The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria visited Lebanon from June 19 to 24, 2018 as part of its mandate to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights laws in the Syrian Arab Republic. The aim of this visit was to meet with key stakeholders, NGOs and members of Syrian civil society organisations as they prepare for the next report.
On June 21, 2018 the Commission of Inquiry’s three commissioners, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (chairperson), Karen Koning AbuZayd and Hanny Megally met with Syrian and Lebanese civil society organisations at the OHCHR Beirut office to hear their feedback on the report ‘I Lost my Dignity’ and the latest report on Eastern Ghouta, and to take note of their challenges, recommendations and demands. The meeting was facilitated by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Dawlaty.
The commissioners expressed their appreciation for making this meeting happen and welcomed any comment or recommendations from the attendees. WILPF thanked the commission for taking their recommendation to maintain direct connections with CSOs and praised the review report on sexual violence ‘I Lost my Dignity’ which it considers a breakthrough.
Sabah Hallak, representing the Syrian Women League, who was present at the launch of the report in Geneva, highlighted the importance of sharing this report not only with practitioners and CSOs but also with rights holders and refugees. She stated that they are planning to present the report in the Beqaa area in Lebanon to get the feedback of the refugee community. Hallak also asked an important question to the commissioners on what the next steps are after the report is launched. While Lama Kannout, representing the Syrian Feminist Lobby, highlighted that accountability should have been mentioned in the report as, so far, no perpetrator has been held accountable for the horrifying acts highlighted in the report.
Charbel Maydaa, the founder and director of Lebanese LGBTIQ organisation MOSAIC, commented that the report failed to show the realities of sexual minorities and individuals with alternative identities in Syria and in host communities, and the violations they face including rape, forced marriage, exploitation, abuse and torture.
The discussion then moved to Law Number 10 issued by the Assad regime on April 2nd 2018, which initially gave property owners in Syria a 30-day window, but has now been extended to one year, to register their properties in person at local administrative bodies. Owners who fail to register or miss the deadline can have their properties confiscated or sold at auction. The attendees emphasized the importance of highlighting such discriminatory laws as most Syrians are now refugees or displaced and have no access to local administrative bodies inside Syria. Manal Quider, Executive director of Damma added that Syrians also feared leaving Lebanon because upon entry back to Lebanon they would be forced to pay the residency tax which is enforced on them. Some did not have the means to pay these fees which accumulated to $200 per year. Rouba Mhaissen, founder and director of SAWA for Development and Aid, stated that Law Number 10 increased the occurrence of gender-based violence since refugee men sent their wives back to Syria to register the properties fearing being kidnapped or sent to the military by the authorities. Rola Roukbi, Lebanon Country Manager of Women Now, added that women and children based around Damascus are also seeking refuge in neighbouring countries fearing violence and rape. Mhaissen added that the CoI reports should be used by other UN agencies to push for a a gendered analysis of refugee return programming.
WILPF welcomes the CoI’s engagement with civil society activists and organisations, particularly those with access to women in the community, and encourages the commission to make this engagement long-term, sustainable, gender-sensitive and focused on the grassroots.