Dr. Kateryna Busol on Dehumanization in Russo-Ukrainian War

Dr. Kateryna Busol is a Ukrainian lawyer specialising in international humanitarian, criminal law, transitional justice, gender and cultural heritage. She is a Associate Professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

As a scholar and practitioner, Kateryna has worked on various justice issues related to her expertise and with a specific focus on the Russia-Ukraine armed conflict. She has published on the weaponisation of cultural heritage, conflict-related sexual violence, reparations and the achievements and avenues of Ukraine’s transitional justice process. Kateryna has emphasised the centrality of Ukrainian perspectives and the idealised symbolism of Nuremberg in addressing the ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

As a practitioner, Kateryna has worked with Clooney Foundation for Justice, UN Women, Global Survivors Fund as well as with Global Rights Compliance. She has collaborated with Ukrainian NGOs such as the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Truth Hounds and advised the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Prosecutor’s Office of Crimea and the National School of Judges of Ukraine on armed conflict-related proceedings.

Kateryna was a visiting researcher at the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, a fellow at Chatham House and a Visiting Professional at the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. She is the founder of the #InternationalLawTalks and a Board member of the Cambridge Society of Ukraine, which enhances educational opportunities for Ukrainian children.

Kateryna holds a PhD, LLM (distinction) and LLB (distinction) from the Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and an LLM from the University of Cambridge.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We are here with Professor Kateryna Busol today. You are currently based in Ukraine, while I am on the west side of Canada, which results in a significant time difference of about ten hours. Dr. Roman Nekoliak recommended this interview. Both of you have your areas of expertise, and I appreciate his recommendation for this connection. When it comes to the Russian-Ukrainian war, what areas do you find most pertinent regarding human rights violations, particularly around violence against women?

Dr. Kateryna Busol: Hello, and thank you for having me. There are quite a few areas I could mention. First, I would start with the wider general impact of the war on Ukrainian civilians, which disproportionately affects women. More than 3 million people are internally displaced, and over 14 million need humanitarian assistance. This situation leads to an increasing number of people living below the poverty line or nearing it. Considering that women lead the majority of single-headed households in Ukraine and that male conscription places the burden on running families, providing for them, and organizing all logistics on women, there is already a disproportionately heavy burden on females in Ukraine.

Now, if we speak more narrowly about Ukrainian survivors and the gender dimension of Russia’s crimes, I would highlight several aspects. Firstly, women are subjected to conflict-related sexual violence more often in occupation than in detention. In detention, the majority of torture and sexual violence victims, including sexualized torture, are men. However, in occupied areas, where Russians sometimes station themselves in civilian houses and make families care for them, women are sexually abused.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine specifies that women from poorer families and rural backgrounds, who also have caring obligations and could not easily or quickly evacuate from the Russian threat, were more likely to stay in occupation and hence were more frequently targeted by the Russians in terms of sexual violence. It is essential to look at crimes affecting women in this armed conflict not only through the prism of sexual violence. There are many intersecting aspects, such as the reproductive dimensions of the crimes. For instance, the intense anxiety and mental stress women endure can impact their reproductive functions and their willingness to have families or intimate partners. These are wider dimensions that human beings, investigators, and prosecutors working on specific cases should assess beyond just direct sexual violence harms.

Another dimension to consider is access to healthcare facilities. This issue affects anyone in a conflict zone but is particularly acute for pregnant women, women giving birth, and women with small children. The destruction of healthcare facilities and the decreased number of hospitals across Ukraine due to shelling impacts everyone, particularly women. Women in occupied areas face an additional layer of difficulty because Russia allows access to healthcare institutions only upon receiving Russian citizenship. Thus, a woman who does not want or does not have the chance to formalize Russian citizenship in an occupied area would not have access to healthcare. While this may not be seen as an immediate, typical war crime, it gravely undermines human life, especially for women who are pregnant or nursing.

Jacobsen: And what about the psychological impacts of war? The lack of infrastructure is an immediate issue, but there is also the disruption of all aspects of life and regular services, which can damage women’s psychological well-being. How do women recover from these circumstances, if they do at all? Moreover, if they do not recover, what happens?

