Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Justice Rapid Response Executive Director Andras Vamos-Goldman on the release of the Syria Commission of Inquiry report on sexual and gender-based violence


UN Women and Justice Rapid Response (JRR) welcome the report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, “I Lost My Dignity: Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the Syrian Arab Republic.” The report—the first of its kind from the Commission—documents the horrific sexual and gender-based violence committed by all parties to the conflict. It is an important step toward truth and justice for victims, survivors and the people of Syria. UN Women and JRR are proud to have supported this effort through the deployment of experts to the Commission’s investigation team from the Justice Rapid Response-UN Women Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Justice Experts Roster.

The report documents the use of sexual violence by parties to the conflict as a tool to instill fear, to humiliate and punish. It details the use of sexual violence by terrorist groups as a mechanism to enforce social order. It includes harrowing accounts of rape and other forms of sexual violence: at checkpoints, in detention, and on streets and inside homes throughout Syria. It notes that while sexual violence has targeted all groups, women and girls have been disproportionately affected. Women and girls have endured rape, forced marriages, sexual slavery, and beatings for violating religious law. Men and boys have suffered violence that includes rape and genital mutilation. It recognizes that homosexuals and those accused of homosexual behaviour are particularly targeted for violence. According to the Commission of Inquiry, many of these violations amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of international human rights law.

The report of the Syria Commission of Inquiry elevates attention to these grave international crimes, and the international community must act. The report’s recommendations must be immediately implemented, including its call to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence within the Syrian conflict, and to include women in peace processes and negotiations.

The Commission report calls on the international community to provide expertise to assist in the preservation and documentation of evidence relating to sexual violence. Such documentation is essential to ensuring that perpetrators of violence can be held to account. To enable this, since 2009, UN Women and Justice Rapid Response have partnered to deploy a gender advisor or sexual violence investigator to every UN Commission of Inquiry, with generous support from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, Sweden and the European Union.

UN Women and JRR extend their gratitude to the members of the Commission of Inquiry and its secretariat in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for bringing these crimes to the attention of the international community. We also express our profound appreciation of the survivors of sexual violence for courageously sharing their experiences with the Commission of Inquiry, despite the risk of stigmatization and persecution. Their bravery must inspire us all to action – to demand comprehensive justice for injustices, and to address the underlying gender inequality that underpins violence and conflict.