WHY A TREATY: Russia Decriminalizes Domestic Violence

Recent changes to Russian law demonstrate need for a treaty

 

In early February, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed legislation that decriminalized some forms of domestic violence. Everywoman Everywhere Coalition members—Russian attorney Mari Davtyan and longtime Russian activist Marina Pisklakova-Parker—share what this means for Russian women and how a treaty would help.

 

Mari DavtyanAttorney Mari Davtyan works with the Russian National Center for Prevention of Violence, also known as Center Anna, to promote women’s right, among other groups working on campaigns to end discrimination and promote human rights:

The first two months after decriminalization show us the situation with access to justice for survivors of domestic violence has become worse. Among other things, the lack of an administrative procedure permit judges dismiss cases or only fine the offenders, give them community service or up to 15 days in custody. Rights of victims are very limited. For example, victims don’t have a right or a vehicle to express complaint. Police officers claim that decriminalization has made their work more complicated and slow.

Today the first act of battery is considered an offense. A second act is considered criminal if it’s done within a year of the first offense. But even then, it remains “private prosecution.” Private prosecution means cases are not investigated by the police, the charge is not introduced by a prosecutor, and the victim is her own private counsel who must independently investigate the crime, collect evidence, and prosecute the case in court. This renders justice for domestic violence survivors completely ineffective.

Russia is a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but it often ignores its obligations under international law. Even if it did, the treaty itself is not specific to violence against women. We can only point to the recommendations of the committee that monitor implementation, which are not legally binding. Furthermore, the committee expressed its concern that cases of violence against women are a private matter. A new, global treaty would give myself, other lawyers and advocates the legal tool we lack to pressure our government to strengthen our national laws on domestic violence. It could also help ensure that women and girls who are survivors of violence have access to immediate means of redress and protection, and that perpetrators are prosecuted and adequately punished.

 

Marina-PisklakovaMarina Pisklákova-Parker is the director and founder of Center Anna, Russia’s first hotline and crisis center for survivors of domestic violence:

The change to decriminalization is also bad in terms of public perception and awareness. It sent a signal to society that domestic violence is a norm for Russia. And there is fear it increased incidents of violence, as there was an increase in the number of cases reported in some regions of up to two times.

Working on domestic violence has become more difficult for women’s organizations. In an environment of governmental neglect and an aggressive stance against addressing violence against women, the level of threat for women-activists is now higher. Women’s human rights activists always had a double threat, one from the government, and another from the conservative patriarchal part of society that resists our efforts. Now, with less legal recourse, it becomes in a way more legitimate to attack activists and women’s NGOs in the media and via threats. A treaty could help create a global climate that views domestic violence as a criminal act, not a family matter.

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