. According to the researches, the number of people arrested since 2011 reaches 117,000. It is estimated that at least one tenth of these i.e. more than 11 thousand people are women.
people lost their lives under detention since the arrests executed in 2011. For
instance, it was noted that just in 2012, 865 captives were killed through the
exposal to violence.
The figure in this respect is 490 for the year 2013.
In 2014, a dramatic increase occurred in the number of people who lost their
lives in detention. It was found that 2,197 people died under detention,
indicating an increase of 360%.
According to Amnesty International, 13,000 prisoners were executed by hanging
in Saydnaya Prison in the vicinity of Damascus.
According to the date obtained from SOHR,
30,000 people died in Saydnaya. The same
research claims that more than 100,000 thousand people who were arrested by
Syrian regime died from being exposed to torture since March 2011.
The figures contain no information about execution of women; therefore the
death rate of women captives could not be confirmed.
UN bodies and non-governmental organizations report that violence and abuse inflicted on women are used as a weapon of war in Syria. Male relatives of women and girls who were detained for being an opponent were killed before their eyes and many women and girls were raped and then immediately massacred since they witnessed aforementioned executions. Despite the fact that the majority of detainees arrested by Syrian forces between 2011-2017 were men above 15 years of age, thousands of women and girls were also imprisoned including female lawyers and reporters who expressed their anti-government opinions. Arrested female relatives of men accused of supporting the opponents, or being a member of an armed group, were subjected to various exploitations during their detention.
The majority of the victims include women at the age of 18-45. However, some studies documented that girls below 9 years old and elder women were also exposed to all kinds of violation and humiliation including sexual assaults. Some witnesses noted that even seven-months pregnant women were raped and moreover, some women at earlier stages of pregnancy were raped and had miscarriages due to said action.
Apart from killing and rape, women were subjected to many other humiliating and dishonorable acts. For instance, women were forced to walk naked in front of the tanks on the streets of Karm al-Zeitoun (Homs) in March 2012. At an interview with a 16 year-old girl from Karm al-Zeitoun recalled how during the period two women were raped in front of her and the same girl mentioned that she was forced to walk completely naked before the tanks for a couple of hours.
It is considered a valid reason to imprison thousands of women in Syria when their husbands or relatives are being opponents to the regime. These women suffered from physical, verbal and psychological violence during the raids to their homes, at checkpoints or at the prisons where they were detained, without any accusation or trial. For instance, in October 2012, a young woman was stopped at a checkpoint in a rural area of Damascus, and then she was taken to a military vehicle and raped by an officer of the Syrian army. The same officer then burnt the unfortunate woman’s hair.
Today, even though it is not possible to give an exact number with respect to Syrian women who were subjected to several tortures and rape and those who are still in detention, it is estimated that the number is between 6,700 and 13,000, based on the testimonies by the relatives of these women and the reports of different human rights organizations. Another report in 2017 estimates the number of arrested women as 7,571. 
According to the reports prepared based on the statements by women who were imprisoned in the prisons of Syria and then released somehow, women detained by Syrian regime are usually kept in the following prisons:
Kefer Suse Prison,
Hama 4. Military Intelligence Unit,
Al Suwaida Military Security Unit,
National Security Organization 251. Department,
Leş Beloni (Homs),
Palestine Military Intelligence Unit (Damascus),
Al Khatib Branch (Damascus),
Military Interrogation Center in Damascus (Mezze),
National Security Unit in Aleppo,
Air Intelligence Units in Homs, Hama and Aleppo,
Unit 215 of Syrian Military Intelligence,
Hama and Homs Prisons,
Military Intelligence Unit No.235 in Kefer Suse,
Aleppo Central Prison.
According to local sources, there are a lot of underground prisons built by converting the basements of some buildings in Syria, apart from aforementioned prisons. There also hospitals transformed by the Syrian regime into prisons to keep hundreds of people unlawfully.
Some of previously imprisoned women, who were subjected to various dishonorable acts such as threats, blackmail, insult, verbal and physical violence, personally described the maltreatment inflicted upon them in these prisons and their devastation caused by these treatment. Moreover, most of these imprisoned women lost their lives in these prisons due to reasons such as torture, starvation, unhygienic conditions etc.
