Why Ukraine needs the Istanbul Convention. What will it change?

22 July 2020
Why Ukraine needs the Istanbul Convention. What will it change?
Home > Analysis > Why Ukraine needs the Istanbul Convention. What will it change?

Ruslan Minich, journalist of the Centre of United Actions, for Ukrayinska Pravda.Life

Hollywood actor Johnny Depp and his former wife Amber Heard accuse each other of domestic violence. This story is known throughout the world, the court duel is been followed by millions of people…

In Ukraine, though, such cases are usually ignored.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, during 2014 near 1.1 million Ukrainian women suffered from physical or sexual abuse. Only 31.6% of them have asked for help and even less (16%) have filed police reports.

Unfortunately, the data about more recent years is unavailable.

The figures above do not cover psychological abuse.

Ukraine also lacks statistics on sexual and domestic violence against men and children.

This gap is quite important, because, according to La Strada-Ukraine, 23% of calls on their hotline on preventing domestic violence, human trafficking, and gender-based discrimination are from men and children.

Total economic loss from gender-based violence, i.e. violence done to a person because she is a woman or, significantly less frequently, because he is a man, can reach near $208 mln annually.

According to the calculations by the United Nations Population Fund, 0.23% of the Ukrainian GDP of 2015 has been lost because of gender-based violence.

The figures above cover the deaths of the victims, their temporary or permanent disabilities, state expenditures on medical aid, social spendings on law enforcement agencies and judiciary, costs of social security services (e.g., correction programs for offenders or centers of social and psychological help for victims) and loss of personal possessions/income by victims.

The Istanbul Convention can improve this situation. Victims of domestic violence will more often ask for help instead of staying silent.

The Istanbul Convention in a nutshell

At the beginning of June, President Volodymyr Zelensky promised to submit a draft bill on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention to the Verkhovna Rada.

The full title of the document is the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

The President has accepted the obligation after the petition to ratify the Convention has received over 25 thousand signatures.

The Convention covers all kinds of violence against women, including domestic violence.

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, during the first three months of 2020, there were 46,997 police reports on domestic violence and 85% of these reports were from women.

The Convention, though, covers all kinds of domestic violence, including violence against men.

Ukrainian legislation on the issue

Ukraine has already strengthened penalties for violent offenses.

At the beginning of 2018, the law on Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence was enacted.

It has introduced several changes to the Administrative Code. The penalty for gender-based domestic violence is fine from ₴170 to 340.

Since the law has been adopted, the number of reported cases has increased significantly: to 92.1 thousand in 2017 and 115.5 thousand in 2018.

At the beginning of 2019, domestic violence, forced abortion and sterilization, coercion into marriage, rape, and sexual violence were criminalized.

In January-April of 2020, the number of calls on the 102 hotline increased by 26% in comparison to January-April of 2019.

“Changes to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure did introduce criminal liability for cases of domestic violence from a family member or a close person, but only if such violence was “systematic” and repeatedly documented by the police as an administrative offense.
So if a person has suffered from violence and called the police, the first offense would be treated just as an administrative offense. When the Convention is ratified, this situation will change”.

— explains the spokeswoman of Amnesty International Ukraine Kateryna Mitieva.

During the lockdown, the number of cases increased: most families have to spend time in the closed quarters day and night.

Though the Ministry of Internal Affairs claims that the number of calls on their hotline and special line 102 has not increased during this period, La Strada-Ukraine reports an increase in such calls by 20%.

Why victims remain silent?

Victims of gender-based violence are afraid of public condemnation. They consider such cases as their personal affairs that should not be made public.

Sometimes the society condones the offender and blames the victim as if she had provoked the violence by, for example, wearing a short skirt.

Another important thing that stops victims from reporting the crime is the fear of revenge from offenders.

Ukrainian police and judges are a part of society. Their personal views on the matter influence victims’ chances to get justice.

Since 2017, the National Police started to create mobile teams “Polina” to combat domestic violence. By the end of 2019, 45 such groups have been organized in 37 cities.

Still, almost 40% of judges and prosecutors consider domestic violence to be a matter of personal affairs. At least such are the results of the poll conducted in 2014-2017 by the United Nations Population Fund, La Strada-Ukraine, and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.

