Galina Rymbu

Free Russia Foundation’s fellow, poet, feminist, philosopher

Russia Is a Country Dangerous for Women

On July 9, the European Court of Human Rights made the decision in the case of Valeriya Volodina from Ulyanovsk, who had spent three years trying to get the police to start a case against her former partner Rasheed Salayev. Salayev followed, kidnapped and beat Volodina multiple times and threatened her underage son. Every time, the police turned her down. Police officers explained their rejection by saying that the threats that she regularly received from Salayev “were a result of their personal hostile relationship as well as jealousy experienced by S.” The chief of the Internal Affairs Department “Mozhayskiy” answered: “What can I tell you? You should hide better.” The details of this story can be found on the website of the organization “Legal Initiative,” which Volodina approached for help and which transferred her complaint to the ECHR.

The ECHR judgment on Volodina’s case is the first one on a domestic violence case in Russia. The court points out that “the continued failure to adopt legislation to combat domestic violence and the absence of any form of restraining or protection orders clearly demonstrate that the authorities’ actions in the present case were not a simple failure or delay in dealing with violence against the applicant, but flowed from their reluctance to acknowledge the seriousness and extent of the problem of domestic violence in Russia and its discriminatory effect on women.” The court has also established that the Russian authorities had breached Articles 3 and 14 of the Convention (concerning torture and degrading treatment and concerning discrimination). As soon as the ECHR judgment comes into effect, the Russian government will have six months to present the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe with the Action Plan how to prevent similar violations in the future.

Commentary by Vladimir Zhbankov, legal expert of Free Russia House in Kyiv:

“However, the problem of Russia’s systematic failure to comply with ECHR rulings has a long and rich history. Court judgments, as a rule, consist of three parts: one establishing the fact of breach of this or that Convention provision, recommendations on amending the domestic legislation or procedural practices, and one establishing the amount of financial compensation. For many years, Russia only complied with this last part. At the same time, since the early 2010s, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation has been developing quite an original and evidently non-legal doctrine that would enable Russia to ignore the judgments issued by the ECHR. The methods of enforcing compliance with international legal standards in the sphere of human rights by Russia are only in development so far. 

The website Nasiliyu.Net already contains translations of important fragments from the ECHR decisions, where, for instance, items 80-81 say that Russia has not enacted specific legislation to address violence occurring within the family context, and the concept of “domestic violence” or any equivalent thereof is not defined or mentioned in any form in the Russian legislation. The court also “cannot agree with the Government’s claim that the existing criminal-law provisions are capable of adequately capturing the offense of domestic violence.”

The public opinion in the Russian Federation increasingly tends to side with the Court’s opinion in this respect. Why is this decision so important for everyone who fights against domestic violence in Russia and tries to solve this problem? Based on this judgment, as well as on other judgments of the Court, it can be concluded that Russia systematically fails to follow through on its undertaken commitments on the protection of individuals under its jurisdiction from all forms of cruel treatment, including cases when such treatment is perpetrated by private individuals. Another conclusion is that Russia as a country supports gender-based discrimination against women and its gender policy is discriminatory in nature.

The government’s reluctance to treat the problem of domestic violence and violence against women seriously constitutes a part of this policy. What would it mean to treat a problem seriously? To abolish the law decriminalizing beatings in the family and to start legislative prevention of domestic violence (introduce domestic violence orders which would prohibit the aggressor to approach the victim). These are just the first steps that Russia needs to take so that the country would stop posing a threat to women’s life and health.

In addition to that, Russia still hasn’t been able to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention, which is currently one of the most important documents designed to prevent domestic violence and violence against women at the national level.

Commentary by defense attorney Olga Gnezdilova, a lawyer with “Legal Initiative”

G.R.: Will these specific police officers who refused to start the case be brought to justice somehow following the ECHR judgment? Is there any information available on their personal connections with Salayev?

