Instead of adopting foreign laws on combating violence, we'd better comply with our own
Anna Daniel, Lawyer, Ph.D. in Law
Violence in the family, at home, a place that should be the safest place for any person, is a pressing problem worldwide. And humanity is fighting it by all means, including the legislative ones. Some states or international organizations develop rules and agreements for civilized society to follow.
Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) is one such document. In general, it stipulates that signatories undertake to ensure the safety of victims of violence, provide them with assistance (including medical and financial) and punish their offenders. However, the document also contains requirements that some countries categorically refuse to accept.
There are examples when individual states (Bulgaria, Hungary) do not ratify the Convention due to its provisions contradicting national laws and interests. Neighboring Poland initiates the procedure for withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention because in addition to combating violence, the document, according to the Head of the Polish Ministry of Justice, "deliberately promotes gender ideology and principles incompatible with religion and culture". The gender approach is explicitly outlined in Article 6 of the Convention.
How protected Ukrainian women are
Ukraine is gradually developing its system for combating domestic violence. It includes the use of some provisions of the Istanbul Convention. Government policy in our country aims to provide equal rights and opportunities for women and men. In our children and youth, we foster an intolerance to violent behavior patterns, concern for victims and awareness of domestic violence as a violation of human rights. In this regard, the Istanbul Convention remains a relevant document, from which we can draw many ideas, principles, mechanisms for implementing its best provisions, as most European countries have done.
But there is another side to it. Ukraine has already developed its laws on domestic violence. Moreover, the country is actively working to reduce discrimination and ensure equal rights for men and women. Here are some examples.
The legislative equalization
In Article 11, the Istanbul Convention aims to promote the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and foster real equality between women and men, including through women's empowerment.
Ukrainian laws, namely Article 24 of the Constitution, stipulate that citizens have equal constitutional rights and freedoms. There may be no privileges or limitations based on race, sex, political or religious beliefs, etc. How is this implemented? By providing women equal opportunities with men. And also, by creating conditions in which women can combine work and motherhood, providing legal protection, paid holidays and other benefits for pregnant women and mothers, etc. It means that since 1996, when the Constitution of Ukraine was adopted, equal rights and opportunities have been stipulated in the Fundamental Law.
Continuing the subject of gender equality, the Electoral Code of Ukraine envisages the introduction of gender quotas at 40%. Every five candidates in national and regional electoral lists must be both men and women, at least two candidates of each sex.
Crime and punishment
The Istanbul Convention stipulates that signatory states shall ensure that all cases of domestic violence are as criminalized as possible. Again, domestic violence in Ukraine is already a crime under the current laws.
The intentional, systematic physical, psychological or economic violence against a (former) spouse or another person with whom the perpetrator is (was) in a family or close relationship is prosecuted and punished under Article 126-1 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code. By the way, the Ukrainian Criminal Code entered into force back in 2001.
We have laws. What's next?
Do not think that adopting another document will improve the situation. The Istanbul Convention is not a panacea. We have our own law on preventing and combating domestic violence, which sets out a mechanism for helping victims. But the problem is, in fact, that it is not being implemented. In Ukraine, there are no actively functioning centers, shelters or services that help victims of violence. Most often, in an emergency, victims turn to the Police. Or they can contact a mobile team of social and psychological assistance by phone, but few people know about the existence of such units. And even if the Istanbul Convention once again imposes an obligation on the country to provide victims with legal and psychological counseling, financial assistance, housing, education and more, none of it would pop into existence on its own.
Having a national legislative framework, a specially authorized body that shapes and implements the state policy in this area, we must concentrate and work on the comprehensive implementation of the relevant Law of Ukraine "On Prevention and Combating Domestic Violence". And instead of hastily adopting international law into our legislation, we must first learn to comply with Ukraine's Constitution and laws.