Busol: There are many dimensions to this issue. On the one hand, we speak about Ukrainians’ immense resilience and ability to adapt to new circumstances, which are great survival skills. However, constantly practicing this skill, especially with additional caring obligations, becomes a heavy burden and takes a strong emotional toll. According to a recent study published by First Lady Olena Volodymyrivna Zelenska and the leading NGO that provides psychological support to Ukrainian children affected by war, Voices of Children, 75% of Ukrainian children have suffered grave mental tolls due to the war. This, of course, also affects their parents, usually their mothers, who, apart from coping with everyday challenges such as consistent and long electricity blackouts, must find ways to help their children who are gravely affected by the war.

Moreover, internally displaced persons (IDP) and refugee women who have witnessed atrocities face additional challenges in finding jobs, accommodation, and schools for their children in new places. Ukraine also acutely lacks psychological support services. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine has rightly stated that Ukraine should differentiate between reparations needed for infrastructural rebuilding and those needed for individuals and survivors. The Commission suggests that even with a small amount of funds, it is essential to create a list of victims of Russia’s crimes and ensure that mental health support is available in different formats for as wide an array of citizens as possible. These services need to be gender-sensitive, involving both male and female professionals who specialize in working with victims of acute trauma and atrocities.

Jacobsen: In international rights documents focusing on women, such as the Beijing Declaration and its updates, it is commonly stipulated that rape is used as a weapon of war. Do we have any rough estimates of the prevalence of this issue in the current conflict? That has been used in this particular war? Right, because it is always a question of not if but how much.

Busol: I think it is the wrong question, and any professional, whether a lawyer or a psychologist, would tell you that asking for numbers realistically would not yield accurate information. Sexual violence is among the most under-reported crimes for various reasons, including social stigma, survivor’s guilt, and instances where survivors do not identify certain conduct as sexual. For example, many male survivors I worked with did not specify that the torture they endured had sexualized aspects. It requires time, building trust, and, most importantly, sensitivity and empathy in communication to uncover different aspects of sexual misconduct. This involves human rights professionals, investigators, psychologists, and survivors exploring the survivor’s story to identify dimensions of harm and sexual harm for both investigations and prosecutions, but importantly, for understanding the survivor’s trauma and finding the best way to help them heal.

There is also a problem in identifying harm and sexual harm, where sometimes victims believe that rape, defined as penetrative sexual violence, is the only form of violence that merits attention. Other actions, such as threats of rape, forced nudity, or touches of intimate body parts, while very unpleasant, are seen as less grave compared to other atrocities witnessed daily in occupied or de-occupied areas of Ukraine. It requires significant time to explain to survivors that we are not here to discuss hierarchies of harm but to uncover all aspects of harm for prosecution and, first and foremost, to help these victims who have endured severe trauma. Therefore, discussing numbers is something we should not and cannot do at the moment because many people are still in the process of accepting what happened to them, understanding the layers of harm, and deciding whether to bring these issues forward for prosecution or seek psychological support to continue living. They might consider legal action later.

According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, there are currently over 133,000 conflict-related cases, with slightly more than 300 concerning sexual violence. Highlighting these numbers shows the asymmetry between the vast number of documented war crimes and the relatively small number of sex crimes being investigated and prosecuted. This does not mean that sexual violence is absent; it means that this type of crime is very difficult for victims and witnesses to discuss, and they require time. Prioritizing the well-being of victims and witnesses is essential, providing support in terms of accommodation, relocation, medical care, and psychological care rather than rushing prosecutions to impress the public with the number of sex crime cases.

Jacobsen: And what about youth who are subject to this kind of violence? How are they impacted? Moreover, in terms of the long-term cases, how do they even get forms of justice if they ever do?

