Ukraine: Protection and participation of women is essential, say UN human rights experts

Geneva, March , 2022.- As the international community mobilises to respond to the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine, it is essential to ensure the protection of women and ensure their full participation in any response, UN human rights experts* said today.

“History has repeatedly shown that the outbreak of conflict and war increases the exposure of women and girls to war crimes, especially all forms of gender-based violence, arbitrary killings, rape and trafficking,” the experts said.

“The suffering of the civilian population, including women and girls, precedes these last developments as armed conflict has been raging in eastern parts of the country since 2014, taking an enormous toll on the civilian populations there.”

The experts urged for effective measures to be put in place to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, and to ensuring full accountability for those responsible for such crimes.

They said Ukrainian women have been at the forefront of the humanitarian response and advocating for the restoration of collective human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, they have so far, been markedly absent from the negotiation table between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. “There can be no expectation for any real prospects for de-escalation and search for peace without the participation of women,” the experts said.

Both the Russian Federation and Ukraine are signatories of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as well as other key international human rights instruments that apply, and which are applicable in times of war as well as in times of peace. All parties to any conflict, whether State or non-State, are also bound by the laws of war, which require the protection of civilians and civilian installations. Collectively, they include a commitment to ensure that women and girls are protected against discrimination and violence and that they can access life-saving services in times of crisis, including sexual and reproductive health services and goods, the experts said.

“We welcome the actions of many States, particularly those neighbouring Ukraine, that have admitted people fleeing the conflict into their territories, particularly the recent decision of the EU to grant to offer temporary protection for those fleeing the invasion of Ukraine,” the experts said.

“We reiterate the appeal made by humanitarian agencies that populations fleeing should be admitted without discrimination on any grounds, including race, nationality, religion or other.”

The experts said particular attention needs to be paid to the plight of women and children, who have been forcefully displaced. The vast majority those fleeing from Ukraine are women children and many families have been separated at the border, they added.

It is vital that the borders remain open to all those fleeing the conflict irrespective of their nationality, race or religion, including Afro-descendant, Asian, Roma, Middle Eastern and other minorities, to avoid situations where those fleeing may have to resort to irregular ways to finding safety, the experts said. Denying regular avenues of entry to those seeking safety increases the risk of trafficking, exploitation and abuse.

“We reiterate the importance of meaningfully including women in all processes that affect their lives, security, freedoms and fundamental rights, particularly the humanitarian response but also the political and peace negotiations, as well as accountability processes,” the experts said.

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