Rape has become a weapon of war, more so in Syria where more than 7,000 women are presently in detention without charge or conviction and who are systematically being violated and tortured by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Journalist, author and human rights activist, Yvonne Ridley speaking at a lecture organized by the Caring Sisters Network, Muslim Women’s Forum, South African Muslim Network and the Salaam Foundation, she said that she would do anything to secure the release of the women, even if it meant having tea with the devil. “I have been a journalist for over 40 years and I have seen some really grim stuff, but nothing like what is happening to women in Syria. They are held in prisons and hellholes and are systematically being tortured, subjected to extreme torture and are raped, at times by gangs of men for days,” she said.
In a shocking disclosure, she told of how the perpetrators used sex enhancing substances and alcohol then raped women in a room, which had a giant photograph of President Bashar al-Assad looking down on the bed. She recalled the horrendous experience of one woman, whom she called Nadeira whose brother agreed to pay 17,000 (USD) for her release. But this man is now in jail because he could not pay the full amount. Such is the atrocities being perpetrated by the Assad regime that has the support of Russia, Iran and China.
In an emotion charged gathering at the Suleman Lockhat Auditorium in Durban, Ms Ridley called on the delegates to become “the face of the bodies”, which are being used as weapons of war. “I hope that when you leave here, you will be determined to work against rape being used as a weapon of war. Put pressure on your President who is about to host Russia’s Vladimir Putin to secure the release of these 7,000 Syrian women. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also be in South Africa soon.”
President al Assad, she added, has “given” the Russians an entire naval base in Syria, which is now a strategic presence in the Middle East. “The least Putin can do is to get the release of the 7,000 women. “Al Assad has done him a big favour.” She singled out these two leaders as being “soft on rape” and that they should be targeted to take a far tougher stance on women’s bodies being used, which “in fact is a crime against humanity”.
Ms Ridley, who was once held captive by the Taliban in Pakistan for 11 days, said that this regime is regarded as the most brutal in the world, yet they treated her with respect and courtesy. “Allah protected me and showed me the way to Islam. I now work for all the victims of war wherever they might be in the world. We need to network, unite and make a stand against this horrendous violence,” she said.
Sharing the platform was Shamshad Sayed who was part of a group of women from 56 countries who took part in a protest against the war in Syria and violence against women and children. Zeenat Adam, a former diplomat and civil society activist said that rape was perpetrated against men and boys as well during war. She said that this barbaric act of brutality had to be highlighted, the perpetrators made accountable and that this inhumane practice must be stopped.