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Council of Europe: Convention to Prevent and Combat Violence Against Women Enters into Force

(Aug. 12, 2014) On August 1, 2014, the Council of Europe (COE) Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence entered into force, following its ratification by 14 signatories, which are all COE Member States: Albania, Andorra, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, France, Italy, Malta, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey. (Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and DomesticViolence, CETS NO: 210, 2011, Council of Europe (COE) website.) Ten signatories, of which at least eight were COE Member States, were required in order for the Convention to enter into force. (Id. art. 75.)

The Convention’s main objective is to create a legal framework at the European level to protect women, including females under the age of 18, against all forms of violence. Other key purposes of the Convention are to prevent violent acts, including acts of domestic violence, against women and to bring to justice those who commit such acts. It also aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and to promote equality between women and men. (Id.)

In line with other international agreements on the rights of women, the Convention incorporates the term “gender-based violence against women,” which refers to violence directed against women because they are women or violence that disproportionately affects women. As the Explanatory Report to the Convention clarifies, this type of violence differs from other types because the main motive for the acts of violence is the victim’s gender. (Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence: Explanatory Report ¶ 44, COE website (last visited Aug. 11, 2014).)

The Convention affirms the fundamental right of every person, and especially women, to be free of violence in the public and private sector. (Convention, art. 4.) States Parties are required to ensure that their officials, agents, institutions, or other authorities acting on their behalf must abstain from engaging in acts of violence against women. (Id. art. 5.)

In the area of prevention, States Parties are required to enact legislation or take other measures designed to prevent all forms of violence against women. In addition, they must take measures to fight societal prejudices and bias against women. (Id. art. 12.)

The Convention takes the bold step of criminalizing the traditional practice followed in some countries of mutilation of female genitalia, the victims of which may be women or girls. (Id. art. 38.) It also criminalizes the following acts:

• psychological violence,
• stalking,
• physical violence,
• sexual violence, including rape,
• forced marriage,
• forced abortion and forced sterilization, and
• sexual harassment. (Id. arts. 34-40.)

Another very important provision aimed at protecting women requires States Parties to ensure that forced marriages can be declared null or void without any administrative or financial burden incurred by the victim. (Id. art. 32.)

With the aim of ensuring that perpetrators of violent acts against women will not be subject to reduced sentences due to a number of mitigating factors such as culture, custom, religion, traditions, or ideas about “honor,” the Convention explicitly states that such grounds cannot be used as a defense. (Id. art. 42.)

The Convention also establishes a monitoring mechanism in order to ensure effective implementation of its provisions by the Parties. It requires States Parties to collect statistical data on all forms of violence against women and to ensure that victims of violence have access to civil remedies and the right to claim compensation. (Id. arts. 29 & 30.)

In order to ensure the implementation of the Convention, States Parties are required to allocate financial and human resources to develop programs for the effective prevention and combatting of violence against women. (Id. art. 8.) Moreover, States Parties also need to designate bodies and organizations responsible for monitoring the correct implementation of the Convention. (Id. art. 9). In addition, they are required to take some practical measures designed to provide support to women, through the establishment of shelters and hotlines. (Id. arts. 23 & 24.)