In a December 6 letter to the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, Human Rights Watch urged the council to amend the bill to bring it in line with international standards and include key protections for victims. If adopted, the bill would be Russia’s first law addressing domestic violence.
“The domestic violence bill is long-awaited, but in its current form largely misses the mark by not addressing several issues crucial to providing effective protection for domestic violence victims,” said Yulia Gorbunova, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Without providing victims with sufficient protection and recourse measures, the law risks being no more than an empty shell.”
Human Rights Watch made several recommendations for amending the bill, among them to introduce a complete and comprehensive definition of domestic violence, including physical, sexual, economic, and emotional abuse. Human Rights Watch also called to amend the provisions of the bill concerning protection orders and urged for measures on protection and access to justice for victims of domestic violence every step of the way, beginning when they first seek help from the authorities. The bill should ensure that the list of people who may be affected by domestic violence includes close relatives and extended family and former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the abuser shares or has shared a residence with the victim.
A 2018 Human Rights Watch report found that Russian authorities do not adequately address pervasive domestic violence. Current Russian law does not recognize domestic violence as a stand-alone offense, leading to a lack of reliable or comprehensive statistics. The police often refuse to investigate or even respond to domestic violence complaints. The social services infrastructure does not adequately provide for the needs of victims of domestic violence and the judicial system is stacked against them. Legislative amendments adopted in February 2017 decriminalized first battery offenses among family members, a serious setback. But several high-profile Russian government officials have criticized decriminalization, and some have called for the adoption of domestic violence legislation.
Russia’s nongovernmental groups and human rights’ advocates, as well as some policymakers, have been pushing for Russia to adopt a national law on domestic violence for over two decades. Public awareness about and opposition to domestic violence have increased in recent years, in part in response to severe cases that have made headline news.
In her annual 2018 report, Russia’s human rights ombudswoman Tatiana Moskalkova recommended that the Russian authorities develop a draft law on domestic violence. In July 2019, Valentina Matvienko, the chairwoman of the Federation Council, set up a working group tasked with analyzing Russian laws and enforcement regarding domestic violence. She underscored the need for the government to maintain consistent, comprehensive statistics on domestic violence.
Increasingly heated debates around domestic violence brought to the fore conservative positions that have dominated Russian politics and reflect, among other things, the growing role of the Russian Orthodox Church in politics, and its influence on