Ukraine conflict: End impunity for sexual violence, UN report urges
GENEVA/KYIV (16 February 2017) – Survivors of sexual violence committed in the context of the armed conflict in Ukraine are often denied justice and left without adequate care and counselling, causing them to be victimized twice, according to a UN report published today.
The 37-page report by the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine** notes that the country’s justice system lacks the laws, capacity and professional experience to effectively investigate and prosecute allegations of sexual violence, resulting in widespread impunity for perpetrators.
“What’s the point of saying what happened to me? No one will be able to help and no one will be able to find those who did it. No one will punish them,” one survivor of sexual violence quoted in the report said.
The report looks at the period from 14 March 2014 to 31 January 2017 and covers all territory of Ukraine, including the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, with a special focus on the eastern regions, parts of which are under the control of armed groups.
The majority of the documented cases of conflict-related sexual violence happened when people, both men and women, were detained by either Government forces or armed groups.
Beatings and electrocution on the genitals, rape, threats of rape, and forced nudity were used as a method of torture and ill-treatment to punish, humiliate, or extract confessions, the report says. Perpetrators threatened to also detain, abduct, rape, injure or kill victims’ relatives, especially their children, to increase the pressure.
“…he told me that if I refused to write, perpetrators would bring my…daughter in and will make me watch how they take turns one after another to rape her. After that I filled in eight pages with the text they dictated to me,” a woman said.
In the territory controlled by armed groups, sexual violence was also used to compel people in detention to hand over property or to do as the perpetrators demanded, as an explicit condition for their release.
Numerous checkpoints and the presence of Ukrainian forces and armed groups in populated areas have also increased the risk of sexual violence against civilians, mainly women.
The deterioration of the economic situation, particularly in conflict-affected regions, combined with the breakdown of community ties caused by the armed conflict and displacement, has led some people to use harmful survival strategies and coping mechanisms that may increase the risk of sexual violence and trafficking, the report notes.
The report also highlights the lack of support available for victims, especially in areas of Donetsk and Luhansk controlled by the armed groups. Throughout the country, professionals in medical and state institutions lack the specific knowledge and skills needed to deal with survivors of torture and conflict-related sexual violence. The majority of available services for these individuals are provided by civil society organizations through donor-funded programmes, as well as by various UN agencies and international organisations, and are available mostly in urban areas.
There is little or no assistance available in smaller towns and rural areas, which is especially critical as people cannot get the post-exposure prophylaxis that must be taken within 72 hours of being potentially exposed to HIV. Restrictions imposed by the armed groups have hindered civil society and humanitarian organisations’ ability to carry out their programmes, particularly those linked to protection and psycho-social support. Furthermore, there are no real redress mechanisms available for victims in the territory controlled by armed groups.
Based on the cases documented, the report finds there are no grounds to believe that sexual violence is used for strategic or tactical ends. A number of cases, however, may amount to torture or to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and some even to war crimes. The report also indicates that sexual violence is likely to be under-reported, given the stigma and trauma associated with it, as well as due to the fear of persecution.
“The investigation and conviction of perpetrators of sexual violence is vital for the victims who are entitled to justice and redress. It can also have a decisive impact in preventing these horrible crimes. Impunity encourages the criminals, for that is what they are, to continue,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
The report includes 29 specific recommendations for the Government of Ukraine, armed groups, the Russian Federation and international and donor communities that outline the steps needed to prevent sexual violence, improve response and ensure justice for survivors.
Full report here: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/UA/ReportCRSV_EN.pdf
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*The term “conflict-related sexual violence”, which appears throughout this press-release and the report, refers to incidents or patterns of rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, and other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity, against women and men, girls and boys, including as a tactic of war or tool of political intimidation committed by the parties to the conflict, which includes State and non-State actors. Incidents included in this report have a temporal, geographical and/or causal link with the armed conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and the occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
**The report, which covers the period from 14 March 2014 to 31 January 2017, was prepared by the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), which was deployed to Ukraine by the UN Human Rights Office in March 2014 upon the invitation of the Government of Ukraine.