Out of the Mouths of The Advocates

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.

The Advocates’ Experts at UN’s Commission on the Status of Women’s 58th Session


Work around the world on violence against women featured

Women’s human rights experts from The Advocates for Human Rights are participating and presenting at the 58th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, being held this week in New York.

In conjunction with the session, The Advocates held “Monitoring Implementation of Domestic Violence Laws Around the World,” a workshop about violence against women and girls on Monday. Alongside The Advocates’ partners, the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation’s Genoveva Tisheva and Vital Voices’s Cindy Dyer, the panel focused on how violence against the female gender is presenting significant barriers to achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.

There were over 115 attendees at The Advocates' event. Over 3,500 people are expected to attend the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
There were over 115 attendees at The Advocates’ 8:30 a.m. event.

Before a packed room at the 8:30 a.m. workshop, people from every corner of the globe learned about The Advocates’ methodology on monitoring domestic violence, as well as:

• partnering with NGOs,
• conducting interviews of major stakeholders,
• analyzing the interviews to reach conclusions and make recommendations
• releasing reports to maximize impact.

The event was jam packed, filled with participants from all over the world.
The event was jam packed, filled with participants from all over the world.
"The event could not possible be long enough! These are real experts," said one event attendee.
“The event could not possible be long enough! These are real experts,” said one event attendee.

Considered by the UN as the “go-to” resource on information about violence against women and girls, The Advocates has monitored published reports on the implementation of domestic violence legislation and published reports in countries throughout the world, including in Mongolia, Croatia, Moldova, and Bulgaria. Applying international human rights standards, the reports have been instrumental in protecting victims and holding perpetrators accountable.

For advocacy and legal reform tools, and to learn more about violence against women, visit The Advocates’ StopVAW website at: www.StopVAW.org.

The Advocates' delegation is composed of staff, volunteers and board memebrs. Pictured here: Aviva Breen, board member and long-time volunteer with the Women's Program, and Robin Phillips, Executive Director
The Advocates’ delegation is comprised of staff, volunteers and board members. Pictured here: Aviva Breen (l), board member and long-time volunteer with the Women’s Program, and Robin Phillips (r), The Advocates’ Executive Director

By: Ashley Monk, The Advocates’ development & communications assistant

Stopping Domestic Violence in Croatia: Progress and Challenges

by Rosalyn Park

Today, I am in Croatia for the official launch of our new report, Implementation of Croatia’s Domestic Violence Legislation. The report is the result of extensive fact-finding in Croatia to assess how its laws are working to protect domestic violence victims and hold offenders accountable. The Advocates for Human Rights traveled to Croatia in October 2010 and February 2011 to interview NGOs, representatives of government agencies, victims, police, judges, social workers, doctors, and prosecutors. Based on these interviews and extensive research, we drew conclusions and made recommendations which we present in the report.

We’ll be releasing this report with a week-long series of events in Croatia. We’ll be presenting the report to Parliament, ombudspersons, police, judges, shelter workers, Centers for Social Welfare, and NGOs. I am excited about this release trip when all our hard work comes to fruition, and we get to use the report to help our partners make change in Croatia. But, I’m also nervous about it–we could face significant backlash from the very people to whom we’ll be presenting the report.

We are objective in our report, but not afraid to criticize the government for failing to live up to certain human rights obligations. And the report makes some very candid observations about the law, the government agencies, and the frontline responders. Our research uncovered many troubling practices that we didn’t hesitate to point out in our report. For example, judges in Croatia often use a harmful practice called “facing” to assess the credibility of the parties. When judges are unsure of who is telling the truth, they’ll force the parties to face each other, a few meters apart, look each other in the eye, and recount their version of what happened. Judges claim that they can read the parties’ facial and body expressions to decide who is lying. For a victim of domestic violence to confront her abuser in this way is traumatizing and harmful; moreover, it most likely won’t promote candid or truthful testimony.

We’re hoping our report can change practices like this. So, while we expect that some people will be upset when they read criticisms of how they implement laws on domestic violence, we hope to convince them that this report can be a tool they can use to improve their practices. Our recommendations set out clear ways that the Croatian government and systems actors can strengthen their response to domestic violence to better protect victims and promote offender accountability. The report’s release in Croatia will be our opportunity to begin convincing them to act on our recommendations; we hope our advocacy work will help launch the next phase of this project–pushing those recommendations forward so that more Croatian women can live free from the terror and torture of domestic violence.

Rosalyn Park is the Research Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.