Overview by Sally Eshun, Intern PILPG NL
Civil society in Ukraine urges the Ukrainian government to ratify the Rome Statute in order to investigate crimes ranging from acts of sexual violence to forced conscription committed in Ukraine.
Hosted by the Ukrainian Legal Advisory Group, this side event focused on the impunity for grave crimes in Ukraine. At the beginning of the event, a short but impressive film was shown with victims and their relatives giving their account on arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearance. The conflict in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea has been ongoing since 2014. Civil society in Ukraine are pushing the Ukrainian government to ratify the Rome Statute in order to investigate crimes ranging from acts of sexual violence to forced conscription.
Alina Pavliuk from the Ukrainian Legal Advisory Group briefly explained that it is important for Ukraine to ratify the Rome Statute and emphasised that no one is above the law, particularly considering that the status of official capacities is irrelevant under the Rome Statute. She called for members of the EU, NATO, and State Parties of the ICC to encourage the Ukrainian government to ratify the Rome Statute.
Maksym Tymochko from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union shed light on the use of human shields by Russian forces as a war crime. Through this method, public institutions like the Supreme Council in Crimea or military bases were seized, according to Mr. Tymchko. He discussed evidence that shows how during the active phase of the conflict in February and March of 2014, the local population was used as human shields. According to him, the evidence also proves that the perpetrators were high ranking Russian military officials and that under command responsibility individuals like the Russian defence minister and the commander of the Black Sea fleet need to be held accountable. He finally mentioned that a communication of Ukrainian Human Rights NGOs is on the way to the ICC presenting the crime of using civilian population as human shields.
Vitaliy Nabukhotny from the Regional Center for Human Rights talked about forced conscription committed on a wide and systematic scale in Crimea and how refusal is punishable under Crimean law – punishments include financial penalties, forced labour, and imprisonment. The way in which forced conscription is taking place in Crimea is unprecedented since WWII, according to Mr. Nabukhotny, which is why jurisprudence on this matter is lacking significantly.
Natalie Hrytsenko, from the Eastern Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives Coalition, focused on sexual and gender-based crimes committed in the Donbas region. She noted that documentation has shown that the majority of these crimes take place in illegal detention facilities. Sexual violence is a significant part of the conflict, she added. While it is not always rape, other acts that are considered as sexual violence within the Ukrainian context are being committed. An example is forced labour according to gender stereotypes, namely women being forced to clean the bathroom facilities of military personnel and doing laundry. Another example Ms. Hrytsenko mentioned was of men forced to wear women’s clothes in order to humiliate them. Sexual crimes took place on a large scale and were utilised as punishment, during interrogation and/or extortion techniques, she concluded. Generally, the panel of this side event agreed upon that the ratification of the Rome Statute is necessary given the plethora of crimes committed.