The plight of men and boys in Syria who have experienced sexual violence is going unrecognised, a new report by Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights (LDHR) has highlighted this week.
Based on findings from over 135 medical reports and 15 individual case studies, the LDHR finds that 87 per cent of men in Syria's jails have reported some form of sexual violence – nearly half of those affected had experienced more than one form of assault.
Narrating incidents of rape, forced sterilisation, forced nudity, genital violence as well as other equally grave forms of torture, the rights group notes that such endemic persecution constitutes a crime against humanity.
The men interviewed range in age from 20 to 56, with some having been detained as early as 2011, at the beginning of the country's civil uprising. The average duration of detention was found to be close to 18 months, with the detainees held in numerous security, military and intelligence facilitate, in Homs, Aleppo, Hama, Tadmur, Latakia and Damascus and elsewhere.
LDHR found that the prisoners were usually transferred between multiple facilities during their torture.
One of the men, identified only as Abdullah, testified to being raped, alongside interrogation sessions that "used to last for days sometimes, or until the detainee starts bleeding, loses consciousness, or dies". His skull was fractured from this torture, causing him to be hospitalised for a hematoma.
He also said he witnessed repeated sexual violence against women and children in a branch located in the Kafr Sousa area of Damascus, stating that a 13-year-old boy who was "brutally and repeatedly sexually abused" died in his arms.
The report also notes forms of collective sexual torture that were intended to humiliate prisoners. Detainees were often stripped naked in the presence of other male and female prisoners, as well as being ordered to perform sexual acts; adding that such forms of torture are difficult to disclose given the stigma and shame often felt by the participants, and may be underreported.
"The case studies also support an objective of genital violence to prevent Sunni births, with clear intent statements made by perpetrators to this effect," the report added.
LDHR also notes that many of the detainees were driven into insanity at certain points due to the torture they had endured; others also lost consciousness for days at a time due to the harsh conditions they were kept in and the lack of access to medical services.
Some 93 per cent of the victims experienced depression after their release, with nearly three quarters experiencing insomnia, nightmares, anxiety, and tension in close relationships. Some 60 per cent of detainees reported impotency or infertility, with half reporting feelings of on-going humiliation and shame at the event in detention.
Whilst the NGO said it was difficult to extrapolate accurate figures in regards to the prevalence of such torture methods, LDHR notes that based on their Syrian case study, sexual violence occurred at a higher rate than the global range witnessed in other conflict zones.
The group called on the Syrian government to immediately cease all policies of sexual violence: "The Syrian Government is fully aware of what it needs to do to stop crimes against humanity, including torture, sexual violence, ill-treatment and other acts committed by its security forces in a systematic and organised manner."
It also called on the international community to ensure the release of all detainees in Syria and ensure justice is delivered to the victims. Some 14,000 Syrians are still being held in regime prisons, whilst the fate of a further 82,000 remain unknown.