Syrian Forces Sexually Assaulting Detainees: Report

Posted June 15th, 2012 at 4:45 am (UTC-5)
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Human Rights Watch says Syrian government forces are using sexual violence to torture men, women, and boys detained during the country's 15-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The New York-based rights group Friday released a statement saying soldiers and pro-government armed militias are also sexually abusing women as well as girls as young as 12 years old. The group based its report on interviews with former detainees who described being sexually abused or witnessing abuses, including rape, beatings and electric shocks.

The group says it documented more than 20 incidents of sexual assault between March 2011 and March 2012, with most of the cases occurring in the opposition stronghold of Homs. But it said the full extent of sexual violence in and outside of Syrian detention facilities is not known.

While Human Rights Watch said it does not have evidence that senior military commanders ordered soldiers to commit the sexual violence, it said no action has been taken to investigate such abuses.

The report comes amid a recent increase in violent attacks in Syria which threaten to escalate the country's conflict into an all-out civil war.

Russia on Friday denied U.S. accusations that Moscow is fueling the violence by supplying Syria with new helicopters. Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Moscow has only carried out repairs of helicopters sent there “many years ago.”

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Russia was making new deliveries of helicopters, which activists say are being used to kill civilians.

Meanwhile, activists reported fresh clashes throughout Syria on Friday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA that government forces were shelling rebel-held areas and clashing with opposition forces in Homs, Aleppo, Douma and Damascus. The Britain-based group said at least one person was killed.

United Nations observers arrived in the Syrian town of al-Haffeh Thursday after government forces overran the opposition enclave.

The U.N. monitors had been trying to enter al-Haffeh after several days of intense clashes. They found the Sunni Muslim town nearly deserted, with state buildings burned, shops abandoned and a corpse lying in the street.

Syrian authorities on Wednesday said they had “cleansed” the area of armed terrorist groups. On Tuesday, a mob outside the town had attacked the U.N. observers' vehicles with rocks and metal rods, forcing them to turn back.

Anti-government rebels pulled out of the town this week, and joined the United States in warning that some of the people remaining in al-Haffeh could be subject to reprisal killings.