For Russian Aggressors CRSV Is A Weapon Just Like Missiles They Launch on Ukrainian Cities

This opinion was expressed during the interview by the Representative of the Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Mykhailo Spasov, who works with issues of equal rights and freedoms, the rights of national minorities, political and religious views. We discussed the role of the Commissioner in restoring and ensuring the rights of persons who suffered from the crimes of the Russian aggressors, in particular from conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV).

– What is the role of the Commissioner in responding to CRSV cases?

The Parliament Commissioner of Ukraine for Human Rights constantly exercises parliamentary control over the observance of constitutional rights and freedoms of a person and a citizen and protects the right of everyone on the territory of Ukraine within their jurisdiction. We work with survivors of Russian aggression, including CRSV. Through its efforts, the Office of the Ombudsman has earned the trust to receive reports on this stigmatized crime.

We are aware that we are dealing with sensitive information; therefore, the principle of confidentiality in our work is a constant. No information about the affected person is disclosed. We also control the quality and timeliness of assistance at every stage post-application so that the survivor would receive comprehensive services to overcome the negative consequences of the experienced torture and reintegrate into active social life. And only if they give their full consent can we forward the report of what happened further — to public authorities that record crimes connected with CRSV and create the necessary evidence database for an international tribunal and bringing the guilty to justice eventually.

I should note that the system of protecting survivors of CRSV as a result of Russian aggression is still in the process of formation. The government, NGOs and international organizations are all involved in this work. There are many structures, such as hotlines (there is also one under our Office, its phone numbers are 0800 501 720, 044 299 74 08), psychological support lines. On the initiative of Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna and with the support of UNFPA, Ukraine launched a network of Relief Centers for Survivors. They provide specialized assistance to people, particularly to survivors of CRSV.

Currently, relief centers function in 11 Ukrainian cities. There are stationary centers in Zaporizhzhia, Lviv, Dnipro, Kyiv, Chernivtsi, Mukachevo, Kropyvnytskyi, Odesa, Poltava, and Kharkiv. There are also two mobile ones, in Kharkiv and Kherson.

The Commissioner’s Office sets up cooperation between Relief Centers for Survivors and our public receptions in the regions. This is because survivors tend to approach receptions of the Commissioner’s Office in the regions most often.

– Do many CRSV survivors turn to you?

We started receiving reports from survivors of crimes committed by Russian military personnel right after the full-scale invasion began. First, it was people who survived captivity or occupation. And our Office primarily helped these people with obtaining the status of human trafficking survivors. This is an additional vector of our activity during martial law. While processing these reports and talking to people, we realized that an individual who was in captivity usually suffered a certain type of exploitation.

– Why do you think the Russians engage in such cruelty?

We encountered their crimes on our territory, starting in 2014. They have one goal — the destruction of Ukrainians, of Ukraine’s statehood. I will simply speak as a citizen of Ukraine who has been observing Russian’s actions over the past decade. For them, CRSV is a weapon of war, just like missiles they launch on our cities, just like killing civilians to increase fear and despair. In Russia’s understanding, the Ukrainian nation does not exist.

I don’t think CRSV is about an intention to satisfy a sexual urge. We hear anonymized stories from colleagues at the Prosecutor General’s Office  — about men who have electric currents connected to their genitals, who undergo forced castration, about women who have electrodes attached to their breasts. This is not about sexual attraction, this is about torturing an individual, terminating their reproductive function, which also shows genocidal intentions towards Ukrainians.

Every Russian citizen is responsible for what is happening in our country, responsible for crimes against humanity, for war crimes, for CRSV. Their silence is also a stance. And when it comes to those individuals who came to our territory and were captured, I see no remorse in 99% of cases. So I think they do all this evil intentionally.

– How do you assess the current system of assistance to CRSV survivors in Ukraine?

We are setting up this system from scratch and, what is more, during the active phase of hostilities. We have missiles launched at us, but we are not waiting for the end of the war to provide adequate assistance to survivors. This already sets us apart from most countries that experienced such conflicts. We can point out the cohesion of all government agencies, non-profit and international organizations that work on these issues. We can hardly expect full-fledged operation of a comprehensive compensation mechanism and reparations from Russia while the conflict is underway. That is why we focus on issues that we can address at this point — remedy to survivors, restoration of justice, and payment of interim reparations.

