Allegations of Putin’s troops perpetrating conflict-related sexual violence have been circulating ever since the early days of Putin’s attack on Ukraine. During her visit to the U.K., including addressing the Ministerial Conference on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), First Lady Olena Zelenska has been raising the situation of women and girls in Ukraine as a result of Putin’s war, the issue of rape and sexual violence used as a weapon of war by Russia, “a type of weapon with which they fight against Ukraine and our people.” As Ukraine’s First Lady said during the conference, sexual violence is being used “systematically and openly” and the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine has documented more than 100 cases of sexual violence, with the youngest victim being only 4 years old, and the oldest over 80. However, as Olena Zelenska stressed, “these are only those cases where the victims found the strength to testify.”
Russian soldiers stand accused of perpetrating conflict-related sexual violence across many regions, including Mariupol, Kerson, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, and many more. As of June 3, 2022, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has received reports of 124 acts of conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine. The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine confirmed that “some Russian Federation soldiers committed sexual and gender-based violence crimes. (…) The age of victims of sexual and gendered-based violence ranged from four to 82 years. The Commission had further documented cases in which children had been raped, tortured, unlawfully confined, killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks with explosive weapons. Exposure to repeated explosions, crimes, forced displacement and separation from family members deeply affected their well-being and mental health.”
The atrocities are to be investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. Some steps in this direction have already been taken by the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. Several States and non-state actors are also involved.
In December 2022, Global Rights Compliance, a non-governmental organization and a law firm, established “Sexual Violence Mobile Justice Team” (the Team) on the ground in Ukraine to build expertise and infrastructure within Ukraine, to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators, and deliver justice for victims. According to a statement from the Global Rights Compliance, “the Sexual Violence Mobile Justice Team is formed of international and Ukrainian leading prosecutors and investigators who can rapidly deploy around the country to assist Ukraine’s investigators and prosecutors, advise and support the documentation, investigation and prosecution of rape and other horrific sexual crimes committed by Russian soldiers.” The Team is supported by the U.K., the U.S., and the European Union, and is formed of international and Ukrainian leading prosecutors and investigators.
Global Rights Compliance reported that among the evidence they collected, “one mother (…) reported to the Sexual Violence Mobile Justice Team that she was raped while her 5-year old child was in the next-door room. It’s suspected that another Russian soldier attempted to rape her child orally. In another village, Russian soldiers herded women into a basement, with the intention of raping them one by one.” It further added that “some perpetrators appear to include convicted murderers and sex offenders who have been conscripted in exchange for pardons from President Putin.”
As more evidence of atrocities in Ukraine is brought to light, including of conflict-related sexual violence, it is crucial to ensure that there are comprehensive mechanisms that will assist with the collection and preservations of the evidence and for the evidence to be then used to prosecute the perpetrators. Ukrainian courts will need assistance with it as the number of Russian crimes reported in Ukraine is ever growing and will put the Ukrainian judiciary to its limits.
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