Conference of high-ranking representatives of Ministers of Internal Affairs on dealing with Domestic violence

Co-organised within the framework of the French Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

‘’The police, a key player in the fight against domestic violence’’

Council of Europe, Agora building - Room G1, Strasbourg
24 – 25 September 2019

 

  • Welcome to this Conference of high-ranking representatives of the Ministries of the Interior on a topic – the role of the police in tackling domestic violence – which is high on the Council of Europe’s agenda and very dear to my heart.

 

  • Ladies and Gentlemen, the numbers are staggering. According to a 2014 survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA):

 

      • one in three women has experienced some form of physical and/or sexual abuse since the age of 15;
      • Two in five have experienced some form of psychological abuse;
      • 75% of working women have experienced some form of harassment in their lifetime. 

 

  • Throughout Council of Europe member states domestic violence is rarely reported to the police. The same survey shows that in total, victims reported the most serious incident of partner violence to the police in only 14% of the cases.

 

· No country is immune. EUROSTAT data show that feminicide occurs in all European countries: from East to West, from North to South. But conversely, countries which heavily invest in preventing and combating domestic violence, such as Spain, have seen the number of cases halved.

 

· Law enforcement agencies are often the first persons facing a victim of domestic violence. They thus play a key role in understanding what happened, helping victims and tackling perpetrators. Law enforcement intervene at many levels:

 

      • upholding the rule of law and bringing to justice the perpetrators of violence;
      • provide victims with protection;
      • informing victims about their rights and their options and referring them to specialist advice and support services.

 

  • Law enforcements agencies are increasingly and pro-actively involved in awareness-raising activities and outreach initiatives to sensitise communities and individuals about domestic violence and the importance for society to recognise and condemn such violence.

 

  • Law-enforcement agencies are at the core of the immediate response to violence required by the Istanbul Convention - the Council of Europe treaty recognised to be the most far-reaching and comprehensive international legal instrument tackling violence against women and domestic violence in Europe.

 

  • Indeed, a fundamental tenet of the Istanbul Convention is that state institutions should respond to domestic violence at all four levels of prevention, protection, prosecution and integrated policies. This requirement has been termed the “4 Ps” approach.

 

  • The Convention sets out clear standards as to what this approach entails for statutory agencies, including law enforcement agencies. The Istanbul Convention’s monitoring body, GREVIO, pays special attention to how these standards are enforced by law enforcement agencies.

 

  • First, GREVIO’s monitoring shows that law enforcement agencies are increasingly becoming active at the level of primary prevention by approaching local communities and groups of individuals, including children in schools, to convey the notion that domestic violence is unacceptable and that every member of society, including men and boys, have an active role to play in preventing such violence.

 

  • Second, compliance with victims’ protection obligations by law enforcement agencies entails adopting and/or enforcing the necessary protective measures such as arrest, preventive detention, as well as emergency barring, restraining and protection orders, based on a careful assessment of the risks faced by the victim.

 

  • Third, thorough investigations and collection of evidence by law enforcement is key in supporting prosecutorial action and enabling the conviction of the perpetrator.

 

  • Fourth and finally, an integrated approach is needed. Law-enforcement agencies should closely co-operate with the judiciary, social services, child protection agencies, but also women’s NGOs providing specialist support services, entities running preventive perpetrator programmes and any other relevant partner.

 

  • A proper implementation of the 4 Ps approach of the Convention must be supported by a gendered understanding of domestic violence and focus on the human rights and safety of victims, notably women, and their children. This is a pre-condition to avoid secondary victimisation of victims.

 

  • In many states Parties to the Convention, the need for law enforcement officials to acquire the appropriate knowledge and skills to respond appropriately to domestic violence has led to the establishment of specialised units/departments in police departments specially formed to assist victims and conduct investigations.

 

  • The standards of the Istanbul Convention and the findings and recommendations of GREVIO should inspire all countries when implementing legislation and policies aiming at strengthening the preventive and repressive role of law enforcement is tackling domestic violence.

 

  • Beyond the issue of domestic violence, this Conference allows us also to reflect more broadly at how best to ensure a coordinated approach of police services at an international level and the need to enhance cooperation amongst police services across CoE member states. To this end, we should reflect at developing common standards of police conduct across all CoE member states, based on the findings of the European Court of Human Rights, our anti-Torture committee the CPT, GREVIO, our anti-trafficking monitoring body GRETA and our anti-corruption body GRECO. All these bodies have developed sectoral standards of police conduct which could and should be consolidated in a single guidance document.

 

  • Next to this, a CoE advisory body of police representatives could be considered with a view to exchanging good practices of police conduct, promoting existing police-related standards and boosting domestic reforms. Such a body would be complementary to similar CoE bodies gathering judges and prosecutors, for example.

 

  • I leave these thoughts to your reflection and discussion and wish you all a successful event.