Sexual Violence ‘Most Hidden Crime’ Being Committed against Ukrainians, Civil Society Representative Tells Security Council
Allegations of sexual violence by Russian troops in Ukraine are mounting as the conflict passes its 100-day mark, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today, voicing regret over a stark discrepancy between that painful reality and the global community’s ambition to end the use of rape as a tactic of war.
Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, recalled her recent visit to Ukraine and outlined the elements of a recently signed framework of cooperation on the prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence, which seeks to strengthen accountability and combat those abhorrent crimes. “Too often have the needs of women and girls in conflict settings been side-lined and treated as an afterthought,” she said, welcoming that the newly signed framework makes them an explicit priority.
Recalling the Council’s many resolutions — backed up by international law — prohibiting the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war, she noted the gaping chasm between those commitments and the situation of many women around the world. “Painfully, my visit cast into stark relief the gap that still exists between the aspiration of prevention expressed by this Council through the robust normative framework that has been established over the past decade and the reality on the ground for the most vulnerable,” she said. As of 3 June, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had received reports of 124 alleged acts of conflict-related sexual across Ukraine — mostly against women and girls — and a national hotline had received reports of crimes ranging from gang rape to coercion to watch an act of sexual violence committed against a partner or a child.
Against that backdrop, she urged humanitarian actors to prioritize support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence as a life-saving component of their work and warned against waiting to act. “We do not need hard data for a scaled-up humanitarian response, nor for all parties to put in place preventive measures,” she stressed, detailing the provisions of the recently signed framework — which seeks to strengthen cooperation between those working to combat and deter sexual violence in Ukraine and reduce the risk posed by human traffickers — and calling for the international community’s steadfast support.
Natalia Karbowska, Co-Founder and Director of Strategic Development for the Ukrainian Women’s Fund, recounted her organization’s efforts to provide food, medicine and other support to Ukrainian women whose lives were destroyed by the Russian Federation’s invasion. Describing sexual violence as “the most hidden crime”, she noted that for every girl or woman who is willing to tell her story, there are many others who will be silent for years. The Russian Federation is using sexual violence and rape as instruments of terror to control civilians, she said. Although the full scale of conflict-related sexual violence is not yet known, human rights activists and law enforcement agencies estimate that hundreds of cases have been committed not just against women and girls, but also men and boys and people of other gender identities, she said.
Also briefing the Council was Sherrie Rollins Westin, President of the non-profit organization Sesame Workshop, who said her group supports children and caregivers affected by conflicts and crises around the globe. Urging the international community to prioritize caregivers and young children in their humanitarian response, she said the latter have the most to lose, as their brains are developing faster than at any time in their lives. Exposure to traumatic events can have lasting impacts on their health, cognitive development and emotional stability. “Right now, children are experiencing the kind of exposure to trauma and stress that has the potential to derail their lives,” she warned. Against that backdrop, she urged the humanitarian community to build interventions to support young children into their work — including mental health services, quality early childhood education and help for caregivers — and pointed out that less than 3 per cent of humanitarian funding currently goes to such crucial programmes.
As Council members took the floor, many expressed support for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General’s framework of cooperation, and called for an urgent end to the use of rape and other sexual crimes as tactics of war — both in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world.
Brazil’s representative reiterated his country’s call for urgent, independent investigations of all reports of sexual violence being committed in Ukraine, emphasizing that perpetrators — be they agents of the State or not — must be held accountable. Also noting that human traffickers and criminal networks may be taking advantage of the conflict to exploit women and children, he said States have a duty to prevent predatory individuals and criminal organizations from profiting from the situation. “This Council has already failed in preventing the outbreak of the conflict and in ensuring the cessation of hostilities — it must not fail in repudiating sexual crimes and human trafficking,” he stressed.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates said that, even before the crisis in Ukraine, the world was already in the midst of the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. Some 28.7 million women and girls around the world were in a condition of forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage and slavery, with millions of displaced persons in the Middle East at the epicentre of the crisis. Commending the recently signed framework, she urged the Council to keep “top of mind” the conflict’s knock-on effects on global food security, and to pursue the only true path towards ending conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine — namely, a diplomatic resolution of the conflict.
