UN warns of rape and sexual violence against women and children in Ukraine

Sima Bahous, executive director of UN Women, a United Nations entity dedicated to promoting gender equity and empowering women, called for a “gender-sensitive” humanitarian response during a speech at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in New York on Monday morning.

“The combination of the massive displacements with the massive presence of conscripts and mercenaries, and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians, raised all red flags,” Bahous said.

Allegations of rape and sexual violence “must be independently investigated to ensure justice and accountability”, Bahous said.

There is also an increased risk of human trafficking at border crossings, with young women and unaccompanied teenagers being particularly at risk, she added.

Reports of sexual violence and other war crimes committed by Russian troops have emerged from areas recaptured by Ukrainian forces, including Bucha, a suburb of the capital kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky raised the issue during a speech to the UNSC on April 5, the day after a visit to Bucha.

“Women have been raped and killed in front of their children. Their tongues were ripped out only because the abuser didn’t hear what they wanted to hear from them,” he said. “It’s no different from other terrorists like ISIS. And here it’s done by a member of the United Nations Security Council.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke about the sexual violence committed by Russian troops on April 5.

He said Bucha’s footage was not evidence of “the random act of a rogue unit”, but of a “deliberate campaign to kill, torture, rape, commit atrocities”.

Bodies tied up, shot and left to rot in Bucha hint at the gruesome reality of Russian occupation in Ukraine

Bahous was speaking on her return from Moldova, where she observed the humanitarian response in temporary shelters for people fleeing Ukraine. An estimated 95,000 Ukrainians are hosted in Moldova so far, Bahous said.

“A gender-sensitive and survivor-centered response must be at the heart of all humanitarian action,” she added.

Despite the threat of violence, “women continue to serve and lead their communities and support displaced people,” Bahous said.

“Women make up 80% of all health and social care workers in Ukraine, and many of them chose not to evacuate,” she said. “I’ve heard from women in shelters that they too are taking on leadership roles and supporting the refugee response in host countries.”

But women remain largely absent from any ongoing negotiation efforts, said Bahous, who called on the UNSC and all UN member states to “ensure the meaningful participation of women and girls, including marginalized groups , to all decision-making, peace, diplomacy, and humanitarian processes.”

“Without it, we won’t have peace, development or human security,” she said.

Also on Monday, Manuel Fontaine, emergency director at UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, said nearly two-thirds of Ukrainian children have been displaced in just six weeks.

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Almost half of the 3.2 million people who stay at home could face food insecurity, Fontaine added.

The situation for children in Ukraine is even worse in Mariupol and Kherson, “where children and their families have now spent weeks without running water and sanitation services, without regular food supplies and without medical care”, said Fountain.

“They are taking refuge in their homes and underground, waiting for the bombs and the violence to stop,” he added.

Fontaine also raised concerns about “explosive remnants of war” that can expose children to death and injury, as well as the disruption of children’s education across the country.

“Nationwide school closures are impacting the learning – and future – of 5.7 million school-aged children and 1.5 million students in higher education. “Fontaine said.

“In the Donbass region, a whole generation of children has already seen their lives and education turned upside down during the last eight years of conflict,” he added.

CNN’s Ellie Kaufman, Jennifer Hansler and Jennifer Deaton contributed to this report.

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