Are women being targeted in Syria?

By — December 10, 2012

The baby's body was found near a checkpoint on the road that connects Homs with the ancient city of Palmyra, in central Syria, in January. At four months old, she was said to have been given over to a paternal uncle, dead, with bruises on her back, abdomen, and hands. Her parents were missing -- the family had gone to the coastal city of Tartus 16 days before, according to a video that shows her lifeless. Male voices on the video accuse Bashar al-Assad's security forces of torturing and killing the infant after she was arrested along with her family.

We don't know what really happened, whether her death was intentional or a byproduct of war. We don't know who the perpetrators were for sure. But we do know that this baby is one of the many that has died in Syria's ongoing conflict. And we know that no matter how many bodies we count, or don't, that she is a civilian, one of many documented to have been killed in more than 20 months of fighting.

Nearly a year ago, the United Nations gave up on keeping track of Syria's dead. Over the summer, the International Committee of the Red Cross declared the conflict a civil war. That means intentional attacks on civilians are now officially considered war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The question then becomes: How will we know what to prosecute when the fighting dies down if we don't keep track of crimes against civilians, which are, in most cases, women and children?

That's where various groups of citizen journalists and social scientists come in. One such crowdsourcing effort, called Syria Tracker, has documented more than 36,000 killings from multiple types of sources as of mid-October, including the above story about the baby killed. I will keep the names of those who run Syria Tracker, which is run by high-level social scientists, anonymous out of respect for their safety. Groups doing this kind of work have already been threatened. But their painstaking documentation, cited by USAID, can potentially tell us a great deal about what may be happening to Syria's civilians.

One way that Syria Tracker has broken down its catalogue of deaths is by gender. On average, according to the group, about 9 percent of the documented killings across Syria are of women, who are unlikely to have picked up arms in the conflict, and girls, who are inherently noncombatants. That means that, at minimum, nearly one casualty in 10 is likely a civilian, their statistics show. These women and girls are being killed in various ways -- everything from stabbing to shelling to gunshots -- many of which may be considered prosecutable internationally. "When Syrian armed forces have used indiscriminate air bombardment or artillery to attack civilian areas, these are war crimes," said Sunjeev Bery, Amnesty International USA's advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

To read the rest of this article, please click over to The Atlantic.