The Train of Justice Will Catch Up with All Russian Criminals in the Tunnel of Russian Lawlessness — and Punishment Will Be Inevitable

Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya firmly believes this. The conversation with him covered the role of the UN in combating sexual violence as a weapon of war, which Russian aggressors use en masse against the Ukrainian population to subjugate it.

– In Ukraine, conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) is a high-profile issue. How is it perceived at the international level, particularly in the UN?

Conflict-related sexual violence is always a high-profile and sensitive issue. All normal people are shocked and disgusted by these crimes. Almost every conflict in human history was and still is probably accompanied by manifestations of sexual violence. Earlier this shameful crime was usually viewed as an inevitable byproduct of war and there was no global response mechanism, and the fight was primarily at national levels and within regional initiatives. However, in 2009, the UN Security Council changed this paradigm of international attitude to CRSV, establishing the mandate of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. UN Security Council Resolution 1820 (2008) for the first time addresses conflict-related sexual violence as a preventable and punishable crime under international human rights law and international criminal law.

In total, as of today, the UN Security Council has approved five resolutions (1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2467 (2019)), which recognize the devastating impact of CRSV on communities and the fact that these crimes undermine efforts to ensure peace and security and rebuild society in post-conflict situations. It also emphasizes the need to address CRSV from the very beginning of peacebuilding processes and mediation efforts; creates the mandate of the Special Representative for CRSV and their Office, defines the framework of their powers and tasks; calls for the creation of a rapid response team of forensic experts and improved mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on trends, early signs and typical patterns of attacks.

The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict regularly participates in briefings and combating CRSV at a political level, while also heading the UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict that unites 21 different UN agencies.

The main function of the Special Representative’s Office is drafting an annual report to the UN Secretary General regarding CRSV. The annual reports led to a historical public record of a crime that was previously invisible in the official war and peace reports. The annual report also contains detailed information on the parties to armed conflicts who are reasonably suspected of committing rape or other forms of sexual violence mentioned in the annex to the report — the so-called “list of shame.”

Parties listed as perpetrators are obliged to interact with the Office to develop specific commitments and action plans to put an end to violations. Effective fulfillment of such commitments is the main requirement for removing parties from the list. UN Security Council sanctions are automatically applied to parties that have been on the “list of shame” for three years in a row — they are prohibited from participating in UN peacekeeping operations.

Thanks to the active work of the Special Representative and her team, encouraging changes in justice and accountability, as well as legislative changes, have recently been adopted in the DRC, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Guinea, Iraq, and Colombia.

– As the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, you repeatedly raise the issue of CRSV during communication with your fellow diplomats at the UN and beyond. How do they respond?

I do mention it regularly because the international community should be aware of these shameful crimes committed by the Russian occupiers. This subject is covered, among other things, during Security Council meetings regarding Ukraine, the debates of the General Assembly and its Third Committee, as well as the debates of the UN Security Council discussing the annual report to the Secretary General on CRSV. Let me remind you that in 2023, for the first time, the report General Secretary highlighted CRSV committed by Russian aggressors in Ukraine.

As one would expect, the very first reports of crimes committed by Russian occupiers in Irpin, Bucha, Kherson sparked shock and deep outrage of our partners. Expressing their maximum support, they also suggested various initiatives to increase pressure on the aggressor to terminate these crimes and to ensure bringing all the Russian perpetrators to justice.

For instance, in March 2022, a Group of Friends of Accountability was established in New York in the context of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. It is co-chaired by Albania, Denmark, Colombia, the Marshall Islands and the Netherlands. The Group includes 48 countries and the EU. This format is a platform to seek the most effective solutions to ensure that Russian perpetrators are brought to justice for all the crimes they committed against Ukrainian citizens and our country.

In November 2022, the UK initiated the establishment of an International Alliance on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. It aims to draw the attention of the global community to the issue of CRSV and to ensure justice for survivors and bringing the perpetrators to accountability, providing comprehensive assistance and support to survivors of such violence. Ukraine became its member and holds vice presidency during 2024.

– The UN remains a powerful platform for promoting Ukraine’s interests and resolving the problems that our country has been facing due to the Russian aggression. How actively and strongly do Ukrainian diplomats and authorities overall use opportunities provided by the UN, particularly in matters of CRSV?

Today, the UN is the only global universal international organization, consisting of 193 countries of the world. I assure you that Ukrainian diplomacy is actively and effectively using the capabilities of the UN both to provide humanitarian aid and to ensure monitoring of the situation with violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In particular, since 2014, at the invitation of the Government of Ukraine, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission has been working in Ukraine, and since the beginning of the full-scale armed aggression of the Russian Federation, we have engaged additional mechanisms: the Human Rights Council created the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine in the context of Russian aggression, as well as two mandates of the UN Security Council “Children and Armed Conflict” and “CRSV,” which provide additional thorough monitoring and reporting on the relevant crimes.

