Balkan experience for Ukraine: women who faced sexual violence during the war have discussed the ways to restore justice

 

On December 11, within human rights unConference the Ukrainian network of women, who faced sexual violence during the war in the eastern Ukraine and the Eastern Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives held presentation – the discussion on "How women who faced sexual violence fight for justice: the experience of the Balkans and Ukraine".

The speakers of the presentation became women who faced sexual violence in captivity: Irina Dovgan, Valentina Buchok, Galina Gayova, Lyudmila Kravchenko, Tatiana Zezulkina. Volodymyr Shcherbachenko, the head of the East Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives, was a moderator of the discussion.  

During the presentation, the participants discussed most important problems of victims, such as the complexity of bringing criminals to justice, assistance to victims, attitude to victims within society, and so on. The women discussed the ways how to solve these problems in Ukraine, analyzing the Balkan experience.

"We were in Srebrenica, in Sarajevo. We talked to many women. Even though they were in a different society, manifested a different religion, they faced with  the same problems as we did. A way of humiliation, grievance, and deprivation of rights when you are held under assault rifle”, - Iryna Dovgan said.

She added that the punishment of criminals is one of the most painful topics for the victims. Women do not want that the situation in Ukraine was like in the Balkans, where after 20 years of war, despite the assistance of European countries, there were brought to justice only a few of those responsible for sexual violence during the war. At the same time, the victims of the war in eastern Ukraine do not expect that those who are responsible for the crimes will be brought to justice in the nearest future.

Volodymyr Shcherbachenko stressed that the number of criminals prosecuted for sexual crimes during armed conflicts around the world is negligible. Ukrainian society must seek civilized ways how to restore justice for the victims.

Valentina Buchok emphasized that she knew nothing about the legal restoration of justice for victims of sexual violence in Ukraine:

“Everything is silent. As if we have no such problem at all. It leads people to depression. At home, they are considered to be inferior members of society, so they live a sheltered life ... This is the reason for suicides happened”.

At the same time, she stressed that the situation in the Balkans is also difficult. For example, in Bosnia, only 120 women, faced with sexual abuses, receive pension from the state. In Kosovo, the number of such women is over 300. They receive between 200 and 300 Euros a month, which is a large sum for the Balkans. For example, veterans of the war in Kosovo receive a pension of 150 Euros.

The former Ukrainian prisoner believes that compensation for victims of sexual violence during the war also needs to be introduced in Ukraine. It is almost impossible to bring the perpetrators to justice and to make them recover damages for the victims, but at the same time, the injured women need practical support right now. The former prisoner stresses that it is necessary to set up special commissions to examine the claims of victims and to give them appropriate status.

Lyudmila Kravchenko told about the work of such commissions in Kosovo. These commissions include specialists, in particular psychologists, lawyers, social workers, and doctors, who individually consider the case of each victim. To confirm the status of victims, those who faced sexual violence have to submit a statement describing the circumstances of the violence and, where possible, other evidence - medical certificates, witnesses, photographs, etc.

“If the evidence provided is insufficient, the commission arranges a private meeting with the victim. During this meeting, the commission listens to the victim's story carefully, observes emotions, facial expressions, verifies the information provided with previously known data. After that the members of the commission make their decisions whether to provide a status of the victim” - Lyudmila added.

During the discussion, the former prisoners requested the participants of the presentation to contribute to the process of obtaining an appropriate status for women who faced sexual violence during the war.

"Yes, I have a piece of paper provided by Security Service of Ukraine (SSU), that I was a prisoner, but there is nothing about my status". I go to the hospital in my town. But I cannot come and say: "Look, this is a piece of paper provided by SSU, let me pass...I was a prisoner". They must look at me with surprise. Moreover, it is so far from the front line and people don`t really understand that there is the war on. Everyone recognizes soldiers, because they have status. I wish, we would also be "legalized"" – the former prisoner Galina Gayova said.

"We have stepped forward to shoulder the heavy burden in Ukraine – to find models and mechanisms of how to cope the effects of sexual violence on the basis of already existed mechanisms and practices of the other countries. It is difficult, but we can handle it" – the former prisoner Tatiana Zezulkina said.

Among those who took part in the presentation were representatives of interstate and international organizations, journalists and social activists.