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Regional Seminar
“Legal Measures to Combat Violence against Women,
including Domestic Violence”
The Hague, 21-22 February 2007

Speech by Jan Kleijssen
Director, Directorate General of Human Rights
Council of Europe

Opening session

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Violence against women, including domestic violence, deprives women of their ability to enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms. It is a violation of human rights and this violence concerns all of us.

Women suffering from violence are not only victims of abuse, they are also victims of silence, victims of indifference and victims of neglect.

And this violence happens all around us.

To give you a few figures from a study published by the Council of Europe last year: across all member states, one-fifth to one-quarter of all women have experienced physical violence at least once during their adult lives, and more than one-tenth have suffered sexual violence involving the use of force. Figures for all forms of violence, including stalking, are as high as 45%. More significantly, for women the majority of such violent acts are carried out by men in their immediate social environment, most often by partners and ex-partners. 12% to 15% of all women have been in a relationship of domestic abuse after the age of 161. Many more continue to suffer physical and sexual violence from former partners even after the break-up.

This study also gives the estimated annual costs relative to the population which clarifies just how much each taxpayer contributes. The results of this study indicate that the total national cost of violence against women in Council of Europe member states in relation to the total population ranges from 9.2 Euro to 555 Euro per capita every year. However, the lower figure is not entirely representative as it concerns only women who sought victim support services. According to these studies, the estimated total annual costs of violence amount to 34 billion Euros for Council of Europe member states.

The Council of Europe has, in the past 30 years, worked hard to eliminate any interference with women’s liberty and dignity. This has sparked many initiatives and brought to light innovative ways in which to improve the protection of women from violence.

One of the most important of these initiatives is Recommendation Rec (2002)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of women against violence. It is included in your seminar folder and I would invite you to take a close look at it.

Let me briefly explain why it is so important.

First of all, it proposes a comprehensive strategy to prevent violence and protect victims. It does not only include one form of violence, but covers all forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence. For all these forms of violence, it includes specific measures which member states are recommended to take. These range from detailed legal and policy measures to services and assistance for women victims of violence as well as concrete action in the fields of education, training, public awareness and the media.

However, this recommendation is not limited to listing legal and policy measures. It actually does much more than that. It recommends the recognition of two fundamental principles which any action to combat violence against women need to be based on and which – thanks to a vocal women’s rights movement – are now firmly established in international human rights discourse:

The first is the fact that Council of Europe member states have an obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence, whether these acts are perpetrated by the state or private persons.

This means that it is not an act of goodwill to effectively protect women from violence but that member states are firmly obliged to do so.

The second is the fact that male violence against women is a major structural and societal problem, based on unequal power relations between women and men. This is also reflected in the status of women in many areas of public and economic life.

What might sound radical to some is actually a well-established truth which should serve as a point of departure for anybody engaged in combating violence against women. Violence against women needs to be understood in a social context and not as a series of unconnected events. It is the social result of a misunderstood masculinity used by men to justify the use of violence as a means of exercising dominance and control.

The Council of Europe has now made the fight against violence against women a political priority. Too many women continue to live in fear of their own home or in fear of someone who was once close to them.

This is why Heads of State and government of the Council of Europe member states decided at their 3rd Summit in 2005 to place more emphasis on the eradication of violence against women. They decided to set up a Task Force on this topic, whose chairperson just explained us their mandate and scope of work. They also decided to launch a Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence. As we heard, this Campaign was launched in November last year and will end in 2008. During this period, but also beyond, member states are invited to make real progress in preventing and combating violence against women, ideally through national campaigns that should include measures for stronger implementation of the Recommendation Rec(2002)5 on the protection of women against violence.

It is within the framework of this Campaign that we are meeting here today at the first of five regional seminars which will be organised throughout the course of the year.

I would like to thank the Dutch authorities for their initiative to host the first such seminar and for the wonderful co-operation with the Council of Europe in organising the event.

Each of these seminars will focus on a different thematic aspect of preventing and combating violence against women, including domestic violence, which are laid out in the objectives of the Blueprint.

This seminar today is devoted to legal measures. I believe we can all agree that efforts to prevent domestic violence should not be limited to an effective legal framework. At the same time, we will agree that protecting women from violence is impossible without a legal system that treats domestic violence as the serious crime it is. Bearing this in mind, we will spend the following two days discussing new or proven legal measures which aimed at protecting women.

During the first day, keynote speakers will present three different approaches to improving the protection of women from violence through law. These include protection or barring orders, which are now considered fundamental in enabling women to free themselves from violence. They also include the idea of setting up a legal basis for increased court sentences if violent acts have been committed against a former or current partner as opposed to a stranger. Last but not least, we will learn about the concept of specialised domestic violence courts and their added value.

The second day will then focus largely on how these or other legal measures can be implemented effectively. You as experts in this field know that it is not enough to simply introduce changes in the law, but that their implementation needs to be ensured and their outcome evaluated and monitored.

This seminar will show us how specialised legislation can be used to really protect women from violence. We should not forget, however, that there are countries where such legislation and its implementation actually leads to the opposite effect.

Since all of you present are experts in this field, you are probably very familiar with much of what I have said and would agree with me that it is now high time for concrete action instead of more talk. That is why I would like to ask you to support the Council of Europe in turning words into deeds during the Campaign, but also beyond. I hope this seminar will be a first step.

On behalf of the Council of Europe, I warmly welcome you to this seminar and look forward to your presentations. As you will see from the programme, a lot of time is devoted to discussion among seminar participants. I would like to invite you to make the most of this and look forward to your contributions. In order for us all to get to know each other a little bit, I would like to ask you all to briefly introduce yourself.

Tour de table

I would now like to invite the first keynote speaker, Ms Silvia Thaller from the Ministry of Justice, Austria, to take the floor and introduce the topic of protection and molestation orders.

1 (Figures taken from Stocktaking study on the measures and actions taken in Council of Europe member States to combat violence against women, 2006)