Busol: The UN Commission of Inquiry, in one of its reports on Ukraine, stated that victims of sexual violence by Russian forces include persons ranging from four to over 80 years old. This spectrum includes young children, prepubescent individuals, adult women and men, and the elderly. Following the full-scale invasion in 2022, the Office of the Prosecutor General established a specialized sexual violence unit. It tasked their unit dealing with juvenile justice to develop special, supportive, non-retraumatizing approaches for engaging with child victims and survivors.

It remains to be seen how effective these strategies are. There is more engagement of psychologists and negotiations with the parents of child victims on whether the families are ready to proceed with cases. A bigger challenge will be involving different categories of victims of sexual violence, including children, in the design of support measures and individual reparations. These individuals, including children, should not just be recipients of support but should feel that they are agents of change, contributing to drafting and implementing policies that aim to help them. Engaging the entire spectrum of survivors in this process is difficult, especially for children, given the sensitivity of their age and the need for parental or guardian consent. However, Ukraine seems aware of these special needs and the status of child victims and witnesses in criminal proceedings for atrocity crimes. It remains to be seen how these proceedings are carried out. However, currently, the focus of the Office of the Prosecutor General is on sensitive, non-retraumatizing investigations of sex crimes and crimes affecting children, including sexual violence against children.

Jacobsen: For those crimes committed against Ukrainian civilians of a sexual nature by Russian Federation forces, are there any indications of reparations being put forward for those victims by the Russian Federation leadership?

Busol: There are no such indications. I invite those interested to look at the reports of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which I have referred to frequently. The reports are written humanely and understandably. The commission states that a culture of impunity and a lack of training on humane treatment in warfare characterize the Russian military’s behaviour, not just in the conflict with Ukraine but historically. This legacy of impunity for atrocities committed against Moldova, Georgia, Crimea, Donbas, Syria, and Mali suggests either tolerance or endorsement of the atrocious treatment of Ukrainians. This is corroborated by statements from those who have been under Russia’s occupation and directly affected by Russia’s crimes. Perpetrators often justify their actions with claims that Ukrainians are radicalized Nazis who should not procreate or that Ukrainian children, allegedly Nazis, should not be born.

These phrases strongly indicate a dehumanizing attitude towards Ukrainians, both military and civilian. It shows a certain justification for violence against those considered not human enough, which is, of course, very alarming on a human level. Legally, it allows us to investigate further whether there are reasons to speak about Russia’s genocidal intent against Ukrainians and whether certain acts of violence could qualify as genocidal acts of violence aimed at destroying Ukrainians as a national group in whole or in part. However, there seems to be no indication that the Russian military has a policy of making their subordinates comply with international humanitarian law governing warfare.

If anything, the latest report of the UN Commission of Inquiry, published in March this year, thoroughly discusses how different sections of Russia’s law enforcement and military are brought into occupied territories and have established an institutionalized system of torture. This system is essentially the same in different occupied areas, showing that torture is not incidental but a state policy. In Ukraine’s occupied territories, torture is both widespread and systematic. In legal terms, this constitutes not just war crimes but also crimes against humanity, which is a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population under state policy. Sexualized torture, especially against males, such as the electrocution of genitalia, beatings of intimate body parts, and castration, is a significant part of Russia’s system of torture.

Jacobsen: With regards to these attitudes, exemplified by phrases like not wanting more neo-Nazi Ukrainian children to be born, were these attitudes present in the Russian Federation forces before the full-scale invasion, even before the annexation of Crimea, or did they evolve during the partial and full-scale invasions?

Busol: I will address your question in two sections: first, I will respond directly to it, and then I will discuss why the analysis of what we call speech crimes, speech acts, and delegations of incitement to genocide is pertinent in the ongoing aggression.

Regarding human rights reports on alleged crimes, various human rights groups have drafted these since the occupation of Crimea and Donbas. Since the beginning of Russia’s aggression in 2014, this dehumanizing rhetoric has been present in both Crimea and Donbas, aimed against both women and men. They have been called Nazis or Ukrops, a derogatory term for Ukrainians. There are documented instances of pregnant Jewish Ukrainian women being beaten in detention in eastern Ukraine, with detention authorities responding dismissively when she mentioned she was carrying a baby. They indicated no concern if a Nazi Jewish child was not born, displaying a clear disregard for her identity and humanity. These slurs and dehumanizing attitudes accompanying physical violence have been documented by organizations like the Eastern Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives and the Media Initiative for Human Rights in their studies of the treatment of Ukrainian women in detention.

