CRSV Clearly Recognised as a War Crime in Ukraine

According to Sabine Freizer Gunes, the UN Women Representative in Ukraine, addressing gender equality concerns in Ukraine has facilitated swift responses to conflict-related sexual violence and effective countermeasures

– How does Ukraine’s approach to gender equality policy and response to CRSV differ from that of other countries?

– In the past few years, Ukraine has made significant progress in institutionalizing gender equality. Several crucial laws have been passed to empower women. Moreover, Ukraine has ratified important international agreements such as the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Abuse, known as the Istanbul Convention.

However, there are specific areas where Ukraine still falls short. For instance, women make up only 21% of the Verkhovna Rada, underscoring an imbalance in gender representation. Therefore, implementing effective gender quotas and interim measures to increase women’s participation in government institutions and their presence on electoral party lists would promote greater gender equality in decision-making.

When it comes to conflict-related sexual violence, it is important to note that the Government of Ukraine has swiftly responded to CRSV, recognising it as a significant problem and a severe breach of the human rights of both women and men. In spring 2022, the Government of Ukraine, represented by Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna, and UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten, signed the Framework of Cooperation on the Prevention and Response to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence.

Presently, the Government of Ukraine and the UN are actively implementing the FoC through the Interagency Working Group. This group coordinates efforts to execute the action plan, with a focus on providing comprehensive support services to survivors of CRSV and ensuring access to justice.

– UN Women is the UN entity collaborating not only with governments to uphold women’s rights and gender equality but also with other UN agencies to promote gender mainstreaming in their operations? Is this work being carried out in Ukraine?

– UN Women has operated in Ukraine since 2016. Our mission involves working to advance women’s rights and promoting gender equality, alongside efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5 (Gender Equality). We collaborate closely with other UN agencies as part of the UN team in Ukraine and the humanitarian UN group. For instance, we work closely with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to address gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence. While UNFPA primarily focuses on delivering immediate assistance to survivors of CRSV, our focus lies more on empowering justice and security institutions to prevent and respond effectively to conflict-related sexual violence.

Another example of our close partnership is our collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO). Together, we are part of the global initiative called the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC), led by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which Ukraine became a member of and committed to ensuring equal pay for equal work regardless of gender.

Working alongside the ILO, we have contributed to the development and have already embarked on the implementation of a new equal pay strategy adopted by the Government of Ukraine. This strategy aims to facilitate the full and fair integration of women into the economic life.

Promoting gender equality requires us to confront and challenge gender stereotypes. People often are unaware of existing gender inequalities or what constitutes violence. As part of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign held from 25 November to 10 December, we launched a nationwide communication campaign against gender-based violence, called #NotTolerated. This campaign aimed to raise public awareness of gender-based violence against women and girls, advocate for its prevention, and offer information about support platforms for survivors. Over the 16-day period, viewers of national television channels were presented with real-life stories of women who have unfortunately faced violence and informed about different forms of violence as well as prevention and response mechanisms.

– What programmes and initiatives is UN Women undertaking in Ukraine to respond to CRSV?

– I have previously mentioned the Framework of Cooperation on Response CRSV. It is very important that our collaboration with the Government of Ukraine and various UN agencies is well-coordinated. When it comes to implementation, we closely cooperate with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, led by Olha STEFANISHYNA, the Secretariat of the Government Commissioner for Gender Policy, run by Kateryna LEVCHENKO, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), the Prosecutor General’s Office, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine (SES), local authorities, and civil society organisations.

In 2023, we contributed to enhancing the capacity of the security sector to address CRSV. We conducted training for the National Police, State Emergency Service, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other institutions. Additionally, we teamed up with the National Agency of Ukraine on Civil Service to develop and launch a training video series to equip civil servants with the knowledge and skills to recognise and respond to CRSV and provide assistance to survivors. Over 1,500 civil servants have completed the training course. We collaborated with the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association “JurFem” to create and deliver this course. Based on our calculations, our partnership with “JurFem” enabled us to reach 3,120,000 individuals by distributing informational and reference materials on CRSV.

We also contribute to the government’s efforts in drafting legislation to support survivors of CRSV. Draft Law No. 10132 On the Status of Survivors of Sexual Violence Related to the Armed Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and Urgent Interim Reparations was registered in Parliament in October 2023. This proposed legislation is closely linked to Draft Law No. 10256 On Recording Military Damages Caused by the Russian Federation.

