Women Seeking Safety Encounter Abuse in Syrian Refugee Camps

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Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 00:33 a.m. DST, 10 April 2014

Syria Bedouin Woman, Photo by Marc VeraartDAMASCUS, Syria – By every metric, the Syrian countryside is a war zone. Suburbs are subject to aerial attacks and corner stores have become foxhole retreats from city gunfights. The death toll now exceeds 150,000 lives. Massacres waged by Syrian troops and rebel forces alike continue to raise questions about the legitimacy of either side's agenda. All the while, ordinary people either defend their community or seek stability in a less contentious Syrian locale or border country.

Amidst the chaos, the international community places bets on either the Syrian Army or various rebel collectives. The United States, Russia and Iran make high-stakes wagers in the form of assault rifles, chemical weaponry and large-scale explosives. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are also seated around this international card table. Given the current political landscape and the violations of basic human rights by the establishment and the rebellion, global efforts to arm either side are a gamble indeed.

One thing is certain. With increased weaponry provisions, a commensurate level of unfathomable bloodletting has followed throughout major cities like Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Latakia. The widespread violence and continued threat of biological warfare has been a powerful impetus for Syrian migration to more stable nations. Over two million nationals have escaped the perimeter of their home country, while millions more try to cope in the crossfire. There, they face the reality of suicide bombers and large-scale attacks carried out by both factions.

Lebanon has been the principle destination for those people fleeing the ongoing turf war. To date, over one million Syrians have claimed refugee status in Lebanon, a staggering influx for a nation numbering less than five million before civil war broke in Syria three years ago. Thousands more seek safety in the Mediterranean nation every day. Lebanon has been a gracious host to Syrians seeking asylum, forgoing required permit fees upon entry and allowing their neighbors to live outside of designated treatment centers and refugee shelters.

Syrian migrants exercise this right, but not without adversity. Women are particularly affected by sexual abuse following their relocation. Human Rights Watch reports that female refugees are subject to improper advances and verbal abuse on a regular basis while living in their makeshift communities in Lebanon. Perpetrators range from employers to volunteers from religious institutions, according to HRW. The actual scope of abuses remains unknown, as many victims presumably have outstanding residency payments or have little faith in the criminal justice system. Assailants continue to act in the shadows of fear and silence.

For many of these women, leaving home meant a better life for themselves and their children. Rape is used in Syrian warfare as a tool of power and coercion against men, women and children indiscriminately. While President Bashar al-Assad and top leaders of various opposition forces have not openly condoned sexual assault of the enemy, the act is permissible and never punished internally. Externally, retaliatory rape is not uncommon. In a society where rape is taboo, victims are hushed and assaults go unreported. But anecdotal evidence confirms the disturbing and rampant nature of the mistreatment.

Journalist Lauren Wolfe directs The Women Under Siege project and discusses abuse against Syrian women in her feature Syria Has a Massive Rape Crisis. Wolfe cites a report from Ya Libnan news website in which a member of the Syrian Army was commanded to rape teenagers in late 2012. The girls were later slaughtered. Similarly, Wolfe describes a young rebel soldier who was arrested by Syrian forces. During his imprisonment, the man was forced to watch while Syrian security raped his fiancée, sisters, mother and other female acquaintances. Belligerents in both camps resort to these barbaric measures.

The mass-exodus of Syrians will continue so long as lawlessness persists. Massacres such as August's Ghouta chemical attack on civilians and the execution of 51 loyalist prisoners in July have only added fuel to vehicles of hate and violence. While the United States is heavily invested in the success of the rebellion, the White House now knows that many of these renegades are affiliated with al-Qaeda and other terror organizations. If history repeats itself, these weapons may be trained at their supplying nation in the future.

If the efforts of the States involved more non-lethal aid, certainly the people of the world would be grateful. The need for the increased protection of women is self-evident. When better mechanisms to report and convict perpetrators of sexual abuse are established in refugee camps, these facilities will truly be places of refuge.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom

The Terminal Terminus of Snowden

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 16:59 p.m. EDT, 3 July 2013

Olga, Aeroflot Transfer Desk Official, Shremetyevo Airport, Moscow

SHEREMETYEVO AIRPORT, Moscow - Edward Snowden’s flight from the United States with government secrets which he stole from the National Security Agency, now finds himself in the untenable situation of being denied asylum in 21 countries to which he has appealed.

Snowden arrived in Moscow on June 23rd. He flew into Sheremetyevo airport where he petitioned a Russian consular officer to issue asylum requests to countries he identified as potential places for him to hide.

However, shortly after his arrival, Washington revoked his U.S. passport which means he cannot officially cross the airport border into Russian territory.

Snowden’s current situation is reminiscent of the 2004 American comedy-drama titled “The Terminal.” The movie is about “a man who becomes trapped in a New York City airport terminal when he is denied entry into the United States and at the same time cannot return to his native country due to a revolution.

The film is partially inspired by the 17-year-stay of Mehran Karimi Nasseri in the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Terminal I, Paris, France from 1988 to 2006.”

In the film, the protagonist who is named Viktor Navorski, is played by Tom Hanks. When Navorski “arrives at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, he finds that his passport is suddenly no longer valid due to the outbreak of a civil war in his homeland. As a result, the United States no longer recognizes Krakozhia as a sovereign nation, and he is not permitted to either enter the country or return home.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Snowden has become such an incendiary character that despite the secrets he carries, not one of America’s allies, nor even some of the less than friendly nations seemed inclined to offer asylum to the man who has been internationally branded as a traitor.