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, said sexual and gender-based violence remains a global threat faced by women across the world. In its own neighbourhood, the European Union stands committed to protecting all those seeking refuge from the fighting in Ukraine — largely women and children — and to providing them with education, health care and access to the labour market. He also described Moscow’s attempts to use food supplies as a “stealth missile against developing countries”, emphasizing that the Union has “zero” sanctions against the Russian Federation’s agricultural sector, and does not prevent it from transporting grain, food or fertilizers.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s delegate voiced grave concern about the fate of some 1 million Ukrainians, including children, who have been forcibly removed to the Russian Federation and are being turned into Russian citizens. Calling on the international community to do more to protect them, he also cited numerous allegations of sexual crimes committed by Russian troops, with the bodies of those tortured or raped burned to hide evidence. Welcoming the Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry’s visit to Ukraine to gather first-hand information, he went on to note that Kyiv is ready to resume food exports from Odessa to the rest of the world. However, efforts are needed to prevent the Russian Federation from exploiting those operations, he said, also cautioning that any concessions advised by Ukraine’s well-meaning partners would only lead to more war.
For his part, the representative of the Russian Federation criticized Ukraine and Western members of the Council for ratcheting up accusations — levelled without evidence — of sexual crimes committed by Russian troops. Unlike those baseless accusations, he provided numerous “concrete examples” of crimes by Ukrainian nationalists, including a threatened rape and shooting committed by a Ukrainian senior lieutenant against a couple in Mariupol. In recent years, Ukraine has risen to the top five countries in Europe with the most victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. On another matter, he noted the stated intention of the United States and the United Kingdom to supply long-range artillery and multiple launch rocket systems to Ukraine, describing promises that Kyiv will not use such weapons against targets in Russian territory as “unconvincing”.
Also speaking were representatives of France, Mexico, United States, China, Ghana, Norway, India, United Kingdom, Gabon, Kenya, Ireland, Albania, Italy, Latvia (on behalf of the Baltic States), Germany, Poland and Slovakia.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 12:58 p.m.
PRAMILA PATTEN, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, briefing the Security Council via videoconference, recalled her visit to Ukraine in early May. “Painfully, my visit cast into stark relief the gap that still exists between the aspiration of prevention expressed by this Council through the robust normative framework that has been established over the past decade, and the reality on the ground for the most vulnerable,” she said. While the Council’s commitment is unequivocal, and its resolutions make clear that even wars have limits, allegations of sexual violence are mounting as the conflict passes its 100-day mark.
Noting that she has issued three public statements since the war broke out in February — “to ensure that this issue is not shrouded in silence or normalized by impunity” — she said she has also urged all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians from sexual violence, including those displaced internally and across national borders. She also called for swift and rigorous investigations that ensure accountability as a central pillar of deterrence, prevention and non-repetition, “because the failure to acknowledge and investigate such crimes is the surest sign that violations will continue unabated”. At the same time, it is essential that humanitarian actors prioritize support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence as a life-saving component of their work.
Stressing that victims are often unable or unwilling to report to law enforcement authorities, she also spotlighted the steep reduction in functioning service providers, such as maternity hospitals. As of 3 June, the Human Rights Monitoring Team of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had received reports of 124 alleged acts of conflict-related sexual violence, occurring against women, girls, men and boys in various Ukrainian cities and regions. Women and girls constitute most of the alleged victims, while some reporting instances of sexual violence were also men and boys. Verification of cases is ongoing, and a national hotline on domestic violence, human trafficking and gender-based discrimination has been set up. To date, it has received reports of rape, gang rape, pregnancy following rape, attempted rape, threats of rape, coercion to watch an act of sexual violence committed against a partner or a child, and forced nudity.
Warning against waiting too long to act, she declared: “An active battleground is never conducive to accurate ‘book-keeping’ […] if we wait for hard data and statistics, it will always be too late.” The international community must mobilize immediately on the basis of its common conviction that even one case of sexual violence is unacceptable. “We do not need hard data for a scaled-up humanitarian response, nor for all parties to put in place preventive measures,” she stressed, commending the leadership of the Ukrainian authorities in their agreement of a framework of cooperation with the United Nations on the Prevention and Response to Conflict Related Sexual Violence, which was signed by Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna on 3 May. That framework will serve as the basis for a comprehensive and multifaceted preventive and service response, as well as the more effective coordination of all stakeholders, including United Nations agencies.
