The European Parliament has accused Russia of using rape as a weapon of war in Ukraine, and called for the establishment of a special international tribunal to prosecute those responsible.
The resolution “on the fight against impunity for war crimes in Ukraine”, which was passed with a broad majority with a show of hands on Thursday, called for European and international bodies to work together to swiftly collect evidence to increase the chances of successful prosecution.
“Sexual violence is used by Russia as weapon of war to break Ukrainian morale and as a form of torture in order to obtain confessions through rape, forced exposure and threats of sexual violence against children, women and men or their relatives,” the resolution read.
Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald said there should be "no impunity" for the crime.
“I am absolutely adamant that every Russian soldier who commits rape in Ukraine must face the full force of our international justice system,” she told a National Women’s Council event after the resolution was passed, according to a copy of her remarks.
“Such horrendous crimes against women and children can have devastating effects on the physical and mental health of victims for an entire life and they are entitled to justice.”
The resolution described the use of sexual and gender-based violence in Ukraine as “systemic” and “horrifying”, and noted that in the first three months of the war the Ukrainian prosecutor-general opened at least 9,300 investigations and identified hundreds of suspects from Russia for alleged war crimes, including murder, torture and rape.
The resolution cited a report by Human Rights Watch in which a 31-year-old woman said she had been repeatedly raped by a Russian soldier at gun and knifepoint in a school building where she had been sheltering with her family. It also mentioned an Amnesty International report in which the owner of a house in Bucha reported the discovery of the mutilated body of a naked woman wrapped in a fur coat in a cellar, after the property was recovered from occupation by Russian soldiers.
The Russian government has denied allegations of rape and other atrocities by its forces.
Successful prosecutions of sexual violence inflicted during war are extremely rare, despite rape, sexual slavery and other acts being recognised as war crimes by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
“Rape as a war crime is the hardest crime to document in a manner that can be brought to court and will stand the test of trial,” the resolution reads.
“Time is of crucial importance in collecting evidence and testimonies and in providing medical and psychological assistance to the victims of sexual violence,” it notes, expressing hope that “the victims of the illegal invasion of Ukraine could set a precedent” in effective prosecution.
The MEPs said that because neither Ukraine nor Russia has ratified the Rome Statute establishing the jurisdiction of International Criminal Court a “special international tribunal” should be set up to investigate and prosecute war crimes.
There have been concerns that victims of rape fleeing Ukraine may be struggling to access abortion services. The largest recipient country of Ukrainian refugees has been Poland, where abortion is a divisive political issue and access is much more restricted than in Ukraine.
Gillian Triggs, a top official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office, said last week she would raise the issue with the Polish government, saying that victims of sexual violence "need counselling and they need assistance. In some cases they will need abortions."
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact the Rape Crisis helpline on 1800-778888