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Ukraine: The promise of survivors’ voices and joint work on reparation

6 June 2023

Written by Clara Sandoval

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Group photo with a large number of people smiling at the camera

At the end of April GSF, together with the Ukrainian NGO JURFEM, hosted a much anticipated and hopeful Study Visit in Geneva. A high-level delegation of survivors, government representatives, and civil society organisations all came together with one overarching focus: urgent interim reparation for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) in Ukraine. The study visit had two key objectives: to share best practices and lessons learned from setting up domestic reparation programmes in countries where survivors of CRSV were provided with access to different forms of reparation; and to provide a platform for dialogue and joint work on a draft legislation on urgent interim reparation for Ukraine.

The Visit was intense but delivered beyond anyone’s expectations.

First, different actors were for the first time in the same room hearing each other, discussing existing practices and lessons learned, and reflecting together. It was a unique opportunity to give full life to GSF’smulti-stakeholder approach. International experts that were with us during the week also highlighted the uniqueness of having such a diverse group of Ukrainians involved in the visit. At GSF, we have learned through doing, whether it’s on our IRM projects, the Global Reparation Study (GRS) reports, or through our advocacy and technical support efforts, that the only possible way to move reparation for survivors forward is if we all, , including survivors, work together. I am sure that in the weeks and months to come this unique gathering will yield fruit.

Another point of note from this visit is that survivors were at the heart of the visit. They were able to discuss openly with everyone their story, what their views on reparation are, and what they think is needed to ensure reparation. Hearing them was truly moving. When survivors are given the opportunity to share what happened to them and how they see reparation, they reach beyond the rhetoric and touch something deeper within you: they shake your world, and when doing so they also shed profound light on how reparation policies should be shaped and implemented. But beyond that, you are reminded of the importance of finding ways for their voices to be heard, and then cannot help but be compelled  to act now. My hope is that their voices will continue to resonate daily for those that participated in the visit so that we all take action, in the ways that we each can, to ensure survivors have access to effective, adequate, and prompt reparation.

This visit also provided a space for joint work on a piece of model legislation to set up an urgent interim reparation programme for survivors of CRSV in Ukraine to avoid irreparable harm. As the week unfolded, this exercise turned into something even more promising as we were able to discuss another draft legislation that will be presented to Parliament in the coming days. Originally this second draft law, under the leadership of MP Ms. Bardina, was on the right to assistance for survivors of CRSV. However, during the week in Geneva and after the Study Visit, it turned into a draft law on urgent compensation as a form of reparation for survivors of CRSV. I am looking forward to when I can read the latest draft that will be presented to Parliament and continue working with others in strengthening the draft.

During our discussions in Geneva, those present, unanimously considered that both survivors from 2014, and the newer full-scale invasion that started in February 2022, are equally entitled to the right to reparation, and that any legislative framework must provide all survivors with reparation. There was also full support on the need for urgent interim reparation as well as other various forms of urgent repair beyond compensation.

Another significant development from the visit included time with some special procedures (special rapporteurs) at the United Nations, and with members of different treaty monitoring bodies. These were key meetings because they revealed to me that these bodies, particularly special procedures, have not been utilised as much as they could in Ukraine, at least not as in other parts of the world. I believe this is a valuable tool for Ukrainians as these mechanisms are key to ensure the protection of human rights.

Finally, the study visit also included spaces to raise greater awareness about the situation of survivors in Ukraine, particularly to the diplomatic community in Geneva. The French Government hosted a session at the residency of the French Ambassador before the United Nations where diplomats and a number of the participants of the Visit were able to share their views on reparation, and where survivors, once again, shared what has happened and is still happening to them. The response of committed action by the diplomats present was reassuring to not just the survivors, but to all in the room.

The significance of this visit, and next steps taken advocating for urgent interim reparation cannot be overstated. We are now part of a stronger community of actors ready to take decisive action to move urgent reparation forward. This communal spirit was further demonstrated when Ms. Nadia Murad, co-founder of GSF, visited Ukraine later in May and presented a letter to the First Lady of Ukraine. The letter urged the President to ask Parliament to enact a Law on urgent interim reparation as soon as possible. I am truly hopeful that we have seized momentum, and that together we will be able to deliver on the thus far  unfulfilled promise of reparation.

Special Note of thanks to the Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association (JURFEM), the Ukrainian Women's Fund, the NGO La Strada – Ukraine, and the Government Commissioner for Gender Policy in Ukraine who as part of the implementation of the project supported by the European Union "Resilient together: Improving the support system for survivors of war-related sexual violence," supported GSF and JURFEM to make the study visit possible. GSF is also grateful to the government of Belgium and France for their support to work on holistic care and urgent interim reparation in Ukraine.

Category: Blog

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