She went on to outline five critical areas of the framework. First, strengthening rule of law and accountability as a central aspect of deterrence and prevention of crimes of sexual violence. Second, strengthening the capacity of the security and defence sector to prevent sexual violence. Third, ensuring that survivors of sexual violence, as well as their children, have access to comprehensive services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychological, legal, socioeconomic services and reintegration support. Fourth, looking ahead to ongoing and future negotiations for cessation of hostilities, ensuring that sexual violence is addressed in the framework of any ceasefire agreement, and ensuring that amnesties for sexual violence crimes are explicitly prohibited. And fifth, addressing conflict-related trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation or prostitution.
“Too often have the needs of women and girls in conflict settings [have] been side-lined and treated as an afterthought,” she said, welcoming that the framework of cooperation makes them an explicit priority. Calling on the Council and the international donor community to stand in solidarity with Ukrainian authorities and the United Nations entities to support its implementation, she noted that she recently had the opportunity to debrief the Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations on her visit to Ukraine. At that meeting, she emphasized that her Office is at the disposal of all parties to the conflict to support the implementation of preventive measures that mitigate the acute risks of conflict-related sexual violence. “I look forward to further consultation with the Mission […] on possible modalities for cooperation in this sphere, including the facilitation of access to areas not under Ukrainian Government control,” she said.
Drawing the Council’s attention to the trafficking dimension of the conflict in particular, she recalled her visits to reception centres at border crossing points in Poland and the Republic of Moldova and praised the outpouring of support for those fleeing Ukraine. However, the protection challenges facing the nearly 6.8 million people who have crossed that country’s borders are also unprecedented. From the outset of the conflict, heightened risks of trafficking in persons — including for purposes of sexual exploitation and prostitution — have been alarmingly evident. The lack of consistent vetting of accommodation offers and transportation arrangements is a serious concern, as well as the limited capacity of protection services to address the velocity and volume of displacement. There are also concerns regarding the multiplicity of volunteers, with limited vetting, and little or no training or experience.
She illustrated those challenges with several examples, emphasizing that it remains critical to ensure that effective protection systems are in place in all transit and destination countries, and at all border crossings. Strengthening the overall response to trafficking is a critical aspect of the framework, which will also require a coherent and coordinated response at the level of European institutions. That entails a concerted, integrated and holistic cross-border response by humanitarian partners, law enforcement agencies, border forces, immigration officials and political leaders. “A regional compact is urgently required,” she stressed, welcoming the presence of the President of the European Union, Charles Michel, in the Council Chamber. She also acknowledged that even as the Council focuses on Ukraine members must also ensure that victims in conflicts from Yemen to Myanmar to northern Ethiopia are not forgotten and resources are not drained or diverted.
NATALIA KARBOWSKA, Co-Founder and Director of Strategic Development, Ukrainian Women’s Fund, said her voice represents those of her organization which has been working on supporting women in Ukraine for 22 years, as well as those of hundreds of other women’s groups working around the clock supporting women, providing food and medicine, healing the trauma and giving them the strength to continue living. When the war started, she said that she was in a meeting discussing localization of a national action plan on implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). The war showed that the women, peace and security agenda is more relevant today than ever before. It has a new meaning: security of each and every woman is security of the whole country. No one can feel safe when sexual violence and rape are taking place in their community. Women’s organizations are usually the first ones that women who experienced sexual violence approach. They provide psychological assistance and, together with law enforcement agencies, document the cases and support investigation processes.
“Sexual violence in this war is the most hidden crime,” she pointed out, noting that for every girl or woman who is willing to tell her story, there are many others who will be silent for years. “The Russian Federation is using sexual violence and rape as terror to control civilians at the temporary occupied territories,” she said. Although the full scale of conflict-related sexual violence is not yet known, human rights activists and law enforcement agencies estimate that hundreds of cases have been committed, not just against women and girls, but also men and boys and people of other gender identities, and of all ages. She asked why the Russian Federation still sits on the Security Council and why it participates in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
But as the war continues, Ukrainian women refugees need more permanent housing and work. The situation opens new risks for sexual and labour exploitation, she continued, recalling “stories of women and children who were forced to go to Russia by Russian troops — through the so-called filtration camps.” She said she met a 16-year-old boy from Mariupol whose mother was brutally taken to such a camp and that no one knew what happened to her. “There are hundreds of stories like this. How is this called? Trafficking? Slavery? Terror and crime,” she said, noting that the Russian Federation is “using war crimes as a weapon”. Resolution 1325 (2000) remains a powerful instrument, however there is a need to create new tools that will make it work properly at different levels, and most importantly, for women on the ground. She urged the Council to develop such instruments, keep pressure with sanctions, and continue providing military and humanitarian support.
