Syrian government forces and allied militias have raped and sexually assaulted women, girls and men in a campaign to punish opposition communities – acts that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, UN investigators said today.
In a gruesome report, they found that opposition groups in Syria's protracted civil war had also committed crimes of sexual violence and torture although these were "considerably less common".
The report also said Daesh and other armed extremist groups have executed women, men and children on charges of adultery, forced girls into marriage and persecuted homosexuals.
It is utterly repugnant that brutal acts of sexual and gender-based violence continued to be perpetrated throughout seven years by most warring parties
Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told a panel event.
The 29-page report, issued as Syria enters its eighth year of war, is based on 454 interviews with survivors, relatives, eyewitnesses, defectors, lawyers and medical staff.
Karen AbuZayd, an American commissioner on the panel, said the documented cases represented the "tip of the iceberg".
Government forces raped civilians of both sexes during house searches and ground operations in the early stages of the conflict, and later at checkpoints and detention facilities, the report said. The youngest known victim was a nine-year-old girl.
"Rape of women and girls was documented in 20 government political and military intelligence branches, and rape of men and boys was documented in 15 branches," the report by the UN war crimes investigators said.
Branches where rapes took place, included Aleppo, Deraa, Homs, Hama and Damascus, as well as Sednaya military prison and the air force intelligence branch at Mezzeh military airport, both near the capital, the report said.
Sexual violence against females and males is used to force confessions, to extract information, as punishment as well as to terrorise opposition communities
the report said.
Victims suffered shame, depression, incontinence, impotence and miscarriages, and rejection by their families, it said.
"Some interviewees have indicated it is worse for a girl to be raped than to be killed," AbuZayd said. "A number of women and girls sometimes commit suicide due to the verbal abuse they suffered in their homes or communities."
"We apologise for presenting such a starkly horrific report, but it important we get the information out," Hanny Megally, a UN commissioner, said.