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A vaccine against violence, or what the Istanbul Convention will change | Ukraine and Ukrainians: a view from Europe | DW

Since the signing by Ukraine of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (known as istanbul convention) and 11 years passed before its ratification by Kyiv. All these years, Ukrainian politicians have refused to ratify the document, arguing that the convention contains “norms that are unacceptable to Ukrainian society and Ukrainian spirituality,” or that Ukraine has enough domestic legislation to protect victims of domestic violence.

However, the numbers show otherwise. According to the National Police of Ukraine, in 2021, law enforcement officers registered 326,000 calls to the police due to domestic violence. This is 56 percent more than in 2020. “Last year, 120,000 people contacted the hotline of our organization alone. Mostly they were women who complained of physical violence, as well as psychological and economic pressure,” Daria Pilyo, a lawyer with the human rights organization La Strada Ukraine, told DW.

Fighting domestic violence is now a public policy priority

In the past few years, there have been attempts in Ukraine to ratify the Istanbul Convention, but they have failed. Ukrainians even created two petitions for the ratification of this convention, which received more than 25,000 votes, but the corresponding issue was never submitted for consideration by the Verkhovna Rada. European partners have also been asking Ukraine for quite a long time to bring the legal force of the Istanbul Convention to confirm the European choice of Kyiv, because this international agreement of the Council of Europe has already been ratified by 36 countries.

The fight against domestic violence will become a priority of the state policy of Ukraine

The fight against domestic violence will become a “priority of the state policy of Ukraine”

In the end, before the EU summit on June 23-24, which should vote for granting Ukraine candidate status for EU membership, The Verkhovna Rada ratified this convention on June 20and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky signed the document the next day.

“The ratification of the Istanbul Convention is comparable to an injection of a vaccine that activates the body’s defenses in order to fight some kind of disease. This is one of the conditions for Ukraine to fulfill its obligations under the agreement with the EU, but it is the Ukrainians, not the Europeans, who need this document. Now the fight against domestic violence is a priority of the state policy of Ukraine,” said Oleksandr Matviychuk, Chairman of the Board of the Center for Civil Liberties. According to him, the Istanbul Convention obliges Ukraine to implement a whole range of measures to change legislation and practices to prevent domestic violence and protecting the rights of victims. The human rights activist is confident that this document will force the state mechanism to rebuild in order to effectively counteract domestic violence.

Domestic violence is no longer a domestic matter

The Istanbul Convention is an international treaty that recognizes violence against women as a violation of human rights and discrimination, so its ratification is extremely important, especially in times of war, human rights activists say. This is the only such document that recognizes violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination – and legally obliges to create a legal framework to combat violence. Now Ukraine, in accordance with the Istanbul Convention, must criminalize psychological violence, harassment, physical and sexual violence, forced marriage, forced abortion and sterilization. In addition, sexual harassment at home, at work, in transport, on the street or anywhere will be recognized as a criminal offense.

This is not only about the rights of women, but also about children and men. “The Istanbul Convention is about everyone and for everyone. It provides for much more offenses than the existing Ukrainian legislation. There are also principles under which there will be more thorough assistance to victims. This is more training for specialists working with victims, this is an expansion a network of shelters where the victims can apply,” explains the lawyer of the human rights organization “La Strada Ukraine” Daria Pilyo.

In addition, according to her, the convention provides for an international mechanism for control and mutual assistance to Ukrainian citizens abroad. “This is important when now, due to the war, Ukrainian citizens and children are abroad and suffer from domestic violence of partners there. So, according to the Istanbul Convention, they should also be protected there,” the lawyer notes.

She also points out that if earlier the victim herself had to write a statement against the offender, who was often also subjected to psychological pressure to retract her testimony, now it will be easier, since representatives of social services can submit an application to law enforcement agencies. , neighbors and so on. “Now you don’t have to wait for the victim to file a complaint. Maybe just a call from an outsider on 102, and the police will be obliged to check this fact. Therefore, domestic violence ceases to be domestic violence, but becomes a public matter, because the police will be forced to open a criminal case or administrative proceedings and bring the offender to justice,” Pilio notes.

Ukrainian society is not ready for publicity

It is this kind of publicity of family affairs that will hinder the implementation of the Istanbul Convention in full, says the director of the Kharkov Human Rights Group, chairman of the board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Yevhen Zakharov. In his opinion, a good international document may “fail” in Ukraine, since the Ukrainian society is not ready to “take out the garbage from the hut” even so that the offender receives a fair punishment for domestic violence.

“If even the most progressive legislative norms go ahead of the public consciousness, then this will not work effectively. Traditionally, in Ukraine, intra-family matters are treated with caution,” Zakharov notes. According to him, the implementation of the Istanbul Convention will be difficult, because funds are needed for its implementation – in particular, to finance a network of shelters for victims of domestic violence.

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