Gay and trans Syrians routinely mutilated, raped and anally violated by ISIS militants and government officials alike

Gay and trans Syrians routinely mutilated and raped by ISIS militants

Queer people in Syria suffer extreme and humiliating forms of sexual violence at the hands of government officials and ISIS militants, according to an explosive report shared by one of the world’s top LGBT+ right organisations.

In interviews with 40 LGBT+ people and three heterosexual men as well as various caseworkers and humanitarian organisation representatives, the Human Rights Watch found queer citizens are subjected to nauseating acts of brutality.

The 77-page report, published on Wednesday (29 July), details the horrendous playbook of sexual cruelty forced against queer civilians by government officials and non-state armed groups, including ISIS militants.

Mutilation. Mops inserted anally. Electric shock. Brutal beatings. Burning of genitals. Rape. Forced nudity. Horrifying acts that all occurred within the walls of state prisons, checkpoints and detention centres.

“They rape you just to see you suffering, shouting,” said Yousef, a 28-year-old gay man. “To see you are humiliated. This is what they like to see.”

A trans woman described the horrifying moment when ISIS militants threw her gay friend from a high-rise rooftop to his death.

Queer Syrians perceived as ‘soft’ face rape, violence and torture at the hands of authorities and ISIS, report says. 

This spectre of violence shudders through survivors lives for years, the report said, as many suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress and a loss of hope, while others experience rectal bleeding, muscle pain or acquire HIV.

The paper’s authors said this continues when fleeing queer Syrians enter Lebanon and beyond, where providers lack the physical and mental services to deal with their distress.

Exhausted queer Syrians stream out of the besieged country, escaping what they say is a culture where if men are perceived as “soft” they are subjected to gruelling acts of torture, both physical and psychological.

A Kurdish Syrian woman walks with her child past the ruins of the town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab. (YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images)

“Individuals who are seen to fall short of dominant masculine ideals, including by exhibiting traits or behaviours that are typically viewed as feminine, are perceived as weak and hence vulnerable to abuse,” the report said.

At checkpoints and in the military, queer men described officials subjecting them to sexual and verbal abuse and sexual harassment if they were seen to be “soft”, often inciting them to censor and suppress who they are.

While during house raids searching for opposition supporters in the early years of the conflict, the report stated, troops and militias raped queer men, non-binary people and trans women.

‘Then they brought the stick of a mop and they inserted it in our anus.’

Trans women are regularly misgendered by perpetrators. Pro-opposition activist Naila, a 21-year-old trans woman, was deeply involved in the 2011 anti-government demonstration that roiled the country.

She told researchers that plain-clothed men stormed her house, decked with anti-government materials and pamphlets on gender identity she imported from neighbouring Lebanon.

Imprisoned and thrown into a men’s jail, Naila said guards, inmates and high-ranking officials raped her several times. In one testimony, she described staff relocating her to another cell with 30 men.

Displaced Syrians ride in the back of a truck towards the Deir al-Ballut checkpoint to return to their villages in Afrin’s countryside in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo. (RAMI AL SAYED/AFP via Getty Images)

“As soon as I entered the room I understood why I was there,” she recalled. “I wasn’t alone experiencing this.

“There was a gay person in room nine and he was also in the middle of the room and going through the same things I went through.

“When [the prisoners] saw that there are two ‘soft’ people among them, they put us in the middle of the room of course without food or water and the series of rapes started again.

“They forced me with the gay person to have sex in front of them while beating us and cutting us with blades.

“Then they brought the stick of a mop and they inserted it in our anus. A strong bleeding started, and we were mutilated.”

In years of conflict, rate of sexual violence on queer people has reached dizzying heights, human rights organisation warns. 

The report found that within detention centres, invasive searches, rape, burnings, electric shock and mutilation to extract information out of men and boys as young as 11 was commonplace.

Men were raped, the report said, with objects including batons, wooden sticks, pipes, and bottles.

Activists have long feared that against a beleaguered backdrop of a nine-year-long war, where civilians have suffered at a great cost as president Bashar al-Assad’s government bombed the remnants of the rebel movement that sought to topple his family’s reign, this undercurrent of sexual torture has been buried.

The embattled region has seen, they said, animosity towards LGBT+ people tangle with the intensity of the civil conflict. Human rights monitoring groups say that the surveillance and entrapment of gay man have rocketed in the throes of war.