SHERRIE ROLLINS WESTIN, President of the non-profit organization Sesame Workshop, said her group supports children and caregivers affected by conflicts and crises around the globe. “In Ukraine, the gender dimensions of the crisis are particularly pronounced,” she said, noting that most victims of atrocities in the current conflict are women and children. Urging the international community to prioritize caregivers and young children in their humanitarian response, she said the latter have the most to lose as their brains are developing faster than at any times in their lives. Any exposure to traumatic events can have lasting impacts on their health, cognitive development and emotional stability. “Right now, children are experiencing the kind of exposure to trauma and stress that has the potential to derail their lives,” she warned.
Thankfully, she said, the global community already has the tools to assist young children in Ukraine, which can be built directly into their responses. First, they should directly provide mental health and psychosocial support as a first-line humanitarian intervention. Second, they should invest in quality early childhood education and support, which have been proven to reduce the impacts of trauma and conflict-related stress. Outlining similar work that Sesame Workshop is already doing with refugee children in Jordan — and which does not impose additional cost burdens on humanitarian responses — she went on to stress that caregivers also must not be forgotten as they work to provide children in Ukraine with the urgent support they need. Currently, less than 3 per cent of humanitarian funding is allocated to such early childhood interventions, she said, calling for its rapid scaling up and emphasizing that any hope for a prosperous and peaceful future depends on support provided to children today.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said that the sanctions adopted by the European Union have the sole objective of bringing Moscow to return to respecting the Charter of the United Nations. Expressing outrage at the many credible allegations of sexual violence, he urged all members to be “the guarantors of the resolutions of this Council on sexual violence”. France fully supports the action of the United Nations on the ground to discover the facts, and it provided Ukraine with expertise to collect evidence and establish accountability. Expressing support for the United Nations action to prevent the risk of trafficking and smuggling of human beings, he applauded the efforts of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to provide services essential for victims of violence. “There can be no lasting peace without the full participation of women,” he stressed.
ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico) said that 90 per cent of people who have left the country are women and children, and 60 per cent of the internally displaced persons are also women. This makes it clear that this conflict has an inescapable gender component. Ms. Patten shared the reports about Ukrainian women who were raped and subsequently murdered. It is a priority to carry out the investigations of alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of international humanitarian law. Her country follows closely the ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office and by the Independent Commission of Inquiry by the Human Rights Council. Welcoming the signing of a cooperation framework between the United Nations and Ukraine on the prevention and response to sexual violence related to conflicts, she called for the continued collection of evidence and disaggregated data on sexual and gender-based violence.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said the “mountain” of horrific reports of sexual violence committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine is growing every day. Ukrainian authorities have reported rapes and the subsequent killings of Ukrainian women by Russian Federation troops, and imagery now confirms the presence of mass graves in the town of Bucha. There are also indications that individuals have been tortured and killed execution-style, and multiple reports by survivors show that such terrible acts were committed in front of children. “These are bone-chilling accounts,” she said, adding that women and girls are also particularly at risk of trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation. “Council members, we cannot stay silent,” she stressed, calling for justice for victims. Responsibility starts first and foremost with the Russian Federation, which must ensure that its forces and proxy forces adhere to the terms of Council resolution 1820 (2008), which recognized that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Meanwhile, the rest of the international community should support the framework agreement signed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the Ukrainian authorities. The Commission of Inquiry launched by the Human Rights Council can also work “to ensure Russia does not get away with hiding atrocities”, she said, noting that all that support requires resources.
