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Ukraine war: UN signs framework for cooperation to assist survivors of sexual violence

Women’s rights do not end when wars begin, a senior UN official said in Ukraine on Tuesday, outlining measures toward ensuring justice and accountability for sexual violence committed during the conflict in the country.

Ms. Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Ms. Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, on Tuesday signed a framework for cooperation that supports the design and delivery of priority interventions in the areas of justice and accountability as a central pillar of deterrence and prevention. The agreement also addresses comprehensive service provisions for survivors, including sexual and reproductive health services, medical and specialized mental health services, legal assistance, and livelihood support.

The framework with the Ukrainian authorities also covers gender-responsive security sector reform, as well as prevention of conflict-related trafficking, amid rising displacement. More than five million people have fled Ukraine since the war began just over two months ago, generating the fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Second World War, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Ms. Patten stressed the need for mitigation measures, as “human trafficking of Ukrainian women can be a dangerous by-product of this conflict-fuelled refugee crisis”.

The UN official also responded to questions about “extremely disturbing” reports of Ukrainian women who were raped before being killed. She has met with the country’s Prosecutor General and said there is “solid” forensic evidence of such incidents. Despite acknowledging that prosecution for sexual violence committed in war comes with challenges, Ms. Patten affirmed that “the UN will not spare any effort to bring perpetrators to justice”, and highlighted the need to focus on reporting. In this regard, she has also held discussions with the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights, which could establish “hubs” across Ukraine where people can report cases of sexual violence and also receive medical, psychological and other support.