The experience of other countries indicates that creating a reparations system for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence is crucial to ensure their access to a range of support services including medical, psychological, legal, and financial assistance. We recognise that significant advocacy efforts will be needed to secure funding for implementing the reparations law. While some funds may come from frozen assets, involving donors will likely be crucial to ensuring sufficient support for reparations.

– The Government of Ukraine, the World Bank, the European Commission, and the UN are preparing the Third Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment for the Recovery of Ukraine. Will gender implications of the war in Ukraine and the issue of CRSV be covered in the Assessment?

– Ensuring that this assessment accurately portrays the gender ramifications of the war is essential. The first two reports lacked disaggregated gender-specific data, limiting our understanding of the unique challenges encountered by women and girls during wartime. These assessments overlooked critical issues such as women losing jobs and the economic consequences of the conflict on them. They also have a little coverage of CRSV. Therefore, we have partnered with the Government of Ukraine, other UN agencies, and civil society organisations to prepare a dedicated section focusing on the impact of the war on women and girls, which will be incorporated into the Third Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment. This section highlights concerns related to women’s participation in politics, economic stability, security, and the prevalence of CRSV.

Is it important to include gender equality and the needs of CRSV survivors in the Ukraine Recovery Plan?

– I want to note that when we talk about reconstruction, many people immediately think of rebuilding infrastructure like bridges and schools. In the first two assessments, there was indeed a considerable focus on infrastructure, particularly on damaged buildings. Why so? Partly due to the simplicity of calculating the costs of rebuilding physical infrastructure, assessing human rights violations, particularly the impacts of violence against women, presents significantly greater challenges. That is why we consider it very important to emphasize the gender component and incorporate a separate gender-focused section in the Third Rapid Assessment. This section will cover gender needs in recovery of Ukraine.

When it comes to CRSV, having a reparations law is crucial for survivors to access justice, essential services, and financial compensation.

I am unsure if reparations funding is part of the Ukraine Recovery Plan, but it is clear that implementing such a law will require financial resources. Therefore, it is important to incorporate this aspect into the Plan. Despite political support for gender equality initiatives, funding is not always allocated accordingly. Providing effective support for CRSV survivors requires a significant budget. Survivors require ongoing assistance, not just a one-time payment.

Planning for this is essential now. Drawing from the experiences of countries like the Western Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, we understand that CRSV trauma can extend across generations, necessitating both financial and human resources for resolution.

– What challenges do you see in responding to CRSV in Ukraine and how do you address them?

– Currently, the Prosecutor General’s Office has documented 257 cases of CRSV. Yet, it is unclear if this number fully captures the scale of the problem or merely scratches the surface. CRSV survivors often hesitate to come forward about their experiences, choosing to remain silent. Therefore, a major challenge in this mission is building trust, ensuring that survivors feel safe to share their stories and seek justice. Hence, I emphasize the critical need for implementing a reparations law, which would reassure survivors that speaking up about their experiences can result in real support and assistance.

Another challenge for Ukraine involves grasping the situation in regions currently outside the government’s control. We lack detailed information about what is happening in detention centers, potential occurrences of sexual violence there, and events within private households. The extent of sexual violence cases in areas under temporary military control of the Russian Federation remains unknown. Even if such incidents are identified, we often encounter situations where perpetrators are outside the territory of Ukraine, making it difficult to ensure their imprisonment upon conviction.

Addressing CRSV indeed presents numerous challenges.

– How do the emphasis on women’s rights and gender equality policies in Ukraine contribute to addressing the repercussions of CRSV?

–  The Ukrainian government’s commitment to advancing gender equality and empowering women in the country has played a pivotal role in the swift response to CRSV. Unlike in some countries where CRSV is perceived as an inevitable consequence of war with no legal remedy, often with the assumption that the woman may be at fault or somehow provoke it, Ukraine unequivocally recognises it as a war crime. There is a firm belief that survivors of CRSV should have access to justice.

Volodymyr DOBROTA,

National Press Club “Ukrainian Perspective”

The material presented herein was prepared as part of the Project “RESILIENT TOGETHER: Improving the system of response to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV)”. The Project is funded by the European Union and implemented by the Ukrainian Women Fund in partnership with the Civil Society Organization La Strada-Ukraine” and the Ukrainian Lawyers Association “JurFem”, as well as the Office of the Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine and the Government Commissioner on Gender Equality Policy.