Combatting Sexual & Gender-Based Violence in Syria: How Can We Play a Role?

Professor Ala'i gives the opening remarks
Prof. Ala'i gives the opening remarks at the panel discussion, "Combatting Sexual & Gender-Based Violence in Syria: How Can We Play a Role?”

On September 12, 2019, AUWCL’s Syrian Initiative to Combat Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) hosted the panel discussion “Combatting Sexual & Gender-Based Violence in Syria: How Can We Play a Role?” Professor Padideh Ala’i delivered the opening remarks and Professor Susana SáCouto moderated the event. The panel featured: Deyaa Alrwishdi (LL.M. ’17), Director of the Syrian Initiative to Combat Sexual and Gender-Based Violence; Silja Aebersold, Legal Advisor to the Free Syrian Lawyers Association and AUWCL's S.J.D. candidate; Patrick Shaffer (JD ’18), Legal Fellow at the Center for Rule of Law and Good Governance; and Noura Al-Jizawi, Syrian human rights activist and founder and chairperson of the Syrian NGO Start Point, a local partner of the Syrian Initiative. 

Deyaa Alrwishdi reflected on his time as an LL.M. student at AUWCL and later as the Initiative’s Director. Deyaa has successfully led the Initiative that provides AUWCL’s technical and legal expertise to help mitigate the devastating impact of SGBV and prevent future SGVB crimes. To Deyaa, AUWCL’s faculty experts in the areas of human rights, humanitarian law, and gender were instrumental in developing the Initiative from an idea to a major international project. The Initiative, among others, has developed the first of its kind online course in Arabic language, “Introduction to International Law,” focusing on international human rights law. This is the first step towards granting Arabic activists working on Syria access to the highest quality trainings and workshops without a language barrier. 

Patrick Shaffer, currently based in Turkey working with civil society groups on projects in Syria, addressed the need for justice and accountability in Syria, and the gaps in the current documentation efforts. He identified the ambiguous international standards in documenting violations, the need for a victim-centered approach, especially in SGBV cases, and the struggle to maintain chain of custody and store legally admissible evidence in zones of armed conflict. He implored AUWCL students to involve in the work of the Initiative, whether through volunteering, writing, or research.

 Silja Aebersold addressed the numerous challenges that civil society organizations (CSO) face when combatting SGBV. One challenge is the failure of local SGBV projects to address the issue in a culturally sensitive manner. Syrian society is made up of many sub-cultures and communities with different values and traditions, and donors and organizations who are not familiar with the nuances of Syrian society risk making assumptions and erroneous funding and programming decisions. Another challenge faced by CSOs is capacity building and the sustainability of resources. Syrian civil society is relatively young and while CSOs may be committed to combatting SGBV, it is a complex phenomenon that requires a comprehensive approach that these organizations may not have the necessary experiences or the resources for effective engagement

Finally, Noura Al-Jizawi, a SGBV victim herself, discussed her goals and vision for the current partnership between her NGO, Start Point, and the AUWCL Syrian Initiative. Start Point helps victims of torture and detention who have faced gender-based violence reintegrate into their communities and provides advocacy and psychosocial support. In collaborating with the Syrian Initiative, Ms. Al-Jizawi hopes to remove social stigma for all former detainees in Syria.   

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