Taking into consideration the fact that the most vulnerable individuals in the regions of war and conflict are women and children, women are both war victims and a political blackmailing instrument; and they are subjected to countless traumas. The most commonly known violence inflicted among these is physical, sexual and psychological violence, which are also considered as war crimes. Many captive women were exposed to various tortures, injuries and sexual harassment in some way.
However, another point that misses the attention is that the tragedy of these captive women is more to what they experience during detention. Many Syrian women who were detained unlawfully are labeled in a degrading way because they were raped in the prisons and this situation causes them to be excluded by their families and the society; they are condemned, had to emigrate from their homes, or to be left by their husbands if they are married. Due to all these social realities, many women who escaped somehow from Syrian prisons do not report these tragic events they experienced and chose to remain silent. Therefore, most of the women could not even receive a treatment to recover from the traumatic events they were subjected to and they have to struggle with those tragic events alone. 
The majority of these women are known to be people who still live in Syria or whose some of family members stay in Syria. To put it in another word, the reason why they remain silent is the fear to be arrested again and/or the fear for their families to be harmed by the Syrian regime due to their statements or pursuit of justice, apart from aforementioned reasons.
On the other hand, a minority of these women decided to share what they have gone through and to make their voices heard despite all. In this section of the study, some parts of face-to-face interviews conducted with Syrian women who were imprisoned for various reasons and exposed to torture, and demonstrated courage to share the their tragedies and their life stories will be narrated. As a result of drastic events they experienced, many individuals developed physical, behavioral, cognitive, psychological and social impacts. The following are the impacts commonly seen in most interviewees:
- Shock, numbness, shivers, crying, nervousness, anxiety
- Fainting, confusion, disorientation, depression
- Trembling, nausea, vomit
- Insomnia, hypersomnia, nightmares
- Lack of appetite and consequential weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
- Lack of energy or excessive energy, increased alertness, weakness, loss of control
- Physical pain, cardiovascular disorders, gastrointestinal disturbances
- Overreaction to sudden noise and motion, hypersensitivity to noise
- Re-experiencing the feelings of the rape
- Obsession with the assault, anger, desire for vengeance, fear
- Inconsistency, difficulty in problem solving, concentration issues
- Self accusation, fear of loneliness, isolation
- Being nervous and aggressive, having a quick temper, withdrawal from society
- Divorce, changes at home, work, school or relationships
- Sudden changes in emotional state, shame, guilt, feeling dirty
- Loss of enthusiasm for life, attempt to commit suicide, grief and loss
- Loss of self respect
1. Raniye Halebi
Raniye Halebi (RH), from Homs is married and a mother of three. When RH was arrested at a checkpoint in Homs in May 2015, she entrusted her children to their aunt since she was told that the interrogation would take 1 to 2 hours. Then, RH was taken to another place accompanied by the soldiers. She was interrogated there about her deceased brother and her husband who were members of Free Syrian Army (FSA). At the end of the procedure, RH was labeled as a terrorist and she was accused of many accusations including complicity and association with the opponents. She was subjected to severe torturing when she refused the crimes that she did not commit. She describes the torture and interrogation as follows:
“They told me that they would kill me if I do not answer their questions. In fact they tied my hands on my back and hung me to the ceiling. When I was hung, they continuously asked the same questions and forced me to reply and of course they beat me; they hit my back, my arms, my belly and my head with plastic pipes and all they wanted from me was to answer their questions and accusations in the way they expected, regardless of whether or not I was guilty. They intensified the torture when I resisted to all these and I fainted due to heavy torturing… The place we were staying was very cold. Sewer rats were passing by our sides. I could hear the sounds of torture from where I sat. I saw young people, all of them with their underwear with their hands hanging. They were tortured in the places where we passed by when going to the toilet or being taken somewhere else. I was more terrified after seeing that scene, when they interrogated me again. Moreover, they gave us meals with bugs inside… We were more than 15 people under the ground and it was so dark. There were screams of the tortured all around, all the time… This situation continued for 2 months. Then, I was sent to a unit called Leş Beloni in Homs. I was subjected to the hardest torture in that unit. They forced us to listen to the sounds of when one of our friends was raped. That friend was severely beaten. I heard insults that I have never heard of and words I cannot even imagine to be said, I suffered from sexual harassment and I was dishonored. It was the first time in my life that I saw such violent human beings, if they could be called humans, of course. They hung me on the ceiling; they put my head and legs into a tire and started to beat me using a torturing tool called Dulab. Neither men nor women were shown mercy. Both men and women were subjected to similar treatment. We all suffered from many things such as insults, violence, battery, swearing, torture, racking, being forced to walk on pools of blood, being left in the cold, being shocked with electricity.”