Can we do it more, better, faster? We have gaps in legislation. Draft laws that have been developed and submitted to the Parliament of Ukraine are still at the approval stage. This is why, even after two years of the full-scale invasion, CRSV is not defined in our legislation. I think we should pool our efforts and pay more attention to observing the rights of CRSV survivors.

– Does the Commissioner’s Office have its recommendations about this issue?

In September 2023, a working group has been established on the initiative and under the chairmanship of Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets to develop proposals regarding compensation of damage to individuals affected by the Russian armed aggression against Ukraine. It was meant to become a platform to develop a joint vision concerning reparations to people affected by Russia’s armed aggression. This working group included MPs, representatives of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the National Police of Ukraine, the Security Service of Ukraine, central bodies of executive power, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Development of Communities, Territories, and Infrastructure, the MIA, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Reintegration, the Ministry of Social Policy, the Ministry of Veteran Affairs, the MFA, the Office of the Government Commissioner for Gender Policy, non-governmental and international organizations. International partners include representatives of the Danish Refugee Council, the Norwegian Refugee council, the Office of Council of Europe in Ukraine, the Office of the IOM in Ukraine, US Agency for International Development (USAID), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Today, this working group includes 40 people. We are trying to gather all stakeholders who can work with survivors, document Russia’s crimes in Ukraine, and who have financial and legal capability to help survivors even before we win this war and can speak about reparation mechanisms and compensation directly from Russia.

– What results do you expect from the activities of the working group?

Such platforms help to develop common approaches, a common vision. We are analyzing the current situation in order to prepare a unified document with recommendations for the Government, the Parliament, and central executive authorities regarding the improvement of the national system of compensation to survivors of Russia’s armed aggression and the further provision of reparations at the international and national levels, as well as the creation of an international Registry of Damages.

– What attention does the working group pay to CRSV survivors?

CRSV survivors and the issue of their protection constitute a particular focus of the working group. At the very first meeting of the working group, MP Maryna Bardina already presented draft law 10132, which she initiated, “On the Status of Survivors of Sexual Violence Connected to Russia’s Armed Aggression against Ukraine and Immediate Interim Reparations.” Among other things, this draft law proposes establishing a Fund for the Payment of Immediate Compensations to CRSV Survivors. The Fund will be financed from sources apart from the state budget, including international assistance and funds obtained from the aggressor country in a certain form.

The working group participants discussed the issue of providing CRSV survivors with long-term or even life-long psychological and social support. In some cases, they spoke about financial aid due to the complexity of CRSV cases and the increased vulnerability of survivors. Of course, you cannot compare broken windows and even a destroyed house with the horrible crime that is CRSV.

– How should reparations, including immediate and interim reparations, be provided to CRSV survivors?

Ukraine’s general position is currently based on statements that clearly declare that it is Russia as the aggressor country that violates international norms, violates bilateral and multilateral agreements, all provisions of humanitarian law, international human rights law must carry out full and final compensation of damages caused by its aggression.

At the same time, we have to be realistic. Hopes for possible cooperation with the aggressor country regarding compensation for the damage it caused are practically nonexistent. Therefore, the Office of the Ombudsman, together with other stakeholders, is actively working on the development of proposals regarding alternative compensation mechanisms.

We should particularly note the activities of our international partners. The Global Survivors Fund initiated the implementation of a pilot project on immediate interim reparations to CRSV survivors. It started after a memorandum was signed between the Fund and the Office of the Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna, as well as Government Commissioner for Gender Policy Kateryna Levchenko. The Ombudsman’s Office is also involved in this activity. As a representative of the Office, I am a member of the supervisory board of this project. Its purpose is to ensure the access of CRSV survivors to immediate interim reparations to prevent irreparable damage, as well as to develop a model that can be used in the future for full-fledged establishment of the National Compensation Program for CRSV Survivors and for other individuals affected by Russia’s aggression.

The first stage of this pilot project will be limited to 500 CRSV survivors, each of whom will receive EUR 3,000 of compensation.

