The Syrian lawyer, women's rights and human rights activist and lawyer Joumana Seif is awarded with the Anne Klein Women's Award 2023.
Joumana Seif, born in 1970 in Damascus, has spent the past years living in forced exile in Berlin. Since 2001, she has been courageously active in her fight for and commitment to women’s rights. For her, women's rights are human rights. It is thanks to activists like her that sexualized violence has been classified as a systematically used weapon of war and that it can be legally prosecuted and sentenced in international proceedings as a crime against humanity.
Reasons given by the jury
The Syrian regime uses sexualized violence to intimidate and humiliate the civilian population. In Germany, a landmark court case against representatives of the Assad regime has proved how systematically the regime uses sexualized violence as a weapon, against children, women and men. Through the commitment of women's and human rights organizations, sexualized violence was included in the indictment as a separate criminal offense for the first time. Joumana Seif played a significant role in this.
Under the Assad regime, critics like Joumana Seif were always in danger; many had to endure arbitrary detention and humiliation. After Joumana received the Human Rights Award of the city of Weimar in the name of her father in 2003, she experienced increasingly severe repression. However, this could not break her courage and so she continuously participated in the Syrian democracy movement. In 2012, a year after the start of the uprisings against the Assad regime, Joumana Seif left Syria following death threats against her imprisoned father and children. She fled to Berlin with her family in 2013. Since then, she has been actively involved in Syrian women's rights organizations and feminist networks in Europe.
For example, she co-founded the "Syrian Women's Network" (2013), which advocates for gender justice and the inclusion of women in the political decisions of a Syria of tomorrow. She also co-founded the “Syrian Feminist Lobby” (2014), which advocates for equal political rights for men and women in Syria, as well as the “Syrian Women's Political Movement” (2017), which advocates for women to represent at least 30 percent of those actively involved in political decision-making and representing Syrians’ demands.
In May 2017, she joined ECCHR as a Research Fellow in the Program Area on International Crimes and Legal Accountability. Since March 2022, she has been ECCHR's Legal Advisor on the focus areas of Syria and sexual and gender-based violence. In particular, she worked on the Al-Khatib trial at the Koblenz Higher Regional Court and closely accompanied the torture survivors involved. Joumana Seif's report "Words against Silence" analyzes the causes and effects of political imprisonment and torture from the perspective of women who, after their release, experience social stigmatization and discrimination in addition to trauma and feelings of guilt. Joumana Seif's work makes it possible to understand the extent of sexualized violence in Syria and the devastating individual and societal consequences. The significance of her work extends far beyond the Syrian context: international law is being developed.
Around the world, warring parties use sexualized violence systematically as a weapon of war in numerous conflicts. Rape, sexual abuse, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and nudity - all these crimes and many more are forms of sexualized violence that, especially in armed conflicts, have long been regarded as tragic individual cases and by no means as part of the tactics of war. In this respect, it is a fundamental change to punish targeted sexualized violence in armed conflicts in its use to humiliate the "opponent" and destroy societies in the long term.
On behalf of the many activists against sexualized violence in armed conflicts around the world, we therefore honor Joumana Seif with the Anne Klein Women's Award 2023. The jury takes a bow.