Prioritizing the interests and needs of survivors and victims of core international crimes – Focus on sexual and gender based crimes

Statement

Speech

Notes for an address by

The Honourable David Lametti
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Ukraine Accountability Conference

World Forum Convention Centre, The Hague, Netherlands

July 14, 2022

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Introduction

Before I begin, I wish to thank our partners: the Government of the Netherlands, the European Commission, and the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, for hosting us here today.

I would also like to extend thanks to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova, and to commend her courage and the courage of her office in pursuing accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is a pleasure to be here with you all, and Canada is proud to co-sponsor this important event. 

Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms the Russian leadership’s illegal and unjustifiable war of aggression on Ukraine.

It is important that we provide support to meet the needs of victims and survivors of core international crimes, and work quickly to gather evidence that we will be able to use in pursuing accountability in national and international courts.

I have chosen to make brief remarks under this third area of discussion, as prioritizing the response to sexual and gender-based crimes is a key element for Canada, not just with respect to the conflict-related sexual violence occurring in Ukraine, but in the context of our broader foreign policy as well.

Focusing on victims of SGBV, and CRSV in particular

While women and men, girls and boys, face risks of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict – including rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and trafficking – women and children, particularly girls, are the primary victims and survivors. Many of these crimes go unreported due to extreme stigma and feelings of shame, and intimidation or fear. Victims and survivors may be unaware of, or lack access to, reporting mechanisms and services for those who have experienced gender-based violence (GBV) in occupied areas.

Conflict-related sexual violence is a particularly harmful form of sexual and gender-based violence. Its use constitutes a serious breach of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. States have an obligation to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. 

Canada’s federal police agency, under the purview of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Program, has initiated a national investigation into the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Canada is taking a victim-centered approach to the investigation adhering to the principles outlined in the Murad Code and ensuring that victims receive adequate psychosocial support. 

Canada has also been appreciative of the efforts of the ICC to create specialised capacity with respect to investigations into conflict-related sexual violence and crimes against children, and provided a $1M voluntary financial contribution to the ICC Trust Fund established for this purpose, which will support all of the ICC’s investigations and evidence-gathering activities, including in the situation in Ukraine.

Canada also funds UN Women, which has deployed a gender advisor expert to the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, and supports efforts to increase the resilience and responsiveness of the National Police of Ukraine to address CRSV through improved in-service training, communications, and peer-to-peer psychological support mechanisms.

At the recent G7 meeting, Canada announced $9.7M in funding to improve accountability for human rights violations in Ukraine, with a particular emphasis on cases of sexual and gender-based violence.

This funding will support existing international mechanisms, Ukrainian police and judicial institutions to respond professionally to cases of sexual and gender-based violence, ensuring investigations are conducted in compliance with international law and advance justice in ways that are sensitive and responsive to the needs and interests of survivors.

Actions to address needs of survivors and victims

We must not forget that prioritizing the interests and needs of victims and survivors of core international crimes means working to address their immediate needs, and not just working towards eventual paths of judicial accountability.

In line with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and Feminist Approach in Humanitarian Action, Canada is committed to supporting humanitarian assistance programming that meets the different and specific needs and priorities of all members of the affected population, taking into consideration gender, age, disability and diversity.

Canada’s feminist approach entails recognizing and supporting local capacities, systems, and structures. This means strengthening women’s leadership at every level to systematically ensure the participation, leadership and empowerment of women and girls in humanitarian processes.

And of course, engaging in these discussions to ensure our efforts are complementary, efficient, and effective is of great importance. Thanks again for convening us here today.

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