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European court urges Russia to tackle domestic violence

Moscow, Russia

A top European human rights court issued a ruling Tuesday urging Russia to introduce measures tackling domestic violence against women, which it said is happening on a “staggering scale” amid “systematic problems in securing prosecutions and convictions.” 

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in a case that four Russian women filed after suffering abuse at the hands of their partners, stating that Russian authorities failed to protect them from violence and respond to their cases appropriately. 

The court found that Russia violated Articles 3 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibit inhuman, degrading treatment and discrimination, and recommended “urgent changes to domestic law and practice to prevent similar violations.” 

According to the ruling, such changes should include introducing a legal definition of domestic violence and its various forms, bringing in restraining and protective orders, and criminalizing all acts of domestic violence. 

“We won!” lawyer and women’s rights advocate Mari Davtyan, who represented two women in the case, wrote in a Facebook post.

“It is not the first time the court notes Russia’s failure to fulfill its obligations on protection from domestic violence, but this time the court clearly and in detail pointed out measures Russia must adopt, including legislation against domestic violence, restraining orders, protocols for assessing and managing risks, mechanisms of interagency cooperation and much more,” Davtyan said. 

There are virtually no legal mechanisms to protect people in Russia from domestic abuse at the moment. Existing laws address a wide range of violent crimes, but attempts to create measures that would prevent these crimes from happening have faced resistance from authorities.

Simple assault against a family member was a criminal offense only briefly in 2016 under a measure passed by lawmakers, but it prompted a backlash from conservative groups. As a result, it was decriminalized the next year and downgraded to a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of about $US68.

Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the upper house of parliament, acknowledged in 2019 that rampant domestic violence was a problem in Russia and vowed to have a domestic violence bill by the end of the year. 

One was drafted by lawmakers and women’s rights advocates, but faced weeks of stiff resistance from conservative groups and the Russian Orthodox Church, which argued that the state shouldn’t interfere in family matters. As a result, it was watered down and never came up for a vote.

In the Tuesday’s ruling, the European Court of Human Rights also ordered Russia to pay the four women a total of over €450,000. Natalya Tunikova, Yelena Gershman and Irina Petrakova are to get €20,000 each for damages. Margarita Gracheva is to be paid €40,000 for damages and over €330,000 euros for medical expenses. All will get money for legal expenses as well.

Gracheva’s case made national headlines in 2017, after her husband kidnapped her, drove her out to the forest and chopped her hands off with an ax. Doctors were able to reattach her left hand, but it only regained limited function. Gracheva lost her right hand and is using a bionic prosthetic. 

Her husband is currently serving a 14-year prison term, and Gracheva has become a key activist in the Russian women’s fight for a domestic violence law. 



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