Unspoken pain: Gender-based violence in the conflict zone of Eastern Ukraine
Gender-based violence (“GBV”) is a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against one of the sexes. It includes all acts of violence based on gender which result or may result in physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering of either males or females. It includes threats to commit such acts of coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, regardless of whether it happens in public or in private life.
GBV is prohibited not only by national law, but also by international human rights law, international criminal law and international humanitarian law. In particular, the Rome Statute recognizes GBV as a crime under international criminal law. Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity are serious violations of the laws and customs applicable to armed conflicts and can be classified as war crimes. It is acknowledged that the level of GBV is heightened during the armed conflict due to a breakdown of law and order as well as polarization of gender roles. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of GBV cases were recorded during the intense fighting in Eastern Ukraine.
As a result of the legal vacuum created after the outbreak of the conflict, no one was safeguarded from gross human rights violations both on the territories under effective control of the Russian military, mercenaries and illegal armed groups, as well as under the control of Ukrainian army and volunteer battalions.
Motivated by their own vision and understanding of law and order, in an environment of impunity, pro-Russian armed groups which exercise effective control over the situation established their own systems of power relations.
The rule of law was replaced by the rule of force. Even though to a lesser degree, the same concern applies also to territories under governmental control. Hence, in 2014-2015 the level of unlawful violence (including GBV) in the conflict zone was exceptionally high for the region.
During the monitoring of the situation of illegal detention facilities in Eastern Ukraine, we observed that there are facts of different forms of GBV in every 3rd interview. Even though the gravity of violence is appalling, it remains underreported and neglected by the authorities. Noticeably, according to the information provided by the Main Directorate of the National Police in Donetsk region no cases of GBV were documented in regards to the females and males, who were released from illegal detention facilities. Thus, the gender-sensitive conflict analysis conducted by the East-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives and its partners in the frame of work of the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas” aimed at providing a more comprehensive understanding of the conflict, its impact, dynamics and structural problems that need to be addressed.