Due to a lack of funding, documentation and reporting during the first phase of Russia’s invasion were less intense than we have seen since 2022. Therefore, more documented cases and expansive legal and linguistic analyses have emerged since the full-scale invasion. For the first time, the UN Commission of Inquiry has spoken about years of dehumanizing propaganda in Russia. They discussed how Russia has eroded domestic civic space and appropriated media control, impacting the narrative. In further investigations and legal analyses, we hope to see more connections between propaganda, incitement to genocide, and how these narratives have been fed from the highest echelons of Russia’s governance down to military commanders and direct perpetrators.

Since the full-scale invasion, there have been regular recordings of chauvinistic and dehumanizing slurs against Ukrainians. This is now an established feature of Russia’s crimes, especially targeted against those supporting Ukraine, such as local authority leaders, civil society leaders, and members of the Ukrainian armed forces. The use of both violence and atrocity speech against them has become more acute. This has been particularly documented since the full-scale invasion. However, I stress that while these behaviours were present during the first phase of Russia’s aggression, there was significantly less capacity to document and analyze them due to limited resources available to lawyers and human rights activists in Ukraine from 2014 to 2021.

Now, with growing documentation of what perpetrators say on the ground and the undisguised hate speech and propaganda accessible through mass media, telegram channels, and TV shows on state TV, such as “Evening with Solovyov,” as well as posts by Dmitry Medvedev, the former president and now chairperson of Russia’s Security Council, and statements from President Putin himself, including his justification of the full-scale invasion in Ukraine on the morning of February 24, 2022, or even his essay. On the alleged historical unity between Ukraine and Russia, which he published in the summer of 2020, if I am correct. All these persons, without disguise, make statements that Ukrainians are radicalized, that they should be eliminated, and that they are allegedly not human enough.

For example, a political scientist published an article on the Russian state media outlet Ria Novosti titled “What Russia Should Do with Ukraine.” [Ed. by Timofey Sergeytsev] This article, translated into English, is essentially a genocidal extermination plan. It outlines that most Ukrainians, especially those in political leadership and active civil society figures, should be exterminated immediately. Those who can be re-educated should be subjected to programs in labour and reeducation camps. Depending on how they undergo the so-called reeducation, they can either be readmitted to society or exterminated further. This is not a radicalized opinion on a shady blog but an article published on a state-run outlet, which does not publish materials without endorsement from the top leadership, largely from the state.

In conclusion, analyzing the speeches with which direct perpetrators accompany their crimes is important. It is equally important to look at the statements of top officials, top military commanders, and media figures. Remember that both at Nuremberg and in the criminal tribunal for Rwanda, there were prosecutions of people inciting genocide. These were individuals who did not perpetrate physical crimes directly but incited violence, which resulted in egregious physical acts on the ground. It is crucial to ensure the responsibility of Russia’s propaganda figures and political figures inciting violence and genocide in the context of the ongoing aggression.

Jacobsen: You mentioned that we have 130,000 plus conflict-related cases but only 300 extreme sexual violence cases. As you noted, it would be great to speak about prosecuting the crime of aggression. Resolution A/RES/ES-11/1 – March 2nd or 3rd in 2022 – was put up by the General Assembly. Something like 141 countries, you know this one. That particular resolution condemned the aggression. That one would be good to reference as well. I plan to return to Ukraine for more correspondence with a colleague about the war. In my call for funding, that is the one resolution I referenced. So there are at least two other things to cover. One has to do with the unknowns, and another has to do with the crime of aggression. I will focus on the first because there are many more question marks for me, which might be implied by the title “unknown.” What are the bigger question marks regarding the degree of some crimes?

