Nadia Murad, an Iraqi women’s rights activist who was once enslaved by ISIS extremists, on Wednesday sounded the alarm over women subjected to rape and sexual violence during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Addressing world powers in New York, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate said reports of sexual violence — which have been attributed to both Russian and Ukrainian forces — should “alarm us all”.
“Sexual violence is not a side effect of conflict, it is a tactic of war as old as time,” Ms Murad told the UN Security Council.
Ms Murad was among thousands of Yazidi women who were forced into sexual slavery by ISIS during the group’s push across western Iraq in 2014. Such armed forces “understand the destabilising effect of gender-based violence”, she said.
She called for the International Criminal Court to prosecute ISIS members and unveiled the “Murad Code” for gathering evidence of rape and other crimes in war zones and holding abusers to account. The scheme is backed and funded by Britain.
“I am appalled by the growing number of reports of sexual violence by Russian forces emerging from the conflict in Ukraine,” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.
“The launch of the Murad Code is a vital step towards helping and supporting survivors and bringing perpetrators to justice for their crimes.”
UN human rights monitors have tried to verify claims of sexual violence by Russian forces, including gang rape and rapes in front of children, as well as allegations of sexual violence at the hands of Ukrainian forces and civil defence militias.
At the same meeting, Pramila Patten, the UN’s envoy against sex attacks in wartime, expressed “grave concern about the mounting allegations of sexual violence” in Ukraine and called for “swift and rigorous investigations”.
She also said that the millions of women and girls who have been forced from their homes by the fighting were at risk of “trafficking and exploitation” during the “fastest population flight this century”.
Russia has repeatedly denied attacking civilians since its invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. Russia’s deputy UN envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy this week denounced what he claimed was a western smear campaign that presented “Russian soldiers as sadists and rapists”.
Sima Bahous, the head of the UN Women agency, said this week that the large number of deployed “conscripts and mercenaries and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians has raised all red flags” about rape and sexual abuse.
All sides in the Ukraine war have systems of conscription, where young men are required by law to do military service. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of using mercenaries.