DAI BING (China) said the conflict has taken a heavy toll on Ukrainian women and children, and all the parties must take measures to protect civilians and ensure that hospitals and other critical civilian facilities are protected from attacks. Welcoming the framework agreement signed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the Ukrainian authorities in May, he said the use of sexual violence as a tool of war is a serious crime and any allegations should be investigated in an impartial manner that is based on facts. The growing numbers of cases of human trafficking and sexual exploitation and abuse are disturbing, and more international action must be taken to investigate, prevent and address them. Meanwhile, United Nations agencies should strengthen their monitoring and analysis to combat such crimes against refugees. Only through a ceasefire and the restoration of peace can the trauma facing Ukrainian women and children be fully avoided, he said, calling on the international community to do more to bring the parties back to the path of peace. In that vein, he voiced his hope that the upcoming meeting between the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the United Nations and Türkiye will pave the way for a ceasefire, and warned that sanctions and the further strengthening of military blocs will not help ease the crisis.
CAROLYN ABENA ANIMA OPPONG-NTIRI (Ghana) said that the international community must ensure that prevention, accountability and a survivor-centred approach, which are at the heart of resolution 2467 (2019), are not reduced to mere rhetoric but are translated into real and tangible action on the ground. Condemning all acts of sexual violence and human trafficking in Ukraine, including as a weapon of war, she expressed support for all ongoing accountability efforts, including investigations by the Ukraine authorities, civil society groups and the International Criminal Court. She voiced support for global calls to designate such acts as war crimes and submit that conflict-related sexual violence and human trafficking should be treated as a basis for targeted sanctions against culpable actors.
TRINE HEIMERBACK (Norway) stressed that Moscow’s war against Ukraine has a gendered impact, affecting women and men, girls and boys, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons (LGBTI) community. Attacks on health-care institutions and staff are denying people safe access to sexual and reproductive health services, she said, also pointing to the high number of survivor accounts of rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence as well as trafficking. Noting that her country has increased support to UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and other humanitarian actors, she underlined the importance of gender and age differentiated responses to civilian populations, including Ukrainian internally displaced persons and refugees, and stressed the need to ensure child protection services. First and foremost is to prevent sexual and gender-based violence, including trafficking, from happening, she said, noting that engaging and supporting women human rights defenders and civil society is key. Emphasizing a survivor-centred approach, she underlined the critical importance of strong and independent human rights institutions and accountability mechanisms in Ukraine.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) took note with great concern of reports of alleged cases of sexual violence directed against women and girls in the context of the conflict in Ukraine. Reiterating his calls for urgent independent investigations, he said the use of gender-based violence as a weapon of war, as well as a tool of intimidation and social control in conflict situations, is unacceptable. Perpetrators — be they agents of the State or not — must be held accountable. Also noting that human traffickers and criminal networks may be taking advantage of the conflict to exploit women and children, he said States have a duty to prevent predatory individuals and criminal organizations from profiting from the situation. The international community should employ effective strategies to reduce unsafe and irregular routes, and to promote the sustainable and safe legal pathways for those in need of protection, he said, noting that Brazil has introduced special humanitarian visas for Ukrainian nationals and stateless persons affected by the conflict in Ukraine. “This Council has already failed in preventing the outbreak of the conflict and in ensuring the cessation of hostilities — it must not fail in repudiating sexual crimes and human trafficking,” he stressed.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India), stressing that national Governments have the important responsibility for prosecuting and deterring crimes such as sexual violence in conflict situations, noted that the United Nations must assist with capabilities development to strengthen national legal frameworks and related structures to that end. Noting his country’s support for effective cooperation and appropriate mechanisms to combat illegal migration and human trafficking, he also called for resumption of talks between Ukraine and the Russian Federation to end the conflict. He went on to note the broader regional and global implications of the conflict, pointing to the increasing oil prices and shortage of food grains and fertilizers. Noting that his country had announced some measures that allow for wheat exports based on approvals to those countries who are required to meet their food security demands, he highlighted the importance of equity, affordability and accessibility to food grains.