Torture, abuse of women in Syria spark outcry

The report is based on interviews with refugee women and service providers in Turkey

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Women have been the victims of arbitrary arrest, torture, harassment and discrimination at the hands of government and rebel forces in Syria's three-year conflict, Human Rights Watch has said in a report.

The New York-based global rights watchdog urged on Thursday the international community to “hold those responsible for such abuses to account.”

“Women have not been spared any aspect of the brutality of the Syrian conflict, but they are not merely passive victims,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, women's rights director at HRW.

The group: “Women have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, physically abused, harassed and tortured during Syria's conflict by government forces, pro-government militias and armed groups opposed to the government.”

The report is based on interviews with refugee women and service providers in Turkey, where hundreds of thousands of Syrians have sought shelter from the war ravaging their country.

“Several of the women told Human Rights Watch that government forces or non-state armed groups had harassed, threatened or detained them because of their peaceful activism, including planning and participating in non-violent demonstrations and providing humanitarian assistance to needy Syrians,” said the group.

One woman, 30-year-old pro-opposition journalist Maisa, was detained by government security forces in Damascus in 2013.

They beat her “throughout the night with a thick green hose”, said HRW.

The group quoted her as saying: “They slapped me on the face. They pulled me from my hair. They hit me on my feet, on my back, all over.”

Rights groups have regularly documented systematic torture and ill-treatment of men and women detainees in Syria's notorious prisons and detention centres.

Anti-regime groups have also committed abuses against women, as well as imposing “discriminatory policies on women and girls, including restrictions on their dress and freedom of movement”, said HRW.

Twenty-four-year-old Berivan, a Syrian Kurd, was detained by an Islamist rebel group in southern Damascus for 10 days.

After her release, she was threatened by the radical Islamic State -- formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- for not wearing the full-length abaya robe.

IS fighters told her: “'If we see you like this again, we will kill you. If we ever see you in this area, we will hang you.'“

“All parties to the conflict should take measures to protect women and girls from violence during conflict, including but not limited to sexual and gender-based violence”, said HRW.

“The international community needs to hold the Syrian government and armed groups accountable for abuses against women and girls, and donor governments should help to meet their immediate needs,” said Gerntholtz.

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