Seanad debates

Thursday, 22 September 2022

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

 

10:30 am

Photo of Lorraine Clifford-LeeLorraine Clifford-Lee (Fianna Fail)

I wish to refer to the war in Ukraine. We are seven months into the conflict. I will focus on the sexual violence perpetrated on the women and children of Ukraine. We know sexual violence is a recognised weapon of war. There has not been much discussion in Ireland around this aspect of the war but we really need to have a conversation about it. Rape is recognised as a weapon of war. It spreads disease, destroys family ties, inflicts harm on generations and is used to terrorise, humiliate and subdue a population. It also reinforces gender inequalities and normalises sexual violence even after the conflict has ended.

Using sexual violence as a weapon surged after the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. We know it has been used in a number of conflicts across the globe such as those in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Uganda and South Sudan, and against Yazidi women and we know it is happening in Ukraine as well. Reports have started to emerge from liberated towns such as Bucha.

Last week, I met with other parliamentarians in the Basque country to discuss this topic. We met two amazingly brave Ukrainian MPs who gave some really harrowing details of what is emerging from various towns and villages across Ukraine. It is really shocking. Survivors of war-time rape internationally have reported long-term physical and mental injuries. There are children born of rape in conflict zones. This often leads to continuous family conflict, domestic violence and an intergenerational impact on the fabric of that society and the identity of a nation.

To mitigate the long-term impact of rape in conflict zones, survivors need access to emergency contraception, abortion care, mental health supports and medical care for physical injuries. We need to talk about rape as a weapon of war so that Ireland and other countries who are supporting Ukraine as its people fight to protect their country against Putin provide this level of support for the survivors of sexual violence in Ukraine. We also need to support survivors by recognising the harm done to them and helping to dispel any stigma and shame associated with sexual violence in a conflict zone.

The conversation regarding the prosecution of war crimes in Ukraine has started and a number of people have been convicted. However, war-time rape is very rarely prosecuted and when it is, it is very hard to secure a conviction. I would like to see Ireland take a leadership role to ensure that more of these crimes are investigated and prosecuted, and convictions secured. I would also like a debate in the Chamber with the Minister for Foreign Affairs on sexual violence as a weapon of war in Ukraine. I urge the Minister to ensure our aid budget has an element of targeted support ring fenced to help survivors get the healthcare they need in a timely fashion and that Ireland uses all its diplomatic power to ensure that war criminals are pursued and prosecuted, and the rape perpetrated on the women and children of Ukraine is dealt with.

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