First ever international decision on domestic violence in Georgia highlights serious shortcomings in State response
“I hope that the Georgian Government will fulfil the decision and implement the recommendations in good faith. For the first time Georgia is found to be responsible for gender-based discrimination and it should trigger discussions and enhance reforms to eliminate domestic violence and systemic discrimination of women.”
Baia Pataraia, Union Sapari
As the world marks International Women’s Day, campaigners against domestic violence have called for implementation of the first ever international decision relating to domestic violence in Georgia. The decision, issued by the main UN women’s rights body, concerns prolonged and brutal violence against a mother and daughter. It breaks new ground by calling on Georgia not only to compensate the victims, but also to instigate widespread reforms aimed at ensuring a zero-tolerance policy towards violence against women. Domestic violence has been described by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women (SRVAW) as a “scourge taboo” in Georgia. The former Soviet state is also urged to ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention – the “gold standard” for tackling violence against women.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (‘CEDAW Committee’) published its findings in the case of X and Y v Georgia, the first ever decision from an international body relating to domestic violence in Georgia. In this case, a mother (X) and daughter (Y) complained of the State’s failure to prevent, investigate and punish prolonged physical violence, and sexual and psychological abuse suffered at the hands of their former husband and father. The case was litigated jointly by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at Middlesex University, and Article 42 (an NGO in Tbilisi).
“Domestic violence is considered a private matter and not a public concern, especially in rural areas…Women victims of domestic violence, who decide not to keep this scourge taboo, are forced by the community – in particular in rural areas – and/or the police, to remain with their perpetrators and are not only re-victimized, but at risk of new assaults.”
(The SRVAW, after her visit to Georgia, February 2016).
When women do report domestic violence to the police, often little or no action is taken until it is too late. The Georgian Government began to tackle this insidious form of gender-based discrimination with the adoption of the 2006 Law on Domestic Violence, which includes temporary protection measures, and requires the State to provide shelters and social services for victims of domestic violence and their children. Under the Law, the State is also obliged to make people aware of their rights and the State’s obligations relating to domestic violence. To date however, Georgia has failed to ensure thorough and effective compliance with the Law. For example, it is widely reported that the police do not routinely adopt a zero-tolerance approach to domestic violence, nor do they handle complaints by victims in an appropriate and sensitive manner. Following protests by women’s rights activists and NGOs over several high profile murders of women by their partners in 2014, the State promised to prioritise tackling domestic violence.
The case of X and Y v Georgia
The violence suffered by X began in 1987 when she was raped by her future husband at a party. She married him because of societal attitudes in Georgia which led her to believe that no one else would wish to marry her once she was no longer a virgin. During the marriage, X gave birth to five children. Her husband would often punish the children with physical violence for misbehaviour or arguing amongst themselves. He routinely assaulted X when she attempted to intervene to protect the children, as well as over insignificant household issues. Her husband also sexually abused Y and her brother. Even after two incidences for which X received medical attention, her repeated reports to the police of ‘spousal battery’ and sexual abuse of the children were never investigated and her husband was never prosecuted. He was only ever asked by the police to sign unenforceable declarations that he would not use violence against his family again.
The CEDAW Committee found violations of the State’s obligations under Articles 2(b)-(f), in conjunction with Article 1 and 5(a) of the CEDAW Convention, as well as the Committee’s general recommendation No. 19 on violence against women. These obligations include the adoption of legislative and other measures prohibiting violence against women as a form of gender-based discrimination; ensuring the legal protection of women’s rights on an equal basis with men; refraining from engaging in discrimination against women and ensuring that public authorities and institutions do the same; tackling discrimination against women by private individuals; modifying or abolishing existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against women; and taking measures to modify social and cultural patterns so as to eliminate prejudices and customary practices that are based on, for example, stereotyped roles for men and women. In its recommendations, the Committee called on the Georgian Government to: adequately compensate X and Y; ensure that other victims of domestic violence are provided with prompt and adequate support, including shelters and psychological assistance; intensify awareness raising campaigns and implement a zero-tolerance policy towards violence against women (in particular, domestic violence); provide mandatory training to law enforcement officials, judges and lawyers on national and international obligations on countering domestic violence; and ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention.
Commenting on the CEDAW Committee’s findings in the case after her country visit to Georgia, the SRVAW underlined that
“the recommendations point out systematic deficiencies related to the implementation of the legislative framework and specific measures on violence against women.”
Together with Article 42, EHRAC has been engaging with Government officials and other NGOs concerning the steps needed to effectively address the issues raised in the Committee’s recommendations. We hope that changes brought about by this decision may positively affect the many women in Georgia for whom domestic violence continues to be a reality.
“The case is a very important achievement both for the applicants and for Georgia. Among the strategic aims of this case is to raise awareness of UN bodies in Georgia, and strengthen the legal system and practice in the context of violence against women. It is also the first positive precedent from an international body for victims of domestic violence in Georgia.”
Elena Fileeva, Article 42
Note: The case of X and Y v Georgia was originally brought by INTERIGHTS, who represented the applicants until the organisation’s closure in May 2014. The CEDAW Committee adopted its decision in the case on 13 July 2015. More information on this case and the issue of violence against women in Georgia is available in our Resources.