Warning: This case deals with topics that are especially grave and may cause trauma invoked by memories of past abuse. If you have experienced violence and need assistance, please refer to this list of country help lines provided by UN Women.
O.G. separated from K because of his alcoholism, gambling, and insults. She began a new relationship, but K continued to harass her. On one occasion he turned up at her house and demanded that she let him in. He hit her in the face, in front of their child and her new partner, and broke a window of her house with a stone. Some two years later, he was convicted of battery after O.G. initiated a private prosecution, and sentenced to a suspended prison sentence and required to pay compensation to O.G. K continued to threaten O.G., sending persistent death threats to her by text, continuous stalking, persistent calls and text messages, insults, threats and physical stalking. When she complained about this behaviour to the police, they said that because K was not acting on his death threats, it was not possible to investigate or prosecute K for his behaviour. The burden was placed on her to prove that the threat was real, the police failed to investigate and eventually the statute of limitations expired, so that no prosecution could be initiated.
What was the decision?
The CEDAW Committee held that O.G.’s rights under Article 5 of the CEDAW Convention had been violated, because the Russian authorities had “inflexible standards on the basis of preconceived notions of what constitutes domestic or gender-based violence.” Confirming that O.G.’s rights under Articles 1, 2(a)(c)(d) and (e), Articles 3 and 5 of the Convention had been violated, the CEDAW Committee noted that she was “subjected to fear and anguish when she was left without State protection while she was periodically persecuted by her aggressor and was exposed to renewed trauma when the State organs that ought to have been her protector, in particular the police, instead refused to offer her protection and denied her status as a victim.” (paragraph 7.9). The CEDAW Committee recommended that she receive compensation, and that new legislation and protocols for police be adopted so that victims of domestic violence receive better service from the authorities, including an obligation on the authorities to prosecute these cases, rather than requiring a victim to bring a private prosecution.
Learning from other institutions
The CEDAW Committee cited the definition of domestic violence from the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (known as “the Istanbul Convention”) to emphasise that domestic violence can be committed by former partners as well as current partners, and that violence includes physical, sexual psychological or economic violence.
The CEDAW Committee specified that crimes of domestic violence are committed by former partners, as well as current partners, and that it is a violation of women’s human rights to access to justice to require them to undertake a private prosecution.
The CEDAW Committee took a comprehensive view of the experiences of O.G., that “she was subjected to fear and anguish when she was left without State protection while she was periodically persecuted by her aggressor and was exposed to renewed trauma when State organs that ought to have been her protector, in particular the police, instead refused to offer her protection and denied her status as a victim.”(paragraph 7.9)