Syria conflict: Women 'targets of abuse and torture'

Syrian refugees at the Dahb El Sim refugee camp in Saida, Lebanon Many women have been forced to flee the country, the report says

Women in Syria are increasingly the targets of violent abuse and torture by government forces and armed groups.

Some 6,000 women have been raped since the start of the conflict in March 2011, the Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) says.

A spokeswoman for the group said these women were then socially stigmatised, and often forced to flee their homes.

Women are being targeted by snipers and used as human shields, often with their children, the report also says.

Violence against Women, a Bleeding Wound in the Syrian Conflict is based on interviews with victims and medical staff in the first half of 2013.

The report describes how hundreds of Syrian women have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances and have undergone various forms of torture, in state detention facilities.

"They are being used as privilege, not in the sense that they are favoured, but because sometimes of their relationship to opposition members or government-related members," EMHRN spokeswoman Hayet Zeghiche told the BBC.

"They are deliberately targeted because of political issues and also because they are vulnerable victims."

'Alone and isolated'

The report also says the kidnapping of women has also become a strategy of exchanging prisoners and exacting revenge, and that the nature of the crimes - rape and gang-rape - leaves many women isolated.

"The stigma makes them socially unacceptable so they have to flee the area, some don't even have a chance to flee with their family members. They're very much left alone and isolated," Ms Zeghiche says.

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the conflict. More than two million Syrians have fled the country, according to the UN.

On Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that much-delayed peace talks will take place in Geneva on 22 January, bringing the government and opposition to the negotiating table for the first time.

He said it would be "unforgivable not to seize this opportunity to bring an end to the suffering and destruction".

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