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) expressed worries about allegations of sexual violence against women and children, also recognizing various efforts of the United Nations — including Ms. Patten’s office, UNFPA and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) — to support the victims and curb threats of human trafficking. All parties to conflict must abide by the obligation of protecting civilians. Sexual violence is a threat to security on its own right. Criminal networks must be cut off at the root. Noting that Africans fleeing Ukraine are being discriminated, he said ordeals suffered by them should not be forgotten. The most effective means to end sexual violence and human trafficking is to put an end to the conflict.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya) condemned the violations of international law “and the most basic human decency” ongoing against women and children in Ukraine. All military commanders must ensure that those responsible for such atrocities are held to account, and soldiers should be subject to severe discipline for abusing civilians or captured combatants. Political leaders should also be aware that ideological labelling against entire populations increases the risks that rank-and-file soldiers will commit atrocities. He urged United Nations agencies and partners to do their utmost to deliver medical and psychosocial support to the survivors of sexual violence and trafficking, adding that more should also be done to ensure humanitarian corridors and safety from military targeting for the millions in besieged areas. He joined others in commending the signing of the framework agreement with Ukrainian authorities and praised the role of women as fighters and agents of change in that country. However, he also reiterated the plight of Africans trapped in the war, citing reports of discrimination against people of African descent who are seeking to flee to other European cities, and raised the issue of food insecurity stemming from the war that is seriously disrupting supply chains and impacting people in the global South.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) said before the latest crisis in Ukraine, the world was already in the midst of the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. Some 28.7 million women and girls around the world were in a condition of forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage and slavery, with millions of displaced persons in the Middle East at the epicentre of the crisis. “The conflict in Ukraine is therefore making an already horrifying global crisis worse,” she said. Commending the framework of cooperation signed recently, she also voiced support for the Special Representative’s plan to deploy an expert on trafficking to cooperate with authorities in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries and noted the call for a regional compact as well as the Council’s support. Initiatives like the “Rapid Gender Analysis”, carried out by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and CARE International, can guide a better and more tailored response to the needs of Ukrainian women and girls. The Council must also keep the knock-on effects of global food insecurity at top of mind and pursue the only true way to end conflict-related sexual violence and trafficking in Ukraine — namely, a diplomatic resolution of the conflict.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), recalling the fallout of the war against Ukraine, including conflict-related sexual violence and human trafficking, noted that over 15 million people have now fled their homes, the vast majority of them being women and children. “This speed and scale of displacement is unheard of in modern times,” she said. Raising the alarm about human trafficking, she pointed out the increased vulnerability of marginalized groups, unaccompanied children and those with disabilities, calling for rigorous vetting and registration procedures in place to prevent exploitation and protection against trafficking. Ireland has sought to mitigate such risks in welcoming more than 30,000 Ukrainians to the country, she noted. Pointing to horrifying reports of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian Federation soldiers, she stressed that rape is not an inevitable by-product of war, but an act which may constitute a war crime. Calling on the international community to do more and ensure accountability, she stressed that survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and of trafficking deserve protection and assistance.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) criticized Ukraine and Western members of the Council for ratcheting up accusations that his country’s military service personnel were committing crimes of a sexual nature. It has become their favourite tactic since the start of his country’s special military operation. Russian soldiers were accused of sexual violence without evidence. In Kherson, for example, the authorities reported that there is no evidence that the Russian army committed sexual violence against 11 female residents, as was reported by several dubious Internet platforms. “The new hero who was reported by media as having been raped and killed by the Russian army,” he said, noting that she herself admitted that she was absolutely fine and said it was something to do with a strange photography session. While the opponents make baseless accusations, he said he will provide “concrete examples” of crimes by Ukrainian nationalists. Ukraine Senior Lieutenant Sergei Batynsky committed a monstrous crime. In Mariupol, Mr. Batynsky detained a civilian couple in the basement. Later, Mr. Batynsky, drunk, threatened to rape the wife in the presence of her husband. When the husband tried to stop it, Mr. Batynsky shot him in front of his wife. Mr. Batynsky personally confessed to this in a video interview, which is widely available. He went on listing several other examples.