He has become, in American parlance, such a ‘hot potato,” that some European nations have imposed restrictions such as denying air space entry to planes feared to be transporting Snowden. According to Carol J. Williams of the L.A. Times, “some states to which Snowden turned for help, like India, Poland and Germany, have said ‘no’ outright.

Austria, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland all require asylum bids to be made in person on national territory – a technical barrier that spares them having to make a decision.

Even Ecuador and Venezuela, where officials earlier suggested Snowden should be treated as a human rights hero, have been pulling back the welcome mat as they ponder the potential costs of crossing U.S. national interests.” (Source: L.A. Times)

Though, Russian President Vladimir Putin initially stated that the Kremlin would offer Snowden asylum, through sophisticated political maneuverings he has allowed himself to appear sympathetic to both Snowden and the White House.

Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov, stated on Monday, 1 July 2013 that Snowden would be welcome to stay in Russia, but only if he refrained from leaking more classified information “aimed at inflicting damage to our American partners.”

Upon this request, Snowden who seems committed to revealing all of the secrets with which he absconded promptly withdrew his request for asylum in Russia. At this juncture, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador have yet to formally answer Snowden’s asylum appeals.

Perhaps because of these countries' leftist leaning governments Snowden surmised that they would be amenable to his overtures for asylum. It would be an even bolder step if he could make his way to a country like Iran, a sworn enemy of the U.S. But, the revocation of his passport has quashed all possibilities except asylum or return.

It remains to be seen what Snowden will do if his remaining asylum requests are denied. Will he stand by his stated convictions and live out the remainder of his life in Sheremetyevo airport? Will he accept Putin’s offer to cease further disclosure of top secret information and petition once again for asylum in Russia?

Or will it end where it all began, arriving on a flight back to the United States to face the music?

The Hunt for Edward Snowden

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Jessica Tanner, Staff WriterLast Modified: 01:41 a.m. DST, 26 June 2013

Edward Snowden, Photo by Pan-African News Wire File PhotosMOSCOW, Russia - As the hunt for Edward Snowden continues, it appears that Snowden is the one with the upper hand.

Although, the whereabouts of the computer contractor who revealed confidential information about The National Security Agency’s surveillance programs are still virtually unknown.

Journalists, government officials, and social media users worldwide are desperately trying to pinpoint Snowden’s exact location.

Russia initially expressed outraged at the United States' suggestion that the country had been complicit in Snowden’s travels. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, was quoted as saying, “I want to say, right away, that we have nothing to do with Mr. Snowden, or his movements around the world.”

However, within the last few hours President Vladamir Putin has acknowledged in an official statement that the whereabouts of Snowden are known, and that he will not comply with President Barak Obama's requests to surrender the alleged spy.

Prior to this admission, The White House was demanding that any country that Snowden sought refuge in give him up, so he could face espionage charges in the United States.

Apparently Snowden was set to board a flight from Moscow to Havana, but instead it was packed with journalists, including a CNN team. This same flight took off this past Monday without the 30-year-old American they were all hoping to question.

There is one source named Julian Assange who supposedly knows where Snowden is hiding, but he refuses to reveal the location. All Assange would say is that the former NSA contractor is “in a safe place and his spirits are high.”

Snowden spent several weeks hiding in Hong Kong, China and betrayed the United Sates by leaking classified NSA documents to journalists. He left the Chinese territory Sunday on a flight to Moscow.

Follow Jessica Tanner on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Staff Writer: @JessTanner1991

Ecuador Harbors Wikileak's Julian Assange

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:09 PM EDT, 19 June 2012

http://www.ecuadorembassyuk.org.uk/announcements/statement-on-julian-assangeLONDON, England - Today, WikiLeak’s founder, Julian Assange, 40, escaped extradition to Sweden by fleeing to the Ecuadorean embassy in London. On 15 June 2012 Assange lost all appeals in U.K. against extradition to Sweden to face questioning in two cases of alleged rape and sexual assault.

The British government is stunned and embarrassed by the lapse in security which enabled Assange to remain in London just beyond the reach of its police. Prior to loss of his appeals, Assange spent a year and a half under house arrest without being charged. Fortunately for Assange, he spent this confinement at the luxurious country estate of a wealthy supporter.

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said his country would weigh the asylum request in light of the belief by many that the sex crime accusations were manufactured to discredit Assange with the added benefit of impugning the credibility of WikiLeaks.

Conspiracy theorist believe that Assange’s 18-month ordeal was instigated by the U.S. in retaliation for the 2010, WikiLeak's release of secret video footage and thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, many of them about Iraq and Afghanistan, in the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.

Following the release, the now defunct Wikileak was systematically undermined when sources refused to provide the organization with newsworthy leaks and credit card companies instituted a blockade that staunched donations which were the life blood of the organization. The final straw was the revelation by two former female employees of sexual abuse by Assange.

As a strong proponent of women’s rights, we often feature stories of women who have been physically or emotionally abused, and rape is one of the most heinous expressions of brute power perpetrated by one human being against another.  Unfortunately, the merits of these women’s accusations are tainted by the perception that they may have been used as pawns in an international campaign to silence one of the few remaining advocates of freedom of speech and access to information.

On 19 June 2012, the Ecuadorean Embassy updated their website with the following statement. "While the department assesses Mr. Assange's application, Mr. Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorean Government. The decision to consider Mr. Assange's application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the Government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden." (Source: Ecuador Embassy UK)

Meanwhile, Assange remains safely ensconced in the Ecuadorean Embassy while Patino assesses the merit of his asylum request and the geopolitical impact. Preexisting tensions between the government of Rafael Correa, Ecuador's leftist and ardently anti-Washington president and the U.S. could permanently rupture should they choose to grant permanent asylum to Assange.

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Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias