Second Part of the United4Justice Conference Dedicated to CRSV Crimes Was Held with the Support of the EU Project Pravo-Justice

On May 22, the second part of the U4J: Respect. Support. Justice conference, dedicated to conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV crimes), took place with the support of the EU Project Pravo-Justice, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and the Council of Europe.

The event was attended by heads of ministries, senior officials of the state judicial administration, management and representatives of non-governmental organizations, and representatives of law enforcement agencies.

Thus, Prosecutor General of Ukraine Andrii Kostin stated that terror against the civilian population, torture, ill-treatment, and sexual violence are weapons that the Russian Federation uses every day in Ukraine.

“This is the true face of the so-called “Russian world”. We saw it full force for the first time in the de-occupied Kyiv region last year, and today we continue seeing the same in all territories liberated from the occupier. Thus, we consider the systemic nature of these crimes as signs of a planned policy of extermination of the Ukrainian people, as genocide,” said Kostin.

According to him, CRSV crimes are, probably, the most difficult to investigate. They require delicate work with victims and witnesses.

“Unfortunately, due to the sensitive nature of these crimes, the prejudices that still exist in our society and, again, the traditional distrust of the state and law enforcement agencies, people are afraid to report what the invaders did to them. Our common goal is to change this, restore trust and justice. We have been working on this for almost a year; in particular, with the support of our international partners, we are implementing the human-centered principles of the Murad Code, global code of conduct on the principles of information gathering on CRSV crimes. The first developments are already available,” said the Prosecutor General of Ukraine.

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Khan emphasized, referring to the Nuremberg trials, that terrible crimes are committed by specific individuals – not some abstract bodies or institutions.

“That is why it is extremely important to make sure that those guilty are punished, because this is the only way to demonstrate our zero tolerance for those terrible crimes and violence that are currently being committed in the Ukrainian territory,” stressed Prosecutor Khan.

In his opinion, it is extremely important to create conditions which would not only facilitate investigators to collect evidence, but also enable prosecutors to use it, while observing human rights and guaranteeing proper support to victims and witnesses of such crimes.

“The ICC office is making efforts to overcome the consequences of CRSV in various countries. At the end of last year, a new policy framework for combatting CRSV was adopted containing the guidelines that were designed to optimize the investigation and subsequent court proceedings regarding [such] crimes,” said the ICC Prosecutor.

In the meantime, Oksana Tsymbrivska, Country Manager of the EU Project Pravo-Justice, noted that in order to overcome the consequences of CRSV and ensure the punishment of those guilty, it was necessary to unite efforts at all levels.

“Victims of CRSV are witnesses who can often identify their offender. Therefore, it is extremely important that law enforcement agencies act with the utmost fairness, respect and in accordance with modern human-oriented practices. Having this in place, victims will be able to trust in law enforcement officers and testify against their abusers. This is critical for bringing the culprits to justice,” she said.

Oksana Tsymbrivska also drew attention to the fact that CRSV is the most concealed crime. “No one knows for sure the real scale of sexual violence committed in Ukraine after the full-scale invasion... One of the main reasons for this is public prejudice against the victims, which leads to situations where victims and witnesses remain silent for months or even years... The experience has been that it takes a long time to change prejudices and stereotypes about victims”, emphasized the Country Manager of the EU Project Pravo-Justice.

For her part, Vice-Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna said that the State should provide assistance to all those who needed it. She said that over the year since the Ukrainian Government – UN Memorandum of Cooperation is in place regarding the prevention and counteraction to conflict-related sexual violence, an effective mechanism of prompt and comprehensive response to crimes of violence has been implemented.

“Over the course of a year, we opened centers in Kyiv, Lviv, Mukachevo, Zaporizhia, Kharkiv, Kherson, Poltava, Chernivtsi, Odesa, and Kropyvnytskyi. We heard dozens of stories. It is not always about sexual violence, but also about torture and other crimes... We currently continue creating such centers abroad, in countries which hosted the largest number of temporarily displaced Ukrainians. This is an important step for collecting and accumulating information for law enforcement agencies, and ultimately – restoring justice and holding the guilty ones liable,” said Olha Stefanishyna.

Deputy Prime Minister – Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk touched upon the issue of sexual violence suffered by Ukrainian prisoners of war.

“If a woman or a man who has survived sexual violence in captivity is ready to talk about it, almost 99% of them will not do it publicly. Especially when it comes to men. This is an immense problem... All the recommendations on how to work with such people are correct, but there will always be a human factor. We have to develop our own professional experience-based approach, so that a person can confide after being liberated from captivity; talk to a psychologist, and then to an investigator [and tell them about what they have been through]. It is very traumatizing, and each individual case shall be approached with great care in order not to harm, in order to avoid any roll back”, stressed Iryna Vereshchuk.

In addition, Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar reported on the specifics of informing the military about CRSV crimes.

“We are not currently talking about regular sexual crimes – but about international crimes committed by the aggressor in our territory in respect of our people... In the given circumstances, this is also an act of domination by some troops over others. This is an act of humiliation in order to demoralize society and bring down our resistance... Each Russian soldier will bear responsibility for each and every such crime,” said Hanna Maliar.

She also informed about the statistics maintained by the Ministry of Defense regarding all servicemen returned from captivity. “Among them, 23% of women told that they knew about facts of sexual violence committed against Ukrainian citizens who were in captivity in the enemy territory. That was also reported by 15% of men,” she said.

Valeriia Kolomiiets, Deputy Minister of Justice, also intervened before the participants to the event. In particular, she talked about how to ensure the provision of high-quality legal aid by FLA lawyers to victims of CRSV crimes.

“The Ministry of Justice and the Coordination Center for Free Legal Aid care not only about providing support, but also about disseminating information about the possibility of obtaining legal aid is very important...

A decision was made recently and the agreement was signed on the Register of Damages Caused by the Russian Federation. In particular, the CRSV victims and the damage inflicted to them will also be recorded in this Register,” said Valeriia Kolomiiets.

According to her, all victims will have legal, psychological, and law enforcement support on the way. “A prosecutor will never replace a psychotherapist for a CRSV victim; just as a psychotherapist will never replace a lawyer who will accompany such a person starting from the first interview and until the final verdict against the offender is issued,” she said.