Victims of sexual violence in Ukraine need reproductive health care: Sayyan

International Development Secretary Harjit Sajjan said he had told Canadian officials in Ukraine and neighboring countries to make sure women who have been sexually assaulted by Russian forces get the help they need – including access to abortions if they do to wish.

He said pregnant victims of sexual assault who fled Ukraine, where abortion is legal, to Poland, where abortion was banned in most cases last year, could be helped to travel to other parts of Europe.

“We are very sensitive to some of the laws in other European countries, especially Poland, so the department is working with our partners and figuring out how we can support these women,” Sajjan said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“We will make sure that if we have to, we will even take them to another country where they can actually get the support.”

Sajjan said Canada respects the laws of other countries, but noted that “our local people” are finding ways “to support women in a respectful manner.”

Sajyan said Ukrainian women may even be able to come to Canada for treatment and, if necessary, to be quickly guided through the immigration system.

He said Canadian officials are working with local organizations that have networks to support women who may have been victims of sexual violence.

Meanwhile, Canada has sent rape kits to Ukraine to help police gather evidence against Russian troops who are suspected of sexually assaulting women and girls, as part of broader efforts to combat gender-based violence caused by the ongoing war becomes.

Sajjan said the war-torn country requested the kits. They are used to conduct forensic medical examinations of victims of sexual assault and gather evidence to help build a case against alleged perpetrators.

Secretary of State Melanie Joly has also confirmed that 10 RCMP officers helping to compile evidence of war crimes by Russian troops will investigate sexual violence against Ukrainians.

Canada announced last week that it is providing an additional $1 million to help the international community investigate alleged sex crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine.

Joly said Canada will provide the additional resources to the International Criminal Court to help it investigate sexual violence against women and alleged crimes against children.

Adrien Blanchard, a spokesman for Joly, said Canada also supports United Nations Human Rights Council investigations into sexual violence in Ukraine.

“We must ensure that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are held accountable,” he said.

At a meeting earlier this month in Ottawa with Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde, Joly spoke of the need to treat Russian troops who commit sexual violence as war criminals.

Yulia Kovaliv, Ukraine’s ambassador-designate to Canada, also warned MPs earlier this month that Russia is using sexual violence against women and children as a weapon of war.

A panel of 35 scholars with expertise in international law, genocide and Eastern Europe, chaired by former Attorney General Irwin Cotler, has concluded that Russia was complicit in incitement to genocide.

His legal analysis, published by the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, concluded that Russia has violated the 1948 Genocide Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which it is party along with 151 other countries.

Cotler said states that have signed the convention have a responsibility to prevent such crimes and hold Russia accountable for its actions.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 29, 2022.

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