Sexual violence used as a weapon of war in Donbas – new details available from human rights defenders

On Friday, 1st December the Ukrainian Crisis Media Centre held presentation event of analytics report titled “War without Rules: Gender-Based Violence in the Context of the Armed Conflict in Eastern Ukraine”. During the presentation, the authors of the report revealed that there are over twenty places of illegal detention on the temporarily occupied territory. People who happened to be detained systematically and purposefully went through gender, namely sexual, violence.

The research “War without Rules: Gender-Based Violence in the Context of the Armed Conflict in Eastern Ukraine” was based on nearly 300 interviews with witnesses and those who fell prey to sexual violence.

“Most of the analysed incidents happened to civilians at places of illegal detention in Eastern Ukraine. Every forth individual we interviewed faced sexual violence. In total, we collected over 170 documented incidents from witnesses and those who fell prey to sexual violence. Predominantly, women were victims of rape; men were forced to strip naked. Both men and women faced sexual tortures,” – stated Hanna Yanova, analyst at Eastern-Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives.

The authors of the research emphasise that cases of sexual violence are poorly investigated. Those affected are left on their own with their problems, they require support and attention, while abusers continue intimidating the victims.   

“It has been three years since the incident, when the military procurator's office opened a criminal case. It happened a month ago. Before that moment, only civil organisations seemed to care. I have no hope for any support or compensation from the state,” – shared her thoughts Iryna Dovhan, a volunteer who was kept as hostage for one week by illegal armed groups in Donetsk for helping Ukrainian militaries.

Based on human rights defenders’ statements, sexual violence was actively and consciously used as weapon during the war conflict. It was used to cause psychological and physical abuse as well as to break the spirit and sow fear of counterparts or ideological opponents.

“We have ascertained identity of number of criminals, found their IDs and videos. Sadly, not all of them appear on Home Office wanted list. We will make sure we provide police officers with this information. In addition, the information we collected is a clear evidence of using sexual violence as a weapon of war. We will have this information submitted to the International Criminal Court in the Hague,” – said Volodymyr Shcherbachenko, Head of the Eastern-Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives and one of the co-authors of the report.

The presentation participants emphasised that international justice processes take time. “The International Criminal Court will be very much interested in investigating officials who have control over this situation and let these crimes happen. Therefore, the leaders of unrecognised republics, specialised battalions and Russian militaries who control situation on these territories should come first on suspects’ list for representatives of international justice authorities,” – added Anton Korynevych, Assistant professor of Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.

The report is a joint product of the Eastern-Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives and its partner organisations from the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas”, with the support of International Renaissance Foundation.