In May 2022, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on CRSV, Pramila Patten, visited Ukraine, signing the Framework on Cooperation between the Government of Ukraine and the UN on prevention and response to CRSV. It served as the basis for a comprehensive implementation plan that is currently in progress.

Last year, for the first time, the report General Secretary highlighted CRSV committed by Russian aggressors in Ukraine.

In addition, the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine highlighted CRSV in both of its reports. This issue is also constantly highlighted in the reports of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In particular, the recent reports indicate that in addition to CRSV being used as a weapon of war and a form of torture against prisoners of war and civilian prisoners, sexual violence is of a systemic, massive nature. They also state that more than a half of Ukrainian prisoners of war who returned from Russian captivity reported experiencing sexual violence.

– The UN has already adopted various international documents on measures to address CRSV. Do they need to be updated in view of Ukraine’s experience in these matters? Has Ukraine put forward such initiatives?

Let me remind you that the UN Security Council adopted a number of resolutions that define the objectives and powers of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and their Office. The last such resolution was adopted in 2019. Ukraine definitely has something to offer to improve the previous resolutions on CRSV, but Security Council resolutions can only be put forward by a member of the Security Council and, more importantly, require approval of all permanent members. However, Russia, which occupied the place of the former permanent member, USSR, contrary to the UN Charter, now blocks any decisions of this agency concerning its criminal aggression against our country.

– Does the UN implement specific projects to combat CRSV in Ukraine? How effective are they?

Naturally. I have already spoken about a joint implementation plan with the UN. Agencies actively involved with this issue in Ukraine include the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Women, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The first two agencies are headquartered in New York, so we are in constant communication with them. The IOM is based in Geneva. The projects cover the creation of centers to help survivors, psychosocial support programs, as well as building the capacity of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies in combating CRSV, administering justice etc. The UN has repeatedly reiterated that all the projects and programs are implemented at the request of the Ukrainian government and to support its efforts.

– Why do you think the Russians engage in CRSV?

War is concentrated violence. And speaking about Russians specifically, there are a few factors on top of that. First, these people live in a country that openly disrespects international human rights law — among other things, in 2017, Russia decriminalized domestic violence in legislation. Russian law stipulates that criminal prosecution is applied only after the second or subsequent cases of domestic violence; the first case is grounds for a fine from 5,000 to 30,000 roubles. Remember their saying, “if he beats you, he loves you.”

Second, what can we expect from people who were rapists and murderers back in Russia, and who were given free rein to murder Ukrainians in Ukraine? What is more, Russian propaganda actively incites hatred and genocide against Ukrainians. This was additionally highlighted in UN reports, particularly the one by the Independent Commission of Inquiry.

– What international documents do the Russian military violate by engaging in CRSV? Is there responsibility under international law for a crime such as sexual violence during the war?

It is easier to list documents that they do not violate. To be brief, they violate the following:

  1. International humanitarian law, or the Geneva Conventions of 1949. These conventions contain provisions on the protection of civilians in time of war, the prohibition of torture and the unlawful use of force, including sexual violence;
  2. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: sexual violence is classified as a crime against humanity, a war crime and a form of gender-based violence, and thus it falls under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Importantly, such crimes do not have a statute of limitations;
  3. Convention on the Elimination All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This convention calls for the protection of women from all forms of violence, including sexual violence as a weapon of war;
  4. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) and other subsequent resolutions on “Women, Peace, Security.” These resolutions call for the protection of women’s rights and the prevention of sexual violence during conflicts;
  5. These are also the above-mentioned UN Security Council resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2467 (2019), which established the mandate of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. I will remind you that Russia signed all these resolutions that it is now cynically violating.

Naturally, international law provides for liability for such crimes. This includes criminal liability in international courts, such as the ICC. In addition, such crimes may be grounds for sanctions and other forms of international and national legal punishment.

– All wars end. We believe that the Russia-Ukraine war will end with our victory. Do you think, if that is the case, Russia will recognize the crimes of its military that committed CRSV, and will it extradite them to Ukraine for justice?

We absolutely believe in our victory and are doing everything possible and impossible to bring it closer.

As for whether Russia will agree to recognize its crimes and extradite its criminals, this is not even a question. These crimes do not have a statute of limitations, and even though, in the foreseeable future, I do not see Russia as a democratic and conscious country, I am absolutely convinced that the train of justice will catch up with all Russian criminals in the tunnel of Russian lawlessness. Today, Ukraine and our partners are making incredible efforts to speed up this metaphorical train. Punishment will be inevitable.

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.