The Istanbul Convention is a legal framework that seeks to prevent and combat violence against women. In Russia, where it is estimated that 14,000 women die every year as a result of domestic violence, the signing and ratification of the Convention is an urgent matter. But instead, last year Russia chose to decriminalise some forms of domestic violence.
“If he beats you, he loves you.” That’s how the infamous Russian proverb goes. In Russia, it is estimated that 14,000 women a year die as a result of domestic violence, and recent changes in the country’s legislation have deprived women of legal protection from domestic violence.
In February 2017, Russia decriminalised some forms of domestic violence. Under what has been nicknamed “the slapping bill”, a first offence of battery that does not injure a person severely enough to be hospitalised will result in a fine of 5,000 to 30,000 roubles (approximately $75 to $450), community service or up to 15 days in prison. Previously, these offences resulted in a penalty of up to two years in prison. A Russian MP defending the bill said it would help build “strong families”, but the bill has been criticised by international and nongovernmental organisations as incompatible with Russia’s international human rights obligations.
The Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence has been signed by all member states of the Council of Europe, except Azerbaijan and Russia.
The Istanbul Convention is considered to be the most comprehensive legal framework to combat violence against women that has ever been created at the international level. Amnesty International and UN Women have called it the “gold standard” of legislation to address domestic violence against women. It is also the first international legal convention that acknowledges violence against women as a human rights violation. These praises of the convention are mostly due to its “whole-system approach” that it employs in its strategy to tackle the violence. It includes a variety of policy measures such as school education on gender-based violence, increasing the capacity of law enforcement agencies to prosecute offenders and governments providing support programs for domestic abuse survivors.
Because of this multifaceted legal framework, it is assumed that it can substantially decrease the rates of domestic abuse. Evaluations made show that countries that have implemented the Istanbul Convention have increasingly shown progress in terms of stronger legislation and increased reporting on domestic violence to the authorities.
According to Human Rights Watch the decriminalisation has lead to an increase in domestic violence in Russia. Recently Russia’s Commissioner for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova, who had spoken in favour of decriminalisation, said that it was a “mistake” and that the country needs to adopt a law to combat domestic violence. Moskalkova has also called for a ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Until this is done, Russia will continue to give a green light to domestic violence.