July 30, 2013
Because reporting from the Damascus side is so difficult—journalists and human-rights workers are largely banned from government-controlled areas—most of my interviews have been from the rebel side. It’s important to note that the victimizers are not always government troops but often members of the Shabiha, a brutal militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad that has committed some of the war’s worst atrocities. Which is not to say the rebels are angels, by any means. When I have had the luck to get a government visa to report from the Damascus side, I’ve been told by Alawi and Christian women that they feared for their life and sexual honor at the hands of rebel soldiers. Women living in the countryside, in small villages and towns, seem the most perturbed by the threat of sexual violence, checkpoints being a particular focus of fear. But the rebels have their own detention centers, too, and human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented abuse in those facilities.