Iryna Venediktova: It’s time to ratify Istanbul Convention to stop violence against women
“Free from fear, free from violence.” We must make sure that the slogan of the Istanbul Convention becomes a reality for Ukraine. Last week, I signed the official position of the Prosecutor General’s Office on the absence of any obstacles to the launch of the ratification process of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.
The purpose of the Istanbul Convention is zero tolerance for domestic violence. Its provisions impose an obligation on the state to prevent this shameful phenomenon, to deal with stereotypes in society about it, as well as to provide adequate protection and support to victims of domestic violence.
Here it is important to emphasize once again that the convention in no way forces the state to change its approach to understanding the institution of marriage or adoption and to grant such rights to LGBT couples. The convention only enshrines the obligation to prevent violence against representatives of this vulnerable group.
We have expressed and agreed on the necessary reservations to the ratification law, which will remove acute obstacles to its adoption. Therefore, this time the manipulations that have so far hampered the ratification of the Istanbul Convention will not work.
Criminal liability for domestic violence has brought Ukraine much closer to the norms of the convention. It has been in force in our legislation for a little more than two years.
Recently, footage of domestic violence, where a man pulls a woman by the hair across the room in front of young children, has spread across the network. A resident of Poltava Oblast has stated about repeated facts of abuse on his part. The regional prosecutor’s office intervened into the situation and the perpetrator was notified of suspicion over domestic violence. He faces up to five years of restriction of liberty and additional measures, including a ban on staying in a place of common residence and approaching a certain distance, restrictions on communication with children, as well as an obligation to undergo a program for perpetrators.
Counteraction to criminal offenses related to domestic violence against women, men and children has been identified by me as a priority for the work of the prosecutor’s office for 2021.
Last year, law enforcement officers registered about 3 thousand of such offences, almost 2000 of which were submitted to court with indictments. During the first three months of 2021, more than 1000 of such criminal offences have already been registered, and more than 650 have been submitted to court.
We have set a task for prosecutors to effectively represent public prosecutions in courts, so that punishment for suffering at the hands of the loved ones is inevitable. Last year, 778 persons were convicted under Article 126–1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.
Some days ago in Ivano-Frankivsk, the district prosecutor’s office proved in court the guilt of a local resident in committing domestic violence and grievous bodily harm. The 63-yearold man had previously been convicted of beating his cohabiting partner, however he continued to abuse her. The court sentenced him to 5 years of imprisonment.
In order to improve approaches to such proceedings, we have planned to introduce a specialization of prosecutors in the categories of cases involving domestic violence. We are now developing standards of work with a focus on the world’s best practices in law enforcement.
I also urge Ukrainians not to remain silent — prosecutors will stand up for your rights. At the slightest manifestations of this nature, you should immediately call the police, contact social services and public organizations, as well as free legal aid centers.
We must work together to address psychological, physical, economic and sexual violence. It is important that many steps are taken at the state level. This is the adoption last year of the Decree of the President of Ukraine on urgent measures to prevent and combat domestic violence, gender-based violence, to protect the rights of victims of such violence. To implement it, the government’s state social program has been introduced.
In addition, the impetus for global change was Ukraine’s accession in September 2020 to the Biarritz Partnership for the equal rights and opportunities for women and men, founded by the G7, at the initiative of First Lady Olena Zelenska. The state is already fulfilling its obligations — a government hotline to combat domestic violence was launched last year — 1547. This is another channel for rescue.
Nine shelters were also created for the victims. This year, the amount of expenditures for the expansion of the network of support services for victims is UAH 275 million.
The statistics are impressive — every third family in Ukraine is experiencing violence. Between 1 and 3 million children witness or fall victim to violence each year. The consequence of this, in addition to physical, is a deep emotional trauma that will never heal.
We need to do everything we can, as the situation is exacerbated by quarantine — the number of complaints about violence has grown more than by half over the past year.
UN officials have already called this phenomenon a pandemic of violence during a pandemic. The task of law enforcement officers, with their principled response to any manifestations of cruelty and abuse, is to vaccinate society against aggression at home — place where a person should be the most protected.
There is no excuse for violence, especially domestic violence. This is not a family affair, not a way of upbringing, not a specific expression of love. This is a crime, it must be reported, because it may be too late.
Iryna Venediktova is the prosecutor general of Ukraine. She took office in March 2020. She is a former acting head of the State Investigation Bureau and ex-chair of the Committee on Legal Policy of the Verkhovna Rada.