Pramila Patten, the Secretary General’s special representative who works to end rape in war, spoke at a news conference in the capital Kiev.
Wartime rape can no longer be dismissed as an “inevitable by-product of war”. It must be recognized by all parties as a crime that can be prevented and punished. https://t.co/6YYFoJJwQH
— UN against sexual violence in conflict (@endrapeinwar) May 3, 2022
Alongside Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, she expressed solidarity with the survivors and said they are not alone.
“My promise to you is that international law will not be an empty promise. Today’s documentation will be tomorrow’s prosecution.And I want you to know that your rights don’t end when wars start,” she said.
“Women’s rights don’t end when wars start. Your bodies are not (a) battlefield and should never be treated as part of the battlefield.”
Interventions and help
Ms Patten and Ms Stefanishyna signed a cooperation framework on Tuesday that supports the design and implementation of priority interventions in the field of justice and accountability as a central pillar of deterrence and prevention.
The agreement also covers comprehensive survivor services, including sexual and reproductive health services, medical and specialist mental health services, legal assistance and livelihood support.
In response to a reporter’s question, Ms Stefanishyna described sexual assaults committed in war as “one of the most silent crimes”, emphasizing that it is difficult to gather information on exact figures.
“Today we have started collecting this information with the help of volunteers, working with medical facilities and documenting these cases outside the criminal proceedings,” she said through an interpreter.
Ms Patten added that: “we cannot expect to have accurate accounting on an active battlefield”, emphasizes that it does not wait for hard data and statistics.
Services for men and boys
While sexual violence is most often committed against women and girls, Ms. Patten has also received reports of cases involving men and boys in Ukraine, which the UN has not yet verified.
“I work with the various UN agencies to ensure there are services adapted to the needs of men and boys, as I have noticed everywhere in many conflict situations that there is a lack of services adapted to the needs of men and boys,” she said.
Prevent human trafficking
The framework with the Ukrainian authorities also includes gender-sensitive security sector reforms, as well as: prevention of conflict-related human traffickingamid increasing displacement.
More than five million people have fled Ukraine since the war started just over two months ago, causing the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.
“It is a fact that conflict increases vulnerability to human trafficking, and human trafficking of Ukrainian women can be a dangerous by-product of this conflict-fueled refugee crisis,” said Ms Patten, stressing the crucial need for mitigation measures.
Save no effort
The UN official also responded to questions about “extremely disturbing” reports of Ukrainian women being raped before being murdered. She has met with the country’s attorney general and said there is “solid” forensic evidence of such incidents.
“This is very serious, and the United Nations, through this framework of cooperation that we have signed, will spare no effort to bring perpetrators to justice,” she said.
Ms Patten acknowledged that prosecution of cases of sexual assault committed in war poses challenges, stating that it is “never easy”.
She covered her meeting with several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ukraine who have shared anecdotal reports.
“An NGO representative referred to cases where the perpetrator was wearing a mask, making identification extremely difficult,” she said.
Ms. Patten stated that: “Whatever reports come up, they can only represent the tip of the iceberg,” emphasizes the need to pay attention to reporting.
In this regard, she has also held talks with the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights, which could set up ‘hubs’ across Ukraine where people can report cases of sexual assault and also receive medical, psychological and other support.
Having these safe spaces available would also prevent the people who lack the required skills from interviewing victims, which carries the enormous risk of re-traumatization and re-victimization.
“We need to learn lessons from the other conflicts where this has been the case, with victims being interviewed more than 10 times, 15 times, with all the inconsistencies in the reports making their case untenable in a court of law,” she said.
“Every war we say ‘never again’. I think this time we have to say, ‘never again’ and mean it, and take the necessary measures to do justice to these victims of sexual violence.”
The world is watching
The mandate of the UN Special Representative was established more than a decade ago by the Security Council to address conflict-related sexual violence as a matter of peace and security.
International human law makes it clear that even wars have limits, Ms Patten said, and sexual violence is beyond the reach of acceptable behavior, even in the midst of a fight.
†Wartime rape can no longer be dismissed as an inevitable by-product of war. It must be recognized by all parties as a crime that can be prevented and punished,” she said.
While she was deeply concerned about what she called “the incentive effects of impunity,” Ms Patten said it was “critical for all actors and parties to know that the world is watching.”