From Colombia to Syria justice is possible for survivors of sexual violence in war – but we need the right ‘ecosystem’ | Clara Sandoval

Acriss-crossing the world, women and girls continue to suffer gross human rights violations. One that specifically targets them is conflict-related sexual violence. Living in conflict for so many means the possibility of being subjected to life-changing crimes such as sexual torture, rape and slavery.

Now survivors of wartime sexual assault in Ukraine will receive reparation payments. It is a remarkable case – the fastest a warring country has set up an execution system right to compensation. Why has this right not been implemented in a timely manner worldwide?

In my work we discuss the “ecosystem” of recovery. We think of it as a list of ingredients that make a fix possible; Ukraine it’s the first time I see all the ingredients available.

The first ingredient is the government’s willingness to talk about reparations. It recognizes that conflict-related sexual violence occurs and it is the government’s duty to fulfill the right to legal protection and redress – even if Russian soldiers committing the crimes.

Ukraine also obeys the rule of law and has strong state institutions. Checks and balances in these institutions enable government-run benefit programs.

The opposite can be seen in Central African Republicwhere there is a willingness to provide redress, but the rule of law and state institutions are fragile and often lacking across the country, making this difficult.

It also pays to have strong friends. Monitoring of Ukraine by other European countries and the US has put pressure on Kyiv to act on human rights violations committed on its territory. And this pressure is coupled with financial support and know-how to deliver reparations.

There is not the same international pressure Nepal, who signed a comprehensive peace agreement in 2006 containing a promise of reparations. Almost 20 years later, no survivors have seen reparations. Imagine how different the situation could be if other countries had a strategic interest in repairing the damage done to the Nepali survivors.

Along with democracy and recognition of human rights, security is crucial for the existence of local media and civil society. Yes, Ukraine is in an active armed conflict. But there are areas in the country where it is possible to work, and civil society and the media are strong.

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Yemen also has have been in conflict since 2014, but there is no safe place for the media and civil society to work and little prospect of reparations. These actors are needed to push the government in the country.

The need for women leaders to seek reparations cannot be understated. From Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska and other women in government to survivors themselves, it is women who have put conflict-related sexual violence on the Ukrainian government’s agenda.

Survivors talking about their suffering is a powerful ingredient in reparations. But speaking out is terrifying – more than 30 years after the war in El Salvador, survivors there have yet to come together to demand reparations.

Finally, reparations require money. There are ways to finance reparations in Ukraine, whether from international donors, as is currently the case, or through innovative financing mechanisms, such as the ability to redirect confiscated Russian assets.

In my country, Colombia, 9 million people are eligible for reparations after six decades of conflict. While 1 million have received something, the remaining measures still come with an estimated bill of 300 billion Colombian pesos (£60 million), a huge sum for the Colombian government. In Ukraine, reparations can be paid in full with the help of frozen funds from the sale of Chelsea FC.

These ingredients are not magic; they require work and must be maintained. And even in the most unfavorable context where none of these ingredients are present, the survivor is still entitled to compensation.

This is the situation of the survivors of Syria. They lack democratic government, rule of law, security, attention and resources. Still, Syrian survivors living in Turkey are receiving psychological care, physical therapy and compensation from the Global Survivors Fund and local partners as temporary remedies. This is not compensation in the legal sense, but it is a restoration of the dignity of the survivors and recognition of their humanity.

Repair is possible when people care about it. Global Survivors Fund staff care, the organizations we work with locally, donors care, and survivors care for each other. Care is the first ingredient in overcoming challenges.

Dr. Clara Sandoval is a Colombian-born director of programs at the Global Fund for Survivors and professor of human rights law at Essex university and on Geneva Academy

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