– How important is draft law 10256 “On Accounting of Individuals Whose Life and Health Suffered Damage due to the Armed Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine” developed by the Ministry of Social Policy?

We welcome any legislative initiative aimed at restoring and ensuring the rights of survivors of Russian crimes, including CRSV. This is the purpose of the law you refer to. At the same time, it defines the legal and organizational basis of compensation only for damage caused to lives and health of survivors. It does not cover numerous other categories of survivors who had their housing ruined, who were forced into displacement or moved abroad fleeing the aggression.

The draft law also in no way corresponds to the formation of the international Register of Damages Caused by Russia o Ukraine as the first step to introduce a comprehensive international compensation mechanism.

Due to such key shortcomings, the Ombudsman did not support this draft law when it was submitted to our office for approval. In his written position, the Ombudsman pointed out that the notion of individuals affected by Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine and the formation of a clear list of categories of such individuals must be considered at the legislative level by means of a comprehensive draft law regarding the legal status of such individuals, regardless of the sphere in which Russia’s armed aggression caused damage to them.

At the end of 2022, the Ombudsman’s Special Report on observing the rights of individuals affected by Russia’s armed aggression included a recommendation to the Cabinet of Ministers to develop and submit to the Parliament a draft law on the legal status of all individuals affected by the armed aggression, on providing them with social guarantees, classification of such individuals, and formation of a unified compensatory mechanism, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, and satisfaction.

Currently, draft law No. 10256 is being amended. We sincerely hope that the Commissioner’s remarks about it were taken into account.

– What is the Ombudsman’s position on draft law No. 10132 “On the Status of Survivors of Sexual Violence Connected to Russia’s Armed Aggression against Ukraine and Immediate Interim Reparations”?

The draft law proposes creating a state register of individuals affected by Russia’s armed aggression to keep track of information about them. It is also proposed to create a Commission for consideration of issues related to the recognition of persons as survivors and a Fund for the payment of interim reparations and immediate compensation to persons affected by CRSV. The Ombudsman does support this initiative overall, but we have a number of comments, too.

First of all, the definition of sexual violence connected with Russia’s armed aggression, provided in Article 1 of this draft law, includes “sexual violence committed against any individual during Russia’s armed aggression starting from February 20, 2024” and lists the forms of this crime — rape, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced sexual intercourse with another individual, forced observation of sexual intercourse, sexual slavery, forced circumcision, castration, genital mutilation.

From the Ombudsman’s perspective, this provision should be clarified. During the period specified in the draft law, there were crimes of sexual violence committed in Ukraine apart from those related to the war. Not all cases of rape, say, if it happened during martial law but far from the area of active hostilities or temporarily occupied territories, can be compared to CRSV.

Article 13 of this draft law guarantees immediate compensation to affected individuals. Article 13, part 2 of the draft law provides for appointing increased immediate compensation in certain cases, such as sexual violence connected to the armed aggression committed against a minor, in case if sexual violence results in pregnancy or childbirth, or if a pregnancy is terminated due to sexual violence committed against a person. The Ombudsman requested that the authors of the draft law provide justification of this list because we believe it may include other acts of similar gravity. Speaking about genocidal attitudes of Russia against our compatriots, this may include forced sterilization, castration, or genital mutilation, which we clearly see are aimed at destruction of the Ukrainian nation.

The draft law stipulates that the Commission for Definition of the Status of Affected Persons can be addressed with an application by an individual in the interests of their deceased affected family member. Article 1, clause 8 of the draft law lists individuals who are considered family members of the deceased affected person. This includes individuals who live as part of the same family with the affected person and shares a joint household on a permanent, uninterrupted basis, or who has a family or marital relationship to such a person. Including children. However, according to the Ukrainian legislation, orphans and children deprived of parental care, when they are placed in family forms of education with legal guardians or custodians, the adoptive parents become their legal representatives. Failure to include orphans and children deprived of parental care in the draft law actually violates their right to immediate compensation. We also proposed to change this provision.

Russian aggressors violate the rights of Ukrainian citizens en masse every day. The office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights is not waiting until hostilities are over, but actively works to restore the rights of our compatriots and help them go back to a normal life.

Volodymyr DOBROTA,
“Ukrainian Perspective” National Press Club

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.