Convoy of Conscience – The fight of our lives!

What will you be doing on International Women's Day? Join Yvonne Ridley and WTX News at the Syrian border to show solidarity with all women

In a few days time I’m heading for Turkey to demand the release of women and girls from Syrian prisons and I need your help because, right now, we are witnessing a Srebrenica-Style massacre unfold in eastern Ghouta as an on-off ceasefire hangs by a thread.

To compound this I’ve received news of another dark side to the brutality of the Syrian regime and that is the imprisonment and torture of women. Enough is enough.

The stories of rape and inhumane treatment in Syria’s prisons have now prompted a number of high-profile women to launch a global movement to send an all-female peace convoy to the Syrian border to shine a light on these war crimes. Despite being hidden away in the dungeons and prisons of the Assad regime, eyewitness accounts are beginning to emerge, providing details of the plight of thousands of women. They are, by all accounts, being tortured, raped and summarily executed.

Since the war in Syria began in March 2011, nearly 14,000 women are thought to have been arrested by the regime. Around half are still being held, along with more than 400 of their children. There are fears that the numbers are much higher, with rumours of hidden and ghost prisons across the country.

The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria admitted recently that because of stigmatisation and trauma, few women or their families are prepared to lodge official complaints about the sexual violence to which have been subjected, or have witnessed.

In truth I wasn’t that surprised by the shocking revelations about how the dungeons of the Assad regime ring with the sound of torture victims. Some years ago I walked in to the Syrian Embassy in London on behalf of a distraught mother and her five children to highlight the plight of a ghost prisoner held in a Damascus prison. All the family wanted was a few little crumbs of information regarding his wellbeing and a possible prison visit.

At first I was told the man was not held there or, indeed anywhere else in the prison system. I challenged the diplomat and gave him proof that the man was indeed being held there, showing him, among other things, a prison reference number and cell wing. After further enquiries were made, rather than confirm his whereabouts, the regime was more interested in finding out who had told me about his plight, how I knew his prison number and how I was able to tell them the exact location of his cell.

Ten years down the line it chills me to the bone to think that even women and children are now being subjected to the treatment dished out in President Bashar al-Assad’s dungeons.

When the US was on good terms with the regime – something the stooges want you to forget –  the CIA used to send prisoners there to receive “the treatment” in order to gather intelligence on the never-ending War on Terror. Intelligence, by the way, which was almost certainly shared with Britain but the Westminster government would rather shell out millions in compensation and gagging orders than admit to that.

I’ve written a book on the subject of torture and the futility of its utility, and I feel sick just thinking about what is happening to the women and children incarcerated by this regime.

So here’s what I’m doing. I’m joining an all-women convoy leaving Istanbul on March 6 which will wind its way over two days to the Turkish-Syrian border, passing through major towns and cities and collecting more women supporters en route until we arrive at our destination on International Women’s Day, March 8.

Once there we will raise our banners, placards and voices on behalf of the women who are suffering in such a brutal way: torture, rape and summary execution are no joke. If there is any humanity left in the hearts of those running one of the most brutal regimes on earth, they will release all of the women and girls into our care at the border.

The convoy will be made up of women from around the world; women of faith and no faith, political activists, professionals, dozens of NGOs, medics, academics, housewives, lawyers, businesswomen, athletes, artists, social workers, teachers and politicians. I will of course report back through WTX News to keep you all informed of our progress.

It has become quite clear to all of us that we cannot rely on the male-dominated UN or its male-led, male dominated, chest-beating, knuckle-dragging misogynistic security council to stand up for thousands of voiceless Syrian women and girls, so we women on the convoy will do so instead; we will be their voice.

I have been told that some of the Syrian women were arrested or abducted during pregnancy and were forced to give birth behind bars; some were impregnated by their gaolers after being raped repeatedly. That’s what we know about the women in the official regime-run prisons; we have no verifiable information about those being held in the many anonymous buildings used as unofficial detention centres.

Anyone interested in joining the Convoy can make contact on Twitter with either Fatima or Gulden Sonmez via @Conscience_conv. You can also follow the Conscience Convoy on Facebook. Further details will be published soon.

Setting off from Istanbul, the Convoy will pass through Izmit, Sakarya, Ankara, Konya and Adana. Women are expected to be joining the group from within Turkey, while a global contingent will be taking part from the start. If you have the means to get to Istanbul then, please, come and join us.

Women and children being brutalised behind closed doors; women, children and men being massacred in full view of the world’s media. It looks like business as usual for the Assad regime, but perhaps the women of the world can shame the Syrian president and his elite band of friends in Damascus into putting an end to this barbaric behaviour.

It’s time for women of the world to unite and step into the vacuum left behind by these brutes and so-called masters of the universe who’ve made such a hash of things whether they’re sitting in the UN Security Council or flouting the UN’s rules and regulations. if you can’t join our Convoy of Conscience then at least go on our Facebook Pages and wish us well on our mission.

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