War in Ukraine: United Nations signs cooperation framework to help survivors of sexual violence

Speaking at a press conference in the capital, Kiev, together with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olga Stefanishyna, Pramila Patten expressed her solidarity with the survivors, stating that they are not alone.

“My promise is that international law will not be an empty promise. Today’s documents will be tomorrow’s court proceedings and I want you to know that your rights don’t end when wars start, ”the Special Representative 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, ”said Ms. Patten.

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, a central pillar of deterrence and prevention of sexual violence in the context of the global conflict.

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.

Answering 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 numbers.

“Today we have begun to work to gather this information by involving volunteers, working with medical institutions and documenting these cases outside of criminal proceedings,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Ms. Patten added that “we cannot expect accurate accounting on an active battlefield,” noting that she will not wait for accurate data and statistics to act.

Services for men and boys

Although sexual violence is mainly perpetrated against women and girls, Ms. Patten has also received case reports involving men and boys in Ukraine, which the United Nations has yet to investigate.

“I work with 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 noticed that there is a lack of services tailored to the needs of men and boys,” he said. She said.

Prevention of trafficking in human beings

The framework agreed with the Ukrainian authorities also covers gender-sensitive security sector reform as well as the prevention of conflict-related trafficking in human beings in a context of increasing displacement.

According to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, more than five million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war just over two months ago, creating the now fastest growing refugee crisis. from the second world war.

“It is a fact that conflict exacerbates vulnerability to trafficking in human beings and trafficking in Ukrainian women could be a dangerous by-product of this conflict-fueled refugee crisis,” said Ms. Patten, stressing the need for enforcement measures. mitigation.

Don’t spare yourself

The UN official also answered questions about extremely disturbing reports of Ukrainian women who were raped before they were killed. He met with the country’s attorney general and said there was “strong” forensic evidence of such incidents.

“This is very serious and the United Nations, through the cooperation framework we have signed, will spare no effort to bring the guilty to justice,” he said.

Ms. Patten acknowledged that prosecuting wartime sexual assault cases has its challenges, saying “it’s never easy”.

He reported his meeting with several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ukraine who shared anecdotal reports. “A representative of an NGO referred to cases where the perpetrator was wearing a mask, so identification becomes extremely difficult,” he said.

Patten added that “anything that comes to the surface can only be the tip of the iceberg.” You stressed the need to focus on these relationships.

Never again

In this regard, the Special Representative also discussed with the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, which could establish “hubs” throughout Ukraine where people can report cases of sexual violence and receive medical and psychological support.

Establishing these safe spaces would also prevent people without the required skills from interviewing victims, which carries a huge risk of re-traumatization and re-victimization.

“We have 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.

“In every war, we say ‘never again’. I think this time we have to say ‘never again’ and seriously, and take the necessary steps to do justice to these victims of sexual violence, ”said Ms. Patten.

The world is watching us

The mandate of the UN Special Representative was established by the Security Council over a decade ago to address conflict-related sexual violence as a matter of peace and security.

International human law makes it clear that even wars have limits, Ms. Patten said, and that sexual violence is beyond acceptable behavior, even in the midst of combat.

“War rapes can no longer be seen as an inevitable by-product of war. It must be recognized by all sides as a crime that can be prevented and punished, “she said.

While deeply concerned about what she called “the encouraging effects of impunity”, Ms. Patten said it was “essential that all actors and parties know that the world is watching.”

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