After being kept there for 1 month, RH was sent to Military Intelligence Palestine Unit in Damascus and interrogated again and forced to be naked. She stayed together with 15 to 20 people in this 8 floor unit-according to her statement-and is well known with its torturing. She also saw many children and women in this place with 8 rooms in each floor. RH mentioned that she also saw orphan children and that most of them were at the ages of 2 to 5. RH stayed there together with many elder women suffering from diabetes and hypertension and she was detained there unquestioned for 4 months. She was subjected to countless crimes against humanity in this place where law does not apply in any manner. RH burst into tears when mentioning those humiliating events she experienced as she continued:
“… We heard so many screams of torture here as well. We smelled the stink of dead bodies. Everyone already expected his or her turn to be killed at any time. We all thought that we would die under torture unbeknown. I even forgot what sleeping was like. We all lost sense of night and day.”
After 1 month, RH was taken to Kefer Suse district and kept there for 14 days. Then, she was taken to a court trial for the first time. RH was sent to Adra Prison after that and she finally succeeded her emancipation there thanks to an attorney sent by her family and in return for a considerable amount of money paid.
2. Haya el-Rai
Haya el-Rai (HR) is 32 years old woman from Hama, married and the mother of 4. Today, she barely makes her living with donations in Reyhanlı. HR was imprisoned in September 2012 after informants led to her husband’s arrest during the times of war and he indicated HR as a supporter of the opponents during the interrogation although she had nothing to do with it. HR was hauled into an armored vehicle, taken to the intelligence unit No. 4. Army; and she interrogated while completely naked and her eyes tied. HR was tortured during the interrogation and she said that the soldiers beat her with plastic pipes until she fainted when they could not receive the answers they wanted. HR, after being released from the prison where she was kept for 1 month, took refuge in Turkey with her children after her husband left her. Following are her recollections:
“We were forced to walk over the blood accumulated on the floor after torturing, I and many women like me and young girls were raped again and again. No matter how hard we resisted and tried to protect ourselves, they never stopped torturing, beating, insulting and, worst of all, raping us. No one could hear our voice. We could not even sleep due to screams of the tortured. Many of our friends got pregnant because of the rapes. In fact, some of them gave birth to 2-3 children. Everything was so horrible and inhuman. It is very hard for me even to remember those days. I attempted to commit suicide 4 times after that day. I cannot be considered to have recovered from all of what I experienced. I received psychological support but the fact that I am breathing does not mean that I am alive. I feel like a dead body that was dishonored and lost its soul.”
3. Ala el Suveydi
Ala el Suveydi (AS) is 32 year-old woman from Aleppo, married and mother of 3 children. AS lived a simple and normal life with her husband and children before the war. She was detained by the intelligence in 2013 that raided her place in Hamdaniye. She was imprisoned by the intelligence for almost 10 days and she was released afterwards whereas her husband lost his life in prison as a result of torture. 3 months later, AS was detained again and interrogated by the intelligence unit in Damascus for 3 months and then she was transferred to Adra Prison. She was taken to a court trial on the 17th day of her imprisonment there and she stayed in the prison for approximately 1 year in consequence of her conviction by the judge. Afterwards, the court decided her acquittal but she was taken under interrogation again by another intelligence unit at the very date she was supposed to be released and she was exposed again to several tortures and inhuman treatment at Adra Prison. AS was exposed to questions about her husband in particular and she described her experiences as follows:
“We, 32 women, stayed at a ward there. It was not possible to turn from one side to another because there was no room to do so. We were monitored 24/7 by surveillance cameras. We were forbidden to pray and read the Quran. We prayed in an implied way. We were allowed to go to the toilet only 3 times a day. There were old women at the age of 50 to 70 with diabetes and renal failure at the place where we stayed. Apart from these, dietary conditions were also really terrible. We found cut nails, bugs etc. in the wheat pilaf they served. The prison was extremely dark and cold. On the blankets they gave to us to get warm, there were bloods of people killed during tortures or worms from the dead bodies since they were left unattended for a long time. They took us to a torture room at certain hours and beat us with cables and then gave us electric shocks. They tied our hands and hung us to the ceiling by means of a rack so that we stood up with our feet a centimeter away from the floor. Women witnessed torturing of men and heard their screams and vice versa. Sometimes we were subjected to solitary confinement. The cell was barely at the size of 1 square meter. It was too dark and there was a tap dripping all the time in the cell. Nothing particular was necessary to put a person in the cell. That worked also arbitrarily as usual. You could have been tortured at 5 o’clock in the morning. There were no specific rules or principles for anything… a lot of women and girls were raped there. For instance, a female companion of mine got pregnant exactly 5 months after being raped…too many child deliveries happened in Adra. Some women were also imprisoned regardless of their pregnancy and they were obliged to deliver under hard conditions. Sexual harassment, abuse and rape were conducted in a single room. We were insulted and beaten all the time. Cholera disease was also very common in the prison…”
AS was released in 2016 and she went first to Idlib and then to Turkey, taking her children who were looked after by her mother in-law when she was in prison. She tries to make her living there working with her eldest child and forget about what she has been through.
