Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General
1st meeting of the Task Force to combat violence against women, including domestic violence, Strasbourg, February 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by welcoming you to Strasbourg for the first meeting of the Task Force to combat violence against women, including domestic violence. The topic you are called upon to address touches every society in every country of the world, but it is our challenge – your challenge – to address this issue effectively in Europe – and perhaps to set an example for the world at large. Your respective backgrounds as lawyers, project managers, researchers in the legal, health and sociological fields, member of local authorities, will be precious for the success of your job. Too often when speaking about violence against women, including domestic violence, people say: this only affects a limited number of victims; what’s the problem?

This is a misconception. The truth is that one in three women in the world is beaten, raped, attacked. This is what statistics tell us. But statistics only show us the tip of the iceberg. The problem is that violence against women is hidden. Too many women are ashamed or afraid to denounce. Often they are not taken seriously or even threatened when they denounce it. Far too often, their interlocutors are men who may be less sensitive or even minimise their story. Fortunately not always: in October of last year, a team of 50 police officers – half of them women - released 19 women, victims of human trafficking, who were being held captive in Birmingham and forced to work as prostitutes in the West Midlands. This is a very positive and encouraging example, as women police officers showed a lot of understanding for these victims.

The problem is that violence against women is widespread, takes many forms and is too frequently tolerated. Around the world, girls and women are raped and abused or recruited as sex slaves. To date around the world, some 135 million women and girls have been genitally mutilated in the name of custom and tens of thousands have been killed in the name of honour. In the richest, so-called “most developed countries of the world” women are battered to death by their partners.

Violence against women is not something that just happens elsewhere and to others. It happens here and now. It may happen to us, to our friends and to our families. This is not a private problem, but it is a problem which requires attention at all levels of the society.

Violence against women is an infringement of the victim’s human rights and an offence to the dignity and integrity of a human being. In spite of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which, in view of its absolute nature, also entails positive obligations for States, not all our criminal legislation provides for the criminalisation of all forms of violence against women, such as rape within marriage. It is my firm view that nobody can hide behind the right to privacy, the shroud of the four walls of our homes, to justify violence against women.

So, ladies and gentlemen, you are here because the leaders of our 46 member States, at their 3rd Summit in Warsaw in May last year, decided to grant priority to this issue.

Your task is to evaluate progress made nationally to combat violence against women and to see whether new measures or instruments are needed to end this scourge. In short, you will not only have to look at laws and regulations but also at how they are applied, whether in the bedroom or in the market square. You will have to build on good practices and ensure that they are properly spread.

You do not start from scratch: we at the Council of Europe have been actively working in this field and, since 1993, we have intensified our action. Recommendation Rec (2002) 5 on the protection of women against violence, is one of the major results of these efforts. This text focuses on the prevention of violence and the protection of victims and it covers all forms of gender-based violence, including violence in conflict and post-conflict situations or violence in institutional environments. The monitoring of the implementation of this Recommendation at national level is currently taking place and the first overview of the results of this monitoring is being prepared.

One, very serious, form of violence against women which I mentioned a moment ago is trafficking. Last year, the new and groundbreaking Council of Europe Convention on action against trafficking in human beings was opened for signature. 25 countries have signed it so far. We now need countries to ratify and implement it as a matter of urgency, as this treaty stands on the side of victims, on the side of those hundreds of thousands of women and girls whose Human Rights are flouted by this unacceptable form of slavery.

You will have to shake consciences and mentalities, mobilize power and persuasion, inject energy and determination to men and women throughout Europe to make human rights a reality for all women. To this end, you will have to prepare, as a matter of priority, a blueprint for a Council of Europe Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic violence, which is due to be launched in November 2006. A blueprint should thus be available before Summer. In preparing this blueprint, I encourage you to seek close co-operation with all actors, including the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress, NGOs, as well as other international institutions. You can count on your able Secretariat to assist you in your task.

In conclusion,

Ladies and Gentlemen, violence against women may be universal but it is not inevitable if we are ready to stand up, speak out and change our own attitudes. We count on you to find practical and effective solutions which will contribute to ending violence against women. I wish you a very fruitful and successful work.