Mechanisms to achieve justice discussed in Mariupol

A public discussion “What does ‘restoration of justice’ mean for women and girls affected by the armed conflict?” took place in Mariupol on May 30.

Not only female survivors of the conflict, but also representatives of various public authorities, such as the National Police, the Secret Service, courts, social welfare agencies, and OSCE took part in the discussion.

The participants of the event discussed the issue of justice as well as how the survivors interpret it and the mechanisms needed to restore justice.

The event was organized by Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives with the support of the Special Representative of the Ukrainian government Kateryna Levchenko. The discussion revolved around the research conducted by the Center, War without Rules: Gender-Based Violence in the Context of the Armed Conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Biographies of the commanders of illegal armed groups who committed gender-based violence or ordered to do so, are published in the results of the research. Besides, the interviewed survivors also mentioned representatives of the Ukrainian voluntary battalions, such as “Tornado”.

The agenda of the event included discussions of the issue of justice and the impediments on the way there. Both the survivors and the representatives of authorities were active in the discussion. They split into smaller groups and discussed the reasons for and the consequences  of injustice so as to exchange their thoughts on the subject matter. They also decided together about the mechanisms that should be developed on the state, local and individual level in order to fight injustice.

Several viewpoints on the restoration of justice evolved as a result of the discussion.

Among the participants, there were women who survived violence, were held in detention, as well as relatives of the deceased and people who’s home was damaged or destroyed as a result of shelling. The female participants either live in the government-controlled territory in the east of Ukraine or are IDPs. All of them shared their views on the restoration of justice.

It became obvious that there is a need to establish mechanisms of law enforcement system. This raised the question of why the crimes confirmed by witnesses were not being investigated. It’s still complicated to give evidence in court. A victim should prove that she is indeed the victim, needless to mention the endless bureaucracy. There may be more problems, such as limited access to the occupied territories, lack of assistance and social housing for IDPs.

It became clear after the discussion that there is a need for reform for those affected, not for the sake of reforms themselves. Indifference puts up barriers for the people’s issues, and they face it even at the help desks responsible for their issues. The problem lies also in the bureaucracy and indifference that the survivors of violence face. People want to be heard.

There’s also a need in awareness-raising activities so that the survivors know their rights and where to turn to for help. Psychological counselling centers should be established so that the survivors could find the strength to overcome their trauma.

Soldiers receive their status as combatants, that comes along with social benefits, and the logical action is to provide a certain status to civilians who suffered from the armed conflict. Along with such a status, a special program on providing social assistance and access to medical care should be launched.

People often avoid contacting the competent authorities. But sometimes these authorities simply lack the capacities to return their previous status to applicants. This happens when a person can’t refuse waive the IDP status.

It’s important to improve laws and adapt them to the current situation in Ukraine.

“Such discussions help us to hear those in need and translate the language of the documents into the language of regulator acts that are very pertinent”, Kateryna Levchenko summed up the public discussion.