4. Hilal el Dari
Hilal el Dari (HD) is 34 years old from Damascus. She is a former teacher who is married and mother of 2. In May 2014, she was arrested and sent to the basement of a hospital that served as a prison on the grounds of attending anti regime demonstrations despite the fact that she was not involved in anyway. HD stayed there with her paralyzed mother and her sister under tough conditions for a year. She stated that the reason for their detention is to make pressure on the men in her family. HD mentioned that she could not even take a bath for 6 months during her imprisonment there and she could not also take care of her old wheelchair-stricken mother sufficiently. The mother also struggled for her life under difficult conditions, having pressure sores at one side of her body due to being seated all the time.
At the end of their stay there, HD was sent to Al Khatib branch and she spent another 8 months with her mother and sister there. She mentioned that there were 52 more women there and she stayed at an underground ward together with 19 other women. HD was not subjected to any sexual harassment or abuse but she was forced during the interrogation to accept the crimes she did not commit and then she was sent to Adra prison upon her resistance to this. HD was released on April 15, 2016 after being held in Adra prison for 5 months and she migrated to Reyhanlı taking her children and mother with her.
5. Hiba Şami
Hiba Şami (HŞ) is 50 years old, married and mother of 3 from Aleppo. She was detained a few months after the demonstrations started in 2011. She was interrogated in a naked state at a prison in Aleppo for 10 days. HŞ was asked to provide information on her activities and she had a heart attack at the 2nd day of her detention in Aleppo. After her treatment, continuation of her detention was decided and interrogation officers would punish her by beating her when her replies to his questions were not satisfactory. HŞ was tortured at National Security Unit in Aleppo and she was exposed to several tragic events such as being violently beaten after being seated on a tire, being electroshocked, being beaten by sticks, being humiliated and threatened etc. She also mentioned that there were 14 year-old young girls there aside from adult women. The torturing repeated every 15 minutes since she did not admit the unsubstantial claims against her… She was taken to Kefer Suse in Damascus, after being held in Aleppo for 10 days. During her detention in Damascus, the commanders told HŞ that they could save her but they mockingly asked her to have sex with them in return. Those soldiers staining the honor of women with such indecent proposals also committed crimes against humanity such as tearing beards of male detainees and torturing them in a complete naked state.
After staying at this prison for 18 days, HŞ was transferred to Adra Prison. She stayed in Adra for 2 days. When she was taken back to Aleppo, she was kept in a prison in Homs for 1 week due to the conflicts between the opponents and the regime. She was convicted at the court in Idlib. She was acquitted and released from the prison after staying for 3 months there. She lost 18 kg during that period due to severe conditions of the prison. She faced what many Syrian captive women experienced and she was excluded from the society after she was released from the prison:
“Unfortunately, even if physical tortures ended when I was released from the prison, social torture continues. Imprisoned people are a source of disgrace in the eyes of the supporters of the regime and they create the opinion of the society about them is that they were dishonored due to the things they lived through in the prison. Therefore, an imprisoned person, regardless of their innocence, is forced to migrate somewhere else after being released from the prison since she is excluded and rejected by the society, even by her family and husband and she could not hold on to life. The fear of being arrested again is also another reason that forces people to immigration. Those who could not migrate continue to live in Syria, provided that they remain silent”.
