War in Ukraine: the UN signs a framework to help victims of sexual violence |
Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General working to end wartime rape, was speaking at a press conference in the capital, Kyiv.
Alongside Olha Stefanishyna, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, she expressed her solidarity with the survivors, saying they are not alone.
“I promise you that international law will not be an empty promise. Today’s documentation will be tomorrow’s indictment. And I want you to know that your rights don’t end when wars start,” she said.
“Women’s rights don’t end when wars start. Your bodies are not (a) battlefield and should never be treated as part of the battlefield.
Interventions and assistance
Ms. Patten and Ms. Stefanishyna on Tuesday signed a cooperation framework that supports the design and implementation of priority interventions in the areas of justice and accountability as a central pillar of deterrence and prevention.
The agreement also covers the provision of comprehensive services to survivors, including sexual and reproductive health services, specialized medical and mental health services, legal assistance and livelihood support.
Responding to a reporter’s question, Ms Stefanishyna described wartime sexual violence as “one of the quietest types of crime”, pointing to the difficulty of gathering information on exact figures.
“Today we started working to gather this information by using volunteers, working with medical facilities and documenting these cases outside of criminal proceedings,” she said, speaking through the media. intermediary of an interpreter.
Ms Patten added that “we cannot expect to have accurate accounting on an active battlefield”, emphasizing that it is not waiting for concrete data and statistics to act.
Services for men and boys
Although sexual violence is primarily perpetrated against women and girls, Ms. Patten has also received reports of cases involving men and boys in Ukraine, which the UN has yet to verify.
“I work with the various UN agencies to ensure that there are services tailored to the needs of men and boys, because everywhere in many conflict situations I have seen that there is a lack of services tailored to the needs of men and boys,” she says.
Prevention of Human Trafficking
The framework with the Ukrainian authorities also covers gender-sensitive security sector reform, as well as prevention of conflict-related traffickingin a context of increasing displacement.
More than five million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war just over two months ago, generating the fastest refugee crisis since World War II, according to the UN refugee agency. refugees, UNHCR.
“It is a fact that conflict exacerbates vulnerability to trafficking, and the trafficking of Ukrainian women can be a dangerous by-product of this conflict-fueled refugee crisis,” Ms. Patten said, stressing the critical need for reduction measures.
UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Spare no effort
The UN official also answered questions about “extremely disturbing” reports of Ukrainian women being raped before being killed. She met with the country’s attorney general and said there is “strong” forensic evidence of such incidents.
“This is very serious, and the United Nations, through this cooperation framework that we have signed, will spare no effort to bring the perpetrators to justice,” she said.
Ms Patten acknowledged that prosecuting wartime sexual violence cases comes with challenges, saying it is “never easy”.
She reported on her meeting with several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ukraine who shared anecdotal reports.
“An NGO representative was referring to instances where the attacker wore a mask, so identification becomes extremely difficult,” she said.
Ms Patten said that “Whatever reports surface, they may only represent the tip of the iceberg,” emphasizing the need to focus on reporting.
In this regard, she also had discussions with the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, which could establish “centres” across Ukraine where people can report cases of sexual violence and also receive support. medical, psychological and other.
The availability of these safe spaces would also prevent people, who do not have the adequate skills required, from interviewing victims, which carries a huge risk of re-traumatization and re-victimization.
“We need to learn from other conflicts where this has been the case, with victims being interviewed more than 10 times, 15 times, with all the inconsistencies in reporting that make their case untenable in court,” he said. she stated.
“In every war, we say ‘never again’. I think this time we have to say “never again” and mean it, and take the necessary measures to bring justice to these victims of sexual violence.
The world is watching
The mandate of the UN Special Representative was established by the security Council more than a decade ago, to address conflict-related sexual violence as a peace and security issue.
International human law is clear that even wars have limits, Ms. Patten said, and that sexual violence is beyond acceptable conduct, even in the midst of combat.
“Wartime rape can no longer be seen as an inevitable by-product of war. It must be recognized by all parties as a crime that can be prevented and punished,” she said.
Although deeply concerned about what she called “the emboldening effects of impunity”, Ms Patten said it was “essential that all actors and all parties know that the world is watching”.