Out of the Mouths of The Advocates

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When Human Rights expert Margo Waterval questioned the delegation from Croatia, I recognized her words; they came directly from The Advocates for Human Rights’ “one-pager.” Astonished, I turned around to look at Rosalyn Park, director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program; she knew those words, too. The look on her face probably mirrored mine. Simply put, we were thrilled.

Rosalyn and I, along with The Advocates’ Croatian partner, Valentina Andrasek, and other volunteers of The Advocates, were attending the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s review of Croatia in Geneva, Switzerland. The responsibility of the Committee, which is comprised of independent experts on human rights, is to monitor the compliance of State parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee examines reports and listens to statements by the State, as well as non-governmental organizations. At the end, the Committee addresses its concerns and makes recommendations to the State party in the form of “Concluding Observations.”

Starting in 2010, The Advocates has studied Croatia’s domestic violence laws in action. Together with its partner on the ground, Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb (AZKZ in Croatian), The Advocates’ lawyers have interviewed police officers, prosecutors, judges, counselors, and shelter staff about how the laws have worked in practice. In 2012, The Advocates published the comprehensive report, Implementation of Croatia’s Domestic Violence Legislation. Based on this report and updates from AZKZ, The Advocates and AZKZ submitted a parallel report on domestic violence to the Committee in advance of Croatia’s March 2015 review. The “one-pager” Professor Waterval quoted in her question to the delegation summarized this parallel report.

In its reviews of State parties, the Committee provides for input by non-governmental organizations, such as The Advocates and AZKZ. Valentina Andrasek, the director of AZKZ, made a presentation to the Committee summarizing our parallel report. We also participated in a forum for NGOs and Committee members. It was at that forum where we met Professor Waterval and gave her a copy of our “one-pager.”

Professor Waterval’s question to the Croatian delegation began with our words. “Research shows that men are the perpetrators of violence 95 percent of the time. Yet in Croatia, police arrest and charge women in 43.2 percent of the cases,” she said. She continued, using our words, and asked the Croatian delegation to respond and explain these “dual arrests.”

Over its two-day review of Croatia, the Committee considered many issues in addition to domestic violence. The Croatian delegation responded, but said little about domestic violence. The chairman of the Committee took notice. He said, in summary, “We all know domestic violence is about power and control, and I would like to hear Croatia’s answers to the questions that were asked about why police arrest the victims along with their abusers.”

Again, Rosalyn and I exchanged looks. Here before our eyes was evidence again that The Advocates and AZKZ, working together, helped focus the Committee on protecting victims of domestic violence in Croatia. The Committee recently issued its Concluding Observations based on its review of Croatia, and much of it reflects The Advocates’ advocacy and recommendations on domestic violence:

“While commending the State party for criminalizing domestic violence in its Criminal Code, the Committee notes with concern the inconsistent application of penalties due to the fact that domestic violence can also be defined as a misdemeanour. The Committee is concerned at reports of lack of investigation and prosecutions as well as lenient sentences imposed on perpetrators. In particular, the Committee is concerned at recurrent reports of dual arrests and convictions of both the perpetrator and the victim of domestic violence. The Committee is also concerned about the low number of women benefiting from the free legal aid system, the low number of protective measures issued and the lack of follow-up to protection orders, rendering them largely ineffective. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned about the lack of a sufficient number of shelters for victims of domestic violence. The Committee regrets the absence of statistical data on acts of domestic violence (arts. 3 and 7).

“The State party should:

“(a) Adopt a comprehensive approach to preventing and addressing violence against women in all its forms and manifestations;

“(b) Intensify its awareness-raising measures among the police, judiciary, prosecutors, community representatives, women and men on the magnitude of domestic violence and its detrimental impact on the lives of victims;

“(c) Ensure that cases of domestic violence are thoroughly investigated by the police, perpetrators are prosecuted, and if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions, and victims are adequately compensated;

“(d) Eliminate the practice of dual arrests and convictions of both the perpetrator and the victim of domestic violence;

“(e) Ensure the issuance of effective protective orders to ensure the safety of victims and that measures are in place to follow-up on protection orders;

“(f) Ensure the availability of a sufficient number of shelters with adequate resources; and

“(g) Collect data on incidences of domestic violence against women and, based on such data, continue to develop sustainable strategies to combat this human rights violation.”

(The full Concluding Observations document may be found here.)

By Julie Shelton, attorney and long-term volunteer who The Advocates for Human Rights honored with its Volunteer Award in 2014. Ms. Shelton traveled in March to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates and other volunteers.

You can learn more about how to conduct advocacy at the United Nations in The Advocates’ new manual Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A step-by-step guide to human rights fact-finding, documentation, and advocacy. Follow the link here for Chapter 9: Advocacy at the United Nations.

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