6. Rena Verd
Rena Verd (RV), 38 years old and mother of 4 from Hama. She was detained at a checkpoint at the entrance of Hama in 2014 with the allegations of being a member of Free Syrian Army. Her husband was trapped and killed on his way from Idlib to a rural area of Hama in 2012; she started to be interrogated at the military security unit in Hama. She was interrogated from 6 o’clock in the evening until morning for 3 days. She was subjected to various insults, humiliations and violence during the interrogation. She suffered from significant physical and psychological violence following the questioning particularly about her husband. After the end of interrogation, she was completely unclothed and taken to a cell and held there naked. 8 days later, she was referred to homicide unit. She was interrogated there as well. She was convicted to be an arms smuggler after this interrogation. RV lost 17 kg during this period and she witnessed many prisoners, among them 13 year-old imprisoned boys and captive girls older than 20 years, being tortured. RV was released after a month and took refuge in Turkey in October 2015.
7. Hamide el Halebi
Hamide el Halebi (HH) was detained in Homs and taken to prison with the allegations of terrorism and she was detained there for 12 days. She passed 6 days of that period in a small cell with rats and the remaining 6 days at the prison. She was subjected to extreme physical violence during 12 days after her first detention. She suffered from continuous humiliation and verbal violence at the cell. 12 days may sound a short period of time but HH described the events she witnessed during those days:
“Women were tortured incredibly. We witnessed countless inhuman violence such as hanging of the hands to the ceiling as if being hung on a rack; we also faced frequent raping, poking, and being forced to walk on blood as a kind of psychological violence. There were young girls and boys at the age of 14 to 15 under detention. We witnessed them being raped and I saw at least two of them gave birth. It is really very hard to forget what happened.”
8. Meryem el Askeri
Meryem el Askeri (MA) is 35 years old, a mother of 3 from Damascus. After a short while from the beginning of the demonstrations, she was detained and sent to prison together with her 14-month baby. She was imprisoned for 1,5 years in total and exposed to both physical and sexual violence during her improsenment. She was raped several times in front of her baby. MA lives in Reyhanlı now.
“…My baby could not bear the conditions of the prison anymore and got seriously ill at the 10th month. The soldiers got tired of crying spells of my baby and delivered it to its grandmother. Even if I was happy that my child was released, the violence, starvation and rape that I was exposed to became unbearable. I was released after 1,5 years when my health worsened further. I was brought to Turkey right after my release due to bleeding. I had 12 surgeries there because of my deteriorating health…”
9. Reyhan El Raşidi
Reyhan El Raşidi (RR) is married, mother of 3 children, 28 year-old nurse. She was detained since she treated injured people during the demonstrations in early 2011. With allegations about her husband having participated in the demonstrations, both husband and wife were sent to prison. She was under interrogation for more than two weeks but her husband was detained longer. They somehow took refuge in Turkey after both were released.
“…I was exposed to violence in the prison
based on the allegations that I helped the opponents. I sometimes fainted when
subjected to severe insults and humiliation. The interrogations were done once
every 2 days. We were raped first and
then beaten until we fainted almost at every interrogation. When I regained my
consciousness, I found myself naked on the floor with pain and scars of battery.
I was released after spending 17 days under those conditions… I was taken to
a hospital’s emergency unit with heavy bleeding right after my release and had
3 surgeries in total due to the infections I had…”
What Can Be Done for Captive Women?
a) In Terms of Law
The Syrian regime should make a satisfactory statement about women and children in official and unofficial prisons and inform their families about their statuses.
Women and children who are still imprisoned and the number of whom is still not officially disclosed should be released immediately.
Women and children who are still on trial and accused of certain crimes should be allowed to use their rights to an attorney and to see their families.
International Criminal Court should judge people who are responsible for the violation of rights during Syrian war.
b) In Terms of Psycho-social Support
Syrian captive women should receive support to heal the psychological disorders and difficulties that developed as a result of the trauma they experienced in order to sustain their life.
It is important to raise awareness to families and the society in general in terms of psychological and social supports; also necessary precautions should be taken to prevent captive women from being excluded following their release.
The required channels of support should be established, especially for many women who could not receive any social support due to physical violence and sexual assault they were subjected to and quite the opposite, who informed what happened to them and were excluded and isolated in Syrian community.