Busol: I think it is not the unknowns about the crimes; it is more the intricate legal attempts to connect the crimes perpetrated on the ground to Russia’s leadership. This involves going up the chain of command to show that the perpetration of atrocities was not just tolerated but sometimes endorsed, as intercepted communications and statements from victims and witnesses show us, by the top military command. Given the hierarchical nature of Russia’s state infrastructure and the military, the key elements of the conduct of facilities would not be possible without the endorsement of the top political leadership in the Kremlin. The major challenge is connecting the violence on the ground to that leadership as high up as possible. For instance, President Putin notoriously decorated the service persons who were stationed in Bucha and, according to many investigations and satellite imagery analysis, including by the New York Times, were implicated in the mass atrocities in Bucha. Weeks later, they were decorated by President Putin. So, connecting the violence on the ground to the top perpetrators is the major challenge for Ukraine and traditionally the biggest challenge for international criminal justice investigations and prosecutions dealing with war crimes globally.

Jacobsen: Regarding the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, there was relatively rapid condemnation of the full-scale invasion at the level of the General Assembly. In the emergency special session 11, the resolution was put out, and approximately 140 member states condemned the war, with only about five against condemning the full-scale invasion. So, there is widespread international understanding that the full-scale invasion is wrong and an act of aggression in violation of international law. Can you lead us through how the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukrainian territory and people not only violates various facets of international law but also how that gets prosecuted and then put into actual force practically?

Busol: You are right that the General Assembly resolution adopted in March 2022, just days after the devastating full-scale invasion, showed unparalleled support for Ukraine and massive condemnation of Russia’s breach of the very tenets of the UN Charter and paragraph 4 of Article 2, the prohibition of the use or threat of force. There are two dimensions to consider. First, we should ask ourselves why it still seems important for mass atrocities or acts of aggression to reach a certain level of gravity before the international community can no longer turn away. I want to be clear that I am very grateful for the international support shown to Ukraine since 2022. However, the occupation of an entire peninsula and the conduct of a direct and proxy war in another part of the country—I am speaking about Crimea and Donbas—also qualify as acts of aggression under international law. However, for the initial nine years of the war, these incidents were not considered grave enough politically or geopolitically to raise the same level of condemnation. We should reflect on why certain thresholds of gravity exist and what geopolitical factors impact decision-making.

With the full-scale invasion, it has been unparalleled to see the political, humanitarian, legal, and military support for Ukraine. It is crucial to emphasize that for Ukrainian survivors, the immediate survivors of Russia’s war crimes, the people of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian government, any resolution of this aggression must include justice as an important component. President Zelensky’s 10-point peace formula specifies accountability for war crimes and other atrocity crimes, particularly the crime of aggression, as key components for resolving the ongoing events. It is important to stress that while there are 133,000+ cases of war crimes being investigated and prosecuted in Ukraine domestically, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued four arrest warrants, including one for President Putin, there are numerous universal jurisdiction proceedings globally. These proceedings are in domestic jurisdictions across the globe, unrelated to Russia and Ukraine. However, they step in to help with investigation and prosecution because the character of these crimes is so severe that global states insist that this conduct cannot go unpunished.

Busol: This framework, as we know it now, allows for the prosecution of three out of four international crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. These three types of crimes are being prosecuted in foreign courts. The problem lies with the crime of aggression, which is so connected with the state and its sovereignty and the immunities of top officials, such as the head of state, head of government, and the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The current international legal framework provides far fewer opportunities to prosecute aggression. No existing international mechanism can currently prosecute a sitting President Putin for the ongoing crime of aggression. It is important to seek avenues to ensure this prosecution because the crime of aggression contains the accumulated evil of all other crimes within it. This crime opens the gate to all subsequent war crimes, crimes against humanity, possibly genocide, and other human rights violations. The crime of aggression is an enabling, catalyzing crime, and decisions to wage aggressive wars are made at the highest decision-making levels, entailing significant resources in terms of weapons, military support, intelligence, and funds.