He said that in recent years, Ukraine has been among the top five countries in terms of the number of victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Europe. In Las Vegas, posters emerged, inviting Ukrainian strippers to a casting session. In Germany, fast food chain KFC in its advertising said that “we are happy to welcome all the chicks from Ukraine”. Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg. These show how big the threat of sexual exploitation is for Ukrainian refugees in the West. He insisted that upholding the norms of humanitarian law is a top priority for the Russian army. Taking note of the intention of the United States and the United Kingdom to supply long-range artillery and multiple launch rocket systems to Ukraine, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement that Kyiv will not use American multiple launch rocket systems against targets in the territories of the Russian Federation does not sound convincing. The Russian Federation reserves the right to move the line of threat from neo-Nazi posts in the republics of Donbas to include the distance of a possible range of ammunition, but also to strike at the centres where decisions about the use of such weapons are made.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), Council President for the month, speaking in his national capacity, cited reports that thousands of children had been deported to the Russian Federation and were being held in filtration camps. He called for full clarity and an independent investigation on this issue as international humanitarian law classifies the forced mass deportation of people during a conflict as a war crime. There have been multiple reports and accounts of Russian soldiers raping women after breaking down the doors of cellars and basements where they were sheltering with their families. Some of these despicable actions have taken place in front of their children. “What was discovered in Bucha and Irpin raises concerns for the safety of women and girls in other Russian occupied towns cut off from the outside world,” he said, reiterating his call for a detailed investigation on what amounts to a systematic element in attacks on civilians committed by soldiers. Conflict-related sexual violence is a despicable act, it is a war crime. Reports are showing that there is a high risk of trafficking for sexual exploitation at borders, especially for children and young women often not accompanied by other family members. Greater collaboration is needed with border agencies and Government partners to strengthen prevention mechanisms. “Let’s help Ukrainians, particularly women and girls, go from nightmares to normal lives, to dreams. Only Russian Federation tanks and soldiers stand in their way. This war should have never started. It must stop,” he concluded.
SERGIY KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine) reiterated the urgent need to resolve the problem of the Russian Federation’s continued “squatting” in the former permanent seat of the Soviet Union — “the sooner the better” — as Moscow’s latest aggression threatens the very international peace and security the Council is meant to protect. The savage cruelty of Russian invaders has turned the lives of countless Ukrainians into a nightmare, with nearly 12 million people now internally displaced. Voicing concern about the fate of some 1 million Ukrainians, including children, who have been forcibly removed to the Russian Federation, he said the decision to expedite their Russian citizenship defies international law and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moscow refuses to provide any information on those forcibly transported to Russian territory, who are at real risk of trafficking or sexual exploitation and abuse. Calling on the international community to do more to protect them, he also drew attention to numerous allegations of crimes committed by the invaders — recorded in various Ukrainian cities and regions — with both minors and elderly persons falling victim to sexual crimes committed by Russian troops and the bodies of those tortured or raped burned to hide evidence.
Welcoming the Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry’s visit to several locations in Ukraine to meet with victims and witnesses and gather first-hand information, he went on to note that Ukraine is ready to resume food exports from the port of Odessa to the rest of the world. However, efforts must be taken to prevent the Russian Federation from exploiting those operations, he said, stressing that Moscow’s promises not to attack trade routes are as credible as his assurances that it would not invade Ukraine in the first place. As a first step, the Russian Federation must withdraw its naval forces from maritime waters around Ukraine. Meanwhile, he cautioned that any concessions advised by Ukraine’s well-meaning partners would only lead to more war, and noted that his country has been devastated multiple times by invasions and genocidal campaigns over the course of the last century. Millions of lives were lost in past wars for the world to realize that appeasement and concessions to the aggressor do not work. “[President Vladimir] Putin’s Russia must be defeated for the sake of international peace and security,” and for the sake of people throughout the world, he stressed.
CHARLES MICHEL, President of the European Council, said the Russian Federation’s savagery today in Ukraine stands in sharp contrast to the heritage of its great artists and scholars. Citing reports of Russian forces wielding sexual violence as a weapon of war, he stressed that sexual violence is a war crime, a crime against humanity and a shameful act that must be prosecuted without impunity. The European Union stands committed to protecting all those that seek refuge outside Ukraine, who are largely women and children, and to providing them with education, health care and access to the labour market. Sadly, sexual and gender-based violence is a global threat faced by women across the world, in countries including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Myanmar, South Sudan and Yemen.
Noting his intention to host a second conference on Women in Conflict this week in Brussels alongside UN-Women, the Mukwege Foundation and Nadia’s Initiative, he went on to warn against Moscow’s attempts to use food supplies as a “stealth missile against developing countries”, as the dramatic impacts of the war spill over across the globe. “Russia’s war is solely responsible for this looming food crisis — Russia alone, despite the Kremlin’s campaign of lies and disinformation”, he said, emphasizing that the Union has “zero” sanctions on the Russian Federation’s agricultural sector and does not prevent it from transporting grain, food or fertilizers. The bloc will continue to support Ukraine and pressure Moscow “with the truth”, he said, noting that its aggression is also an attack on the core United Nations values of human dignity, tolerance, multilateral cooperation and international law.