Therapy, treatment and employment processes should be promoted within this period to ensure that those individuals engage their minds with more positive interests and they participate actively into life again by building new skills.
c) In Terms of Humanitarian Diplomacy
Humanitarian diplomacy channels should be activated for the release of captive women. In this respect, negotiations should be held with all relevant parties for their release.
Even if the release of captive women and children in the hands of the regime cannot be ensured for now, at least the regime should be demanded to take steps for the improvement of their conditions. For this purpose, international observers should be given access to the places where they are detained.
Meetings should be
arranged with the countries where released women took refuge concerning the
protection of their rights and to follow-up of their rehabilitation.
Syria has been going through an uncommon humanitarian crisis for the last eight years. During this crisis, women and children are the ones who were affected most both physically and psychologically. Women have increasingly become targeted by the Syrian regime since the beginning of the war. Moreover, other conflicting groups also committed substantial violations with respect to victimization of women.
There are thousands of women who were imprisoned used both as an instrument of psychological stress against Syrian opponents and for bargaining chips. The Syrian regime detains most of these women based on the allegations of being opponents without any concrete evidence in this respect, tortures them and forces them unlawfully to testify against their relatives. If those women do not provide such confessions, then they are subjected to all sorts of torture and abuse in the places where they are detained.
Syrian women are deprived of not only their human rights but also sanitary and hygienic conditions in those places where the right to life, being one of the most basic rights, is directly threatened. Many women still suffer from serious health problems due to the conditions they were exposed in the prisons.
Interrogated captive women were threatened that they would be killed if they try to take legal action for the physical and psychological scars they experienced during their times in the prison.
An imprisoned woman is excluded and simply left to her fate by everyone around her, particularly by her husband and her family due to some social codes. Today, most of those women are left alone with or separated from their children and they struggle so hard to make their living and to survive.
Putting women in captivity does not only cause social revenge to be intensified but also it disrupts dynamics of the Syrian community. This remains a serious source of trouble that can hinder the efforts for peace in the country.
It is sadly observed that international community conducts very weak studies on this situation when Syria goes through all these. When the Assad regime should be forced to change such reckless and devilish conduct especially towards women, the silence of global actors leads to victimization of more women each day. In this sense, the international society including UN Security Council and ruling elites should take more concrete steps for fighting against the violation of women’s rights in Syria.
It is not just the
responsibility of families of captives and some legal experts to end the current
crimes against humanity and to free Syrian women; but the responsibility lies
on all global communities and administrators.
https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/POL1067002018ENGLISH.PDF. It is also estimated that a similar number of civilians were killed and the number of casualties is at least doubled but this could not be documented due to prevailing conditions in Syria.
 “World Report,2018”, Human Rights Watch, p.525.
“Syria Crisis July 2018 Humanitarian Results”, UNICEF,
 “Forced Dispersion: A Demographic Report on Human Status in Syria”, 2016, Syrian Centre for Policy Research, ss.61-62.
Articles 4 and 19 of La Haye Convention entitled as “convention about protection of cultural treasures in case of an armed conflict” and dated May 14, 1954 incorporate provisions on protection of cultural heritage during civil warfare.
 “World Report, 2018”, p. 527-28.
Merve Aksoy Ercümen, “Shifting Nature of War and Geneva Conventions”, İNSAMER, 22.08.2016, https://insamer.com/tr/savasin-degisen-dogasi-ve-cenevre-sozlesmeleri_346.html
For further information, please refer to: International Criminal Court Rome Statute, http://sorular.rightsagenda.org/Uploads/UCM%20MEV/Roma%20Stat%C3%BCs%C3%BC.pdf
 https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/IICISyria/Pages/IndependentInternationalCommission.aspx. ; “World Report, 2018”, p. 530.
Article 18 : Each person has the right to freedom of opinion, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom of religion or revelation through public or private education, practice, praying and religious rituals. Please refer to http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights.
Article 19 : Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right necessitates freedom to hold opinions without any interference, to search, acquire and disseminate information and opinions through any media regardless of any frontiers.
Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and personal security.
Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.
For some of them, please refer to: http://sn4hr.org/blog/category/report/annual-reports.