Given the nature of the crime of aggression and the importance of prosecuting it, Ukraine has proposed setting up a special tribunal endorsed by as many geographically dispersed nations as possible, similar to the support seen for the General Assembly Resolution in March 2022. This special court should have jurisdiction to try individuals, regardless of their immunities, as top officials for launching and waging an aggressive war against Ukraine.

And in doing so, creating a special institution to try Putin and his allies, including possibly President Lukashenko of Belarus, for waging an aggressive war. Now, there are several dimensions to this. International courts are expensive. Creating international institutions is expensive, and creating international institutions to punish the use of force when previous breaches of the prohibition of the use of force, such as the invasion of Iraq or the invasion of Afghanistan, were not punished, also raises the question of double standards.

Ukraine should, and is, trying to act creatively and on several dimensions. Ukraine is saying that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has highlighted a gap in the international justice framework. On the one hand, we should ensure the prosecution of Russia’s leadership by creating a special tribunal. On the other hand, we should reform the international justice system to establish a permanent court with the jurisdiction to try any future aggressions without needing to create additional courts, as we are asking in the case of Russia and Ukraine. It would be ideal to establish a special tribunal for Russia and, in parallel, to reform the existing International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which currently has a very limited ability to try the crime of aggression. This would widen the ICC’s jurisdiction and fully equip it to prosecute future aggressions.

In doing so, Ukraine could be both the beneficiary of international criminal justice and an agent of change, catalyzing a shift towards justice that is not selective but equally for all victims of aggressive wars possible. How this idea might be implemented in practice remains to be seen. Leading international lawyers, such as Professor Klaus Kress, a special advisor to the prosecutor of the ICC on the Crime of Aggression, support this two-pronged approach. Ukrainian human rights organizations and NGOs, which document Russia’s war crimes daily, also advocate for the establishment of a special tribunal for Russia as soon as possible. They emphasize the need for broader reform of the ICC to ensure it is not selective and can address future aggressive wars. Certain states, like Liechtenstein, have shown openness to reforming the ICC, so we should closely watch this space. The prosecution of Russia’s aggression will catalyze wider, equalizing changes in the possibilities to punish any future aggressors.

Jacobsen: What are the risks if the international community fails to prosecute these crimes?

Busol: Oleksandra Matviichuk, the head of the Center for Civil Liberties, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning NGO from Ukraine, puts it very well. She says that it is essentially a struggle between democratic and authoritarian states. Suppose we fail to ensure the accountability of Putin and authoritarian states like Russia. In that case, it will embolden other states to perpetrate war crimes, crimes against humanity, and breaches of the prohibition of the use of force with impunity.

Jacobsen: How would this also impact the work for women’s rights protection in other contexts of war?

Busol: Women should be engaged at all stages of the justice and recovery processes, from investigations to prosecutions, designing reparations programs, drafting conditions of potential peace agreements, and shaping how survivors’ narratives should be presented. It is important to involve women not just as victims of atrocity crimes or sexual violence, which often sidelines male and LGBTQI+ victimhood, but also as agents of change. Women in Ukraine have organized remarkable volunteer initiatives, supplying the military and medics. Embracing the wider participation of women in justice and peace processes is crucial.

For example, the negotiations in Doha with the Taliban highlighted the consequences of sidelining women from decision-making on issues that impact their lives. This leads to a wider encroachment on their rights, as seen in Afghanistan, which many scholars argue amounts to gender apartheid. The inclusion of women should not only be victims and beneficiaries of help but also those who co-shape the mechanisms for justice, recovery, and peace processes.

Jacobsen: Can you provide an example of when a war was ongoing, small or large, in which women’s rights were violated, and then the crimes were prosecuted, and justice was served for these women?

Busol: These processes are rarely one-dimensional. I have been deeply impressed by Bosnian women who, in the 1990s, spoke out years after their assaults, catalyzing reparations programs. Although not ideal and delayed, these programs were driven by female leadership and grassroots activism. In Colombia, where FARC and other armed groups perpetrated horrendous sexual violence, there has been an exceptional focus on prosecuting sexual violence and nuanced gendered prosecutions of other atrocity crimes. Crimes concerning property, for example, can have a gender dimension. Women in Colombia have also advanced specific reparation schemes. Colombia’s special jurisdiction for peace is largely due to female leadership among investigators, prosecutors, judges, human rights groups, and survivor groups. Strong female voices are crucial in all atrocity situations.

