The Global Survivors Fund calls for more action from the international community to address the harms suffered by survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine
Date and time
Geneva, 13 April 2022 - Sexual violence is today, again, being used deliberately against civilians in Ukraine. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are not merely side-effects of war; they are a targeted strategy to demoralise, terrorise, punish and instil fear in people in conflicts all around the world. Eritrea, Syria, Ethiopia, Colombia and Myanmar are just some of many examples.
At a meeting organised by the Government Commissioner for Gender Equality Policy and the Ukrainian authorities, together with military personnel in DR Congo, the Mukwege Foundation and Panzi on 11 April, the Global Survivors Fund (“GSF”) expressed its deep concerns over the initial reports of conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine committed by Russian soldiers against women, girls and boys in public spaces, and mothers being raped in front of their children and other family members or forced to watch the rape of their children. These crimes are clearly intended to leave deep and long-lasting marks not only on the victims, but also on their families and communities. During this meeting, all organisations showed readiness to support the Ukrainian authorities in preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence committed by Russian Armed Forces against the Ukrainian population.
Kateryna Cherepakha, the President of La Strada-Ukraine, which operates a national helpline for the prevention of domestic violence and human trafficking, said: “Since early March, La Strada alone has received calls relating to the rape of 10 women and 3 girls by Russian soldiers. The youngest of the girls is only 12-years old. Some of these rapes have taken place in front of family members, in one case a child, in another the husband of the survivor who was then killed.”
Despite rape and other forms of sexual violence being notoriously underreported due to the trauma, stigma, and other challenges such events have been well-documented in Ukraine since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict in 2014. That said, survivors have yet to receive reparations for the harms suffered.
The impact of rape and sexual violence includes long-term trauma, physical injuries such as fistula or sexually transmitted diseases, loss of housing, opportunities, and livelihoods, and the tearing apart of families and social fabric. Since 2014, survivors have called for reparations, including guarantees of non-recurrence. They are now seeing their worst fears materialise as rape and other forms of sexual violence are ongoing in Ukraine as we write.
This is a call to action for all those responding to the Russian-Ukrainian international armed conflict. As many Ukrainian civilians are living under occupation, siege, or increased military presence, current reports are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. As survivors come forward, they must receive prompt and comprehensive assistance which considers the specificity of the harms they have endured. These harms must be duly documented, not only to respond to their immediate needs, but also to pave the way for meaningful reparations in due course. For this, GSF calls on the international community to provide civil society and other first responder organisations on the ground with technical assistance and funding.
Iryna Dovgan, a survivor of conflict-related sexual violence, activist and GSF board member states that: “The invasion of Ukraine and repetition of conflict-related sexual violence hurts me greatly. I know what survivors have been through and are still experiencing now. I make a call to those helping for target services that truly address all harms. This should be a starting point for full reparations in the future and will help us to fight for justice. This time the perpetrators cannot go unpunished and judicial systems need to act now, with not only prosecution but also reparations as a goal”.
GSF commends current investigation efforts, including those by the Office of the General Prosecutor of Ukraine, as well as the setting up of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry, and referral of the situation of Ukraine to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. We call on these institutions to pay special attention to reports of rape and other forms of sexual violence. Further efforts to document the harms suffered by survivors are also needed to allow for reparations going forward.
All actors engaged with survivors must adopt a survivor-centred, trauma-informed and gender-sensitive approach in line with key principles set out in the Murad Code, a global code of conduct distilling existing minimum standards to ensure information from survivors of conflict-related sexual violence is collected in a safe, effective and ethical way. This will allow more survivors to come forward and only then will we be able to understand the true scope of the sexual violence and ensure we uphold the rights of all survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.
For more information, please refer to our country briefing about reparations for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine (dated September 2021).
For press questions, please contact Maud Scelo, Head of Communications email@example.com (tel. +33 6 48 23 08 43)