 Yavuz Güçtürk, Loss of Humanity: Human Rights Aspect of Civil War in Syria, SETA, 2014, p.35-37
 “Violations in Syria and Aleppo Report”, UMHD&İNSAMER, Ocak 2017, p. 7
Güçtürk, “Loss of Humanity…”, p. 73
 “Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic”, UN Human
Rights Council, (A/HRC/23/58).https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G13/156/20/PDF/G1315620.pdf?OpenElement
Güçtürk, “Loss of Humanity…”, p. 60
 http://www.un.org/documents/ga/docs/50/plenary/a50-329.htm. ; For different reports, please refer to: https://www.womensmediacenter.com/women-under-siege/conflicts/bosnia.
Emre Yıldırım, The Outlook of Human Rights in 2018”, İNSAMER, 10.12.2018, https://insamer.com/tr/2018de-insan-haklarinin-gorunumu_1841.html
“Exclusive: Iraq holding 1,400 foreign wives, children of suspected Islamic State fighters”, Reuters, 10.09.2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-families-exclusiv/exclusive-iraq-holding-1400-foreign-wives-children-of-suspected-islamic-state-fighters-idUSKCN1BL0SF?utm_source=applenews
Tuğçe Kelleci, “Gender Based Nationalism and Use of Sexual Violence in Wars: Bosnia Case”, Alternative Politics, 2017, 9 (3): 409-441, http://alternatifpolitika.com/site/cilt/9/sayi/3/6-Tugce-Kelleci-Cinsiyetci-Milliyetcilik-Cinsel-Siddet-Bosna.pdf
“22,823 Women Killed in Syria Since March 2011 Living in Deprivation”, 2016, SNHR, http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/22823_Woman_killed_in_Syria_since_March_2011_en.pdf
“21,179 Civilians Killed In Syria In 2015”, SNHR, http://www.iamsyria.org/syrian-conflict-in-2015.html
“ The Yearly Report for 2016”, SNHR, s.6, https://web.archive.org/web/20170128181217/http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/The_Yearly_Report_for_2016_en.pdf
 “10,204 Civilians Killed in Syria in 2017”, SNHR, ss.4-6.
“International Women’s Day, a Comment From Syria”, SNHR, 2017, s.1.http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/International_Womens_Day_comment_from_Syria_en.pdf
 “Death Toll Due To Torture”, SNHR,http://sn4hr.org/blog/2018/12/31/toll-of-deaths-due-to-torture-2/
 “Female Death Toll”, SNHR, http://sn4hr.org/blog/2018/12/31/females-death-toll-2018/
 World Report, 2017, HRW, p.571.
 Karayel, A. Hümeyra Kutluoğu, “Syrian Captive Women: Silent Screams Behind Closed Doors”, Field report 11, İnsamer, August 2018. https://insamer.com/rsm/icerik/dosya/dosya_1579.pdf.
 World Report, 2013, HRW, p.612.
 World Report,2014, HRW, p.608.
 World Report,2015, HRW,ps.517.
 Amnesty International Report 2017/18 : The State of the World’s Human Rights, Amnesty International, p.353.
“In about 93 months…”
“I lost my dignity: Sexual and gender-based violence in the Syrian Arab Republic”, Human Rights Council, Thirty-seventh session 26 February – 23 March 2018 Agenda item 4, ss.6-7.
“I lost my dignity…, p.9.
“I lost my dignity…, p.7.
“I lost my dignity…, p.8.
 Ayşe Hümeyra Kutluoğlu Karayel, “Syrian Captive Women: Silent Screams Behind Closed Doors”, Observation/Field 11, İNSAMER, August 2018, p.2.
“International Women’s Day…”, p.1.
The names of above mentioned prisons are based on the data received during the interviews with previously imprisoned women between the dates 05.12.2017-12.12.2018. For another report about this subject, please refer to: “Detention of Women in Syria: A weapon of war and terror”, Euro-Meditarranean Human Rights Network,2015, ss.32-44, https://euromedrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/EMHRN_Womenindetention_EN.pdf
 “Documenting Evil: Inside Assad’s Hospitals Of Horror”, VanityFair, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2015/06/assad-war-crimes-syria-torture-caesar-hospital
“Detention of…”, ss.11-26.
“Syrian Women & Girls: No Safe Refuge”, Refugees International, 2016, http://www.peacewomen.org/sites/default/files/syrian_women_and_girls_letterhead_0.pdf
 Karayel, ss.8-10.
The names of the witnesses are changed to ensure both their safety of life and also the safety of their relatives still living in Syria. Their voices were also recorded by changing the tone of voices during the interviews as well as their real names.