Now, whether it has brought the ideal situation, the ideal prosecution, the ideal non-stigmatization, the ideal apt and timely reparations for all survivors, including women, nursing women, mothers, and pregnant women, no, but I think we are getting there. It is crucial to say that the Women, Peace, and Security agenda, brought into being by the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, should also be amended. Strong female voices are calling for it, saying that it is important to move beyond focusing solely on women as victims of sexual violence. We need to recognize other harms perpetrated against women and ensure equal access to reparations for women across different situations. This approach should not highlight certain atrocity situations and certain female victimhood while staying silent on the suffering of women in other contexts. Female activists and scholars bring up these debates and arguments. There is advancement, but it is not perfect; we are not fully there yet.

Jacobsen: As you noted, the situation in Bosnia, where things were not as well established in terms of law and rights, especially in conversations about gender-based violence in war, can provide insights. If we look at the current period similarly, are there aspects of international law that could help in conversations around gender-based violence that are currently discussed more in theoretical or hypothetical terms rather than as established law or human rights conversations? For example, aspects like digital privacy might be more concretely implemented.

Busol: Some aspects should be considered, maintaining a more layered understanding of victimhood. Previously, we encouraged female survivors to come forward, associating sexual violence primarily with women. Now, we see that many other individuals, including men and LGBTQI+ persons, are victimized by sexual violence in acutely gendered ways. Women could be leaders and agents of change who amplify the voices of other survivors, show the spectrum and diversity of harms inflicted by sexual violence and other atrocity crimes – and inspire other survivors to come forward.

Second, women need to take this fight further. Reparations should address not only the harms caused by wartime rape but also extend to opportunities available for women beyond the conflict. For instance, ensuring adequate child care for women affected by wartime sexual violence to return to work and balance work with motherhood. Fertility clinics should be well-funded and accessible, especially for those in rural areas affected by sexual violence impacting their reproductive capacity. Now, especially because of the growing understanding of women and the agency of women survivors, we should expand the understanding of harm and needs to a wider level beyond armed conflict. This helps women and other individuals regain their agency, become more resilient, and more proactive in local, regional, and state governance post-conflict.

Jacobsen: Are there parts you want to discuss that we still need to cover?

Busol: I think I am fine now, thank you. We have had a thorough conversation.

Jacobsen: Based on the conversation today, any final thoughts or comments?

Busol: Thank you for the conversation and for being open to discussing these intricate aspects for so long.

Jacobsen: Thank you very much for your time, Dr. Busol. Please stay in touch and have a good weekend. Bye.

Busol: You too.

Further Internal Resources (Chronological, yyyy/mm/dd):


Humanists International, Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United Nations (2024/01/08)


The Long Happenstance of Iceland and Copenhagen (2023/12/09)


Remus Cernea on Independent War Correspondence in Ukraine (2023/08/25)

Zaporizhzhia Field Interview With Remus Cernea (2024/02/21)

War and Destruction With Remus Cernea (2024/02/22)

Remus Cornea on Ukraine in Early 2024 (2024/04/29)


Ms. Oleksandra Romantsova on Ukraine and Putin (2023/09/01)

Oleksandra Romantsova on Prigozhin and Amnesty International (2023/12/03)

Dr. Roman Nekoliak on International Human Rights and Ukraine (2023/12/23)

Sorina Kiev: Being a Restauranteur During Russo-Ukrainian War (2024/01/27)

World Wars, Human Rights & Humanitarian Law w/ Roman Nekoliak (2024/03/07)

Oleksandra Romantsova: Financing Regional Defense in War (2024/03/11)

Russo-Ukrainian War Updates, February to April: O. Romantsova (2024/05/13)

Dr. Kateryna Busol on Violence Against Women in Russo-Ukrainian War


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