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Women’s Media Center Representative Testifies Before United Nations

July 19, 2012

For Immediate Release


Women’s Media Center Representative Testifies at United Nations about Sexualized Violence in Syria

Washington, July 19, 2012 — A representative of the Women’s Media Center testified at the United Nations on Wednesday about The Women’s Media Center’s report on sexualized violence against women and men in Syria with the hopes of bringing the issue to the fore in the UN Security Council. A number of members of the council attended the meeting, chaired by Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Vijay Nambiar, including France, Portugal, Italy, Egypt, and the European Union delegation.

Lauren Wolfe, director of WMC’s Women Under Siege project, presented the first findings of a data analysis of the organization’s crowd-sourced map of sexualized violence in Syria. Wolfe testified that sexualized violence is being used as a weapon of war, with the Syrian government carrying out nearly 70 percent of the sexual attacks. Her presentation included details of the findings, personal reports and a breakdown of the kinds of attacks reported.

“By neither moving to stop these acts nor prosecuting a single commander for these rapes, the government of Syria is showing the world it does not care about the violation of its own people,” Wolfe said. “The Syrian government must be on notice that every rape is now a war crime. There must be, and there will be, accountability.”

With China and Russia’s veto today of a Western-backed Security Council resolution that threatened Syrian authorities with sanctions, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said it was a “dark day for Turtle Bay,” then specifically cited sexual abuse after the Nambiar meeting.

Also presenting at the meeting were two Syrian-Americans: Safa Sankari, who collaborates with WMC’s Women Under Siege, and Abdul Ghani Sankri-Tarbichi, a board member of the Syrian-American Medical Society and a medical doctor who has spent time in the border areas of Syria treating refugees and helping with the relief effort.

The findings from WMC’s Women Under Siege, which documents sexualized violence in conflict, has attracted widespread media attention, both nationally and internationally from the BBC, Reuters, Time magazine, CBS News, and Al-Arabiya, among others.

The detailed findings are based on a breakdown of 81 reports of rape and sexual assault that span from the beginning of the conflict in March 2011 to June 30 of this year. A team of journalists, activists, and doctors at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health collected and analyzed data gathered over the past three months, breaking them down into 117 specific incidents of sexualized violence. Many more women, girls, men, and boys than 117 have been sexually assaulted, according to the crowdmap, but it’s impossible to tally up victims because many of the stories contain vague numbers.

As human rights violations continue in Syria, Wolfe offered the Women’s Media Center support of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s call for the UN Security Council to refer the atrocities being committed in this conflict to the International Criminal Court. She said that pressure must also come directly from the Security Council. “We are asking the Security Council to condemn human rights violations including sexualized violence,” Wolfe said.

Women’s Media Center co-founder Gloria Steinem, who originated WMC’s Women Under Siege, said the organization also calls for UNSMIS “to send relevant experts who can monitor and document sexualized violence and other human rights violations.”

The Women’s Media Center was founded in 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Steinem. It works to make women and girls visible and powerful in the media through media advocacy campaigns, media monitoring for sexism, creating original content, training women and girls to participate in media, and connecting women experts with the media.

For more information, contact Cristal Williams Chancellor, media relations manager, or 202-587-1636 or Lauren Wolfe, director, WMC’s Women Under Siege,