Many homes on the front line in Ukraine have been so badly damaged by shelling that they remain abandoned. Photo: Daniel Gerstle/IRIN

Feb. 16, 2017 – Lack of laws, capacity and professional experience to effectively investigate and prosecute conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine is not only resulting in widespread impunity, it is causing survivors of sexual violence to be “victimized twice”, according to a new United Nations human rights report.

“What’s the point of saying what happened to me? No one will be able to help and no one will be able to find those who did it. No one will punish them,” one survivor of sexual violence quoted in the report said.

The report, issued today by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), also revealed that beatings and electrocution on the genitals, rape, threats of rape and forced nudity were used to punish, humiliate or extract confessions. In the territory controlled by armed groups, sexual violence was also used to compel people in detention to hand over property or to do as the perpetrators demanded, as an explicit condition for their release.

The majority of the documented cases happened when people, both men and women, were detained by either Government forces or armed groups.

“[…] he told me that if I refused to write, perpetrators would bring my […] daughter in and will make me watch how they take turns one after another to rape her. After that I filled in eight pages with the text they dictated to me,” read the report, citing a woman who was detained on conflict-related charges.

“The investigation and conviction of perpetrators of sexual violence is vital for the victims who are entitled to justice and redress,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underscoring that doing so can also have a decisive impact in preventing such crimes.

“Impunity encourages the criminals, for that is what they are, to continue.”

Furthermore, the report also noted that deteriorating economic situation, particularly in conflict-affected regions, combined with a breakdown of community ties due to conflict and displacement, has led some people to use harmful survival strategies and coping mechanisms that may increase the risk of sexual violence and trafficking.

The report was prepared by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) – deployed to the country in in March 2014 upon the invitation of the Government of Ukraine – and looks at the period from 14 March 2014 to 31 January this year and covers all territory of the country, including the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, with a special focus on the eastern regions, parts of which are under the control of armed groups.

Lack of support for victims further complicated by restrictions placed by armed groups

The report also draws specific attention to the lack of support for victims, especially in areas of Donetsk and Luhansk controlled by armed groups.

Furthermore, medical professionals and state institutions throughout the country lack the specific knowledge and skills needed to deal with survivors of torture and conflict-related sexual violence.

In this situation, civil society organizations are stepping in through donor-funded programmes, as well as by various UN agencies and international organizations to offer support to the victims. However, these are mostly confined to urban areas and there is little or no assistance available in smaller towns and rural areas.

On top of this, restrictions imposed by the armed groups have hindered these organizations to carry out their programmes, particularly those linked to protection and psycho-social support and there are no real redress mechanisms available for victims in the territory controlled by armed groups, noted the report.