MAURIZIO MASSARI (Italy) said displaced and refugee children are less safe and more exposed to violence and trafficking. These considerations prompted Italy to include the issue of trafficking of persons in conflict among the priorities of its last Security Council term in 2017. His country’s efforts resulted in the unanimous adoption of resolution 2388 (2017) on combating trafficking of persons. That text emphasizes the urgency to strengthen protection and assistance for displaced persons falling prey to trafficking, especially women and children. Expressing support for the universal ratification and full implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the related Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, adopted in Italy more than 20 years ago, he said: “We must confront the dire reality that it is still largely ‘cost-free’ to rape a woman in armed conflicts.” When investigations and prosecutions by national or international courts are impossible or ineffective, the General Assembly should consider creating international fact-finding mechanisms to conduct gender-sensitive investigations and ensure the collection and preservation of evidence.
ANDREJS PILDEGOVIČS (Latvia), also speaking on behalf of Estonia and Lithuania, expressed deep concern about reports of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian armed forces in Ukraine and the increasing risk for trafficking in human beings in the region. He called on relevant United Nations entities to continue to closely monitor conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine and at its borders. Commending the creation of the EUROPOL taskforce to protect vulnerable Ukrainian refugees from human trafficking networks, he stressed the need to approach the situation carefully to avoid instances where predators can exploit the chaos.
He went on to condemn in the strongest possible terms the unlawful deportation of Ukrainian residents, in particular forced deportation of unaccompanied children, to the Russian Federation, as well as the illegal adoption of Ukrainian children. Noting the importance of meaningful participation of women and girls, he reiterated the need for a survivor-centred approach in responding to sexual violence in conflict, including access to medical and psychosocial care. It is of utmost importance that the survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine have the opportunity to report cases as soon as possible and to receive proper assistance and essential services, he stressed, highlighting steps taken by the Baltic States to ensure accountability for atrocities in Ukraine.
ANTJE LEENDERTSE (Germany) said a multitude of reports indicates that the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war is present in the Russian Federation’s unjustified, unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. As reporting and monitoring are key to holding perpetrators accountable, Germany supports the Special Representative’s demands to reinforce the staff of the human rights monitoring mission and the Prosecutor General in Ukraine with staff specializing in conflict-related sexual violence. She commended the framework of cooperation as a vital condition for the Special Representative’s team to commence their work on-site and expressed Germany’s commitment to continuing its funding for the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. She also called for a survivor-centred approach as well as the strengthening of survivors’ rights and access to justice and services, and for more support to efforts to fight trafficking in persons. To protect the Ukrainian women coming to Germany, the Government has enacted public awareness campaigns and put in place police presence at train stations, and its feminist foreign policy considers the repercussions of conflict on those most vulnerable members of society.
KRZYSZTOF MARIA SZCZERSKI (Poland) stressed that Ukrainian civilians, in particular women and children, have become targets of human trafficking and gender-based violence. Poland, as a neighbouring country and primary destination for Ukrainian refugees, is undertaking efforts to address the effects of conflict-related human trafficking and sexual abuse, including specialized and awareness-raising training for its officers, as well as information campaigns for existing and potential victims. On a 24/7 basis, any incident of possible human trafficking or sexual crime can be reported to police officers speaking Ukrainian and Russian. All reported incidents are subject to a prompt verification, he said. The Government also implemented new immigration measures for Ukrainians fleeing the war by adopting a special law in March, which stipulates that they can obtain a Polish ID number to work legally in the country and have free access to public services.
RÓBERT CHATRNÚCH (Slovakia) noted that “the international community already made a commitment to help Ukraine in its reconstruction and recovery as soon as this nightmare is over.” Ukraine will undoubtedly flourish once again, but the “blood of victims of this senseless war will be forever dried on the palms of the hands of the Russian Federation”. Since the beginning of the Russian aggression, about 490,000 refugees — most being women and children — have entered Slovakia. His country adopted numerous legislative and administrative measures to help women in need and it will continue to do so. In this vein, he praised civil society and the people of Slovakia who have expressed solidarity with and provided much needed assistance to those fleeing Ukraine. There must be an “immediate cessation of Russian military activities in Ukraine and an unconditional withdrawal” of all its troops from the whole territory of Ukraine, he concluded.