O.G.: The police officers can effectively be brought to justice on the count of negligent performance since this means punishment for failure to perform one’s duties if it has led to grave damage or violation of citizens’ rights. In this case, of course, Valeriya’s rights were violated — by the government as well, de facto, taking into account that the ECHR has awarded the applicant a compensation from the budget (EUR 20,000 as a compensation for non-pecuniary damage and EUR 6,000 for legal costs and expenses — ed. note), and it was the government whose inaction has led to the damage. We do not have information that the police officers were in any way connected with Salayev. However, I am under the impression that they were exhibiting some sort of “male solidarity.” Like, they would tell him how to avoid responsibility when he took away Valeriya’s cell phones. When he gave them back, theft was off the table. In one of their explanations, they said that Valeriya did not need protection from the government, and they considered the threats not realistic, because of her bad relationship with Salayev and his jealousy. So, because of jealousy, the police decided that the threats were not realistic.

G.R.: Was this the first lawsuit filed with the ECHR concerning domestic violence where the state was the defendant? Does this mean that Volodina’s case should resolve the problem of domestic violence in a comprehensive manner? Does this mean that the case against Salayev should be opened after all and carefully investigated? What agencies and individuals will be tasked with the creation of the Action Plan to prevent such violations in the future, which will be presented in six months to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe?

O.G.: This was not the first case concerning domestic violence vs. Russia, but the first one on which the Court has made a judgment. We hope that the judgment will be fully implemented because the Court has recognized not only the breach of Valeriya’s right to protection from cruel treatment and investigation of her lawsuit but also established the fact of gender-based discrimination against her. The Court has also stated that Russia does not have legislation on domestic violence, that domestic violence orders accepted and proven in most countries on the Council of Europe do not work in Russia. We also hope that reports filed between 2016 and now will be investigated. The Action Plan will be created by the Ministry of Justice of Russia, then it will send the Plan to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and then coordinate specific steps and deadlines with the Committee.

G.R.: Can this case somehow affect the adoption of the law on the prevention of domestic violence and accelerate this process?

O.G.: Yes, we also hope that this case will have a direct impact on the adoption of domestic violence legislation. I am saying “legislation,” because apart from the law introducing this notion, amendments should be made to the Criminal Code, to the criminal procedural and civil legislation. That is, a lot of work should be done on legislation. We believe that when the government claims it is too expensive and we do not have budget funds to build shelters for women [safe places, special centers for women who have suffered from domestic or sexual violence or ended up in a difficult position] who are running away from violence is unsubstantiated. Shelters are also necessary (and this practice exists in many countries) if there is a threat of violence. We commend the statement of Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova, who has recently said that Russia should ratify the Istanbul convention in connection with the beating of a girl in Ingushetia. The Istanbul Convention sets forth detailed measures, both legislative and educational, which help to fight against this phenomenon at the earliest stages. That is, it is not only about effective punishment, but also about making this crime commonly viewed as unacceptable. There should be zero tolerance to domestic violence in society, no more victim-blaming, etc. Of course, the only one that can be blamed is the perpetrator. 

Today, we can already say that there is a public campaign around the problem of domestic violence in Russia. This is a grassroots initiative led by human rights defenders, activists, and journalists, which is supported by various media and social movements, which unites feminist movements and organizations, politicians, businesswomen and celebrities, writers and public intellectuals. The fact that we hear more and more about notable domestic violence cases is the result of this public campaign. This doesn’t mean that none of that happened before (even though the situation became somewhat worse after a battery in the family was decriminalized). But increased awareness of the domestic violence problem gradually causes the public to recognize that domestic violence in Russia is a political and governmental problem, and not just a problem of a select few. That is why it is so important that everyone who has access to public resources should speak up and form zero tolerance to domestic violence and violence against women in Russian society.

There is another important story that is probably bringing us closer to a comprehensive solution to the domestic violence problem in Russia. On July 9, the ECHR published a communiqué on four more complaints concerning domestic violence in Russia. This may bring in motion the “pilot judgment” procedure, which will result in the Court suggesting a set of legislative measures and a timeline of their adoption in Russia. In the entire ECHR history, 26 such pilot judgments were made, but none of them was about domestic violence. A “pilot judgment” is a procedure of a comprehensive nature. It was initiated because of the complaint of four Russian women who regularly suffered from domestic violence and faced rejections from the authorities when they asked to protect them from cruel treatment. They are Margarita Gracheva, Irina Petrakova, Natalia Tunikova, and Elena Gershman. Currently, domestic violence in Russia is still decriminalized, the legislation does not provide ways to fight against it, and a woman is killed by her partner or family member every 40 minutes nationwide

This text was translated from Russian by Natalia Slienko. The original text could be found here.

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