Near 60% of law enforcement officers think that reports about domestic violence are fake, from 10 to 12% think that in some cases domestic violence is acceptable.

Near 60% of the representatives of criminal justice think that rape victims are at least in part guilty that the crime has happened.

Such an attitude unavoidably influences decisions by police officers and judges whether to register the call or convict the offender.

La Strada-Ukraine has analyzed 300 court rulings on cases under Article 173-2 of the Administrative Code about domestic and gender-based violence in 2018.

Offenders have received no real punishment in 204 cases.

In 55 cases, they received verbal warnings, in other 55 cases police failed to submit proper on-site reports.

Unfortunately, no such analysis was conducted of the cases under Article 126-1 of the Criminal Code.

As a result of this mindless attitude of police officers and judges, offenders are often free to continue with their crimes.

For example, policemen that have beaten up and raped a woman in Kaharlyk on the night of May 23 had made threats to her before. The mother of the victim filed a police report on May 13, but nothing has been done to prevent the upcoming tragedy.

Some such cases end with a murder. For example, a woman has been convicted for life for killing her husband. He repeatedly beat her and eight times the judge has let him go without any serious repercussions.

How the Convention can help

The Istanbul Convention can change the situation. It presupposes an awareness campaign to help citizens to detect violence and protect the victims — their neighbors, friends, family members, or colleagues.

In schools, children will be taught the principle of equality between women and men, about stereotype-free gender models — instead of “a real woman never argues” or “man is a creator, he always aspires to something new”.

The authors of the Convention have also included training for judges, lawyers, and police officers working on such cases.

For now, such courses and lectures are taught at the National School of Judges and the National Academy of Prosecutors. Some groups of law enforcement officers get special training on the issue. The outreach is too small for now, though.

Obligations similar to those from the Convention are already present in the Ukrainian law, but the Convention contains a more comprehensive and systematic list of them.

“Ukrainian legislation has improved and is partly based on the Convention. If the Convention is ratified, the state will be obliged to comply with its requirements,” — emphasizes the Vice President of La Strada-Ukraine Kateryna Borozdina.

On top of that, there will be external control over its implementation.

“For now, police officers are not always eager to comply with the regulations or to register victims’ reports,” — indicates Kateryna Mitieva.

“After the Convention is ratified, this will stop because: a monitoring body will evaluate the compliance with the requirements and recommendations of the Convention. The document also requires the state to conduct investigations without unreasonable delays.”

When the crime is not a crime, and other details

Some forms of gender-based violence are not criminalized in Ukraine and their victims, as a result, are barely able to defend their rights. That is why they often remain silent. Online stalking, for example, or intentional female genital mutilation.

The convention directly prohibits alternate dispute resolutions like mediation or reconciliation. In case of reconciliation outside of the courtroom, the victim can be assaulted once more. Such a procedure hardly encourages to report or even talk about domestic violence.

The Convention also encourages the judges to take into account the ability of the offender to pay his fine before making a decision. In most cases, victims pay the fines, not offenders: instead of justice, victims receive punishment.

Where to walk out on the offender?

For now, Ukraine has very few women’s shelters: there are only 24 of them. The Council of Europe recommends having at least one place for a family per 10 thousand people.

“According to the Convention, the state has to create women’s shelters. A person can stay there for some time if she walks out on the offender but has nowhere to go. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine has approved a model provision for such shelters but there is no obligation to create them. The decision is up to local authorities,” — resents Kateryna Borozdina.

If a victim, been pressured by the offender, takes back her report from the police, the case disappears. The authors of the Istanbul Convention prevented this scenario: even if the report was recalled, the investigation goes on.

Signed but not ratified

Ukraine participated in drafting the text of the Convention and has signed it in 2011.

Still, the Convention has not been ratified yet, mainly because of the term “gender”.

Some MPs and the Ukrainian Council of Churches think that after the Convention is ratified, gender status will be defined not by physiological criteria but by gender self-identification.

 In reality, the Convention does not try to supplant the notion of “sex” (based on biological differences) with a “gender”. The latter term is introduced to emphasize the origins of inequality, stereotypes, and violence: they stem not from biological differences between men and women but from attitudes and perceptions of what is proper behavior for a woman/man and what jobs they are supposed to do.