Sexual violence is a war crime

December 08, 2022

An OpEd by Antti Hartikainen, EUAM Head of Mission, specially for Ukraiinska Pravda

Russian soldiers are sexually assaulting women and girls, but also men and children. Sexual violence is a tried and tested weapon of war the world over. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, there are numerous reports of conflict related sexual violence committed by Russian armed forces in Ukraine. Therefore, the EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) is committed to strategically advise and support the Office of the Prosecutor General, which is working to bring perpetrators to justice. We have been in Ukraine since 2014 and we will continue to support Ukraine in these difficult times. Our Mission employs more than three hundred of specialists from most EU Member States and Ukraine.

Ukraine is now battling both old and new forms of violence against women and girls.  Our Mission is also assisting to combat forms of Gender Based Violence that existed before the full-scale invasion, like domestic violence. For many women, home is the most dangerous place to be; a new study by UNODC and UN Women shows that, on average, more than five women or girls in the world were killed every hour by someone in their own family in 2021. This worldwide phenomenon needs to change, also in Ukraine. Therefore, we are congratulating the Ukrainian authorities for ratifying the Istanbul Convention, which is the golden standard in combating and preventing Gender Based Violence, including domestic violence. Just like all EU countries, Ukraine is a country that is implementing the Istanbul Convention now. This is not a quick and easy task for any country, so we applaud the efforts of Ukraine to start implementation of the Istanbul Convention during war. Action on Gender Based Violence, including on conflict related sexual violence, simply cannot wait. It is too big a problem, simply too many women (and men) are affected by it.

I would like to highlight the role of civil society in our joint campaigning against Gender Based Violence. Especially the women’s organisations in Ukraine have been very important to keep the issue in the spotlight for many years. I commend them for their tireless activities, for filling the gaps where necessary in services and action, and in making the links with gender equality overall. Here I would also like to congratulate the Center for Civil Liberties for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Human rights organisations and women’s organisations in Ukraine are a credit to the country and I consider you also heroes of Ukraine. Our Mission is honoured to work with you in our different activities.

Since 25 November, the campaign of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence is taking place worldwide, also in Ukraine. EUAM Ukraine is joining in the activities. As part of the 16 Days Campaign, we are all wearing an orange ribbon until 10 December. It is a small reminder that the Campaign is ongoing all over the world, that we are united to end and prevent Gender Based Violence. We are supporting different activities until 10 December, international Human Rights Day and the official end of the 16 Days Campaign.

We will also continue to work against Gender Based Violence in the future. We are advising and training law enforcement agencies, like the police. We are advising and training the courts and the prosecutors, keeping the spotlight on action against all types of Gender Based Violence. We need to move from awareness to accountability. We know the problem exists; now we need to increase our efforts to stop it. Perpetrators need to be held accountable.

EUAM-Ukraine is advising and supporting the civilian security sector. This means that we are assisting the whole chain that a survivor is facing. Effective and accountable law enforcement agencies are required, where officers have access to services for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This will allow them to do their difficult job in trying circumstances, including in newly liberated areas. It includes a trusted judiciary that addresses all cases of Gender Based Violence/conflict related sexual violence professionally and effectively; we strive for accountability for all perpetrators and the prevention of secondary stigmatisation of survivors. Promoting gender equality and combating gender stereotypes and sexism are also crucial elements of ending and preventing Gender Based Violence against women and girls.

Gender Based Violence is both a cause and a result of gender inequality. This means that we all need to do our part, especially as men. For many women, sexual harassment is a daily experience. Whether it’s online, on the streets or in the workplace.  Sexist remarks, sexual comments and sexual jokes serve to make women and girls feel unwelcome and unsafe in public spaces and in the workplace. These ‘jokes’ reinforce gender stereotypes. Silence is not an option, we all need to speak out when we see someone crossing the line. Joining the 16 Days campaign against Gender Based Violence makes us all aware that we can combat Gender Based Violence. In Ukraine and everywhere. The EU Advisory Mission is here to assist Ukraine and all its citizens.

* The OpEd was originally published in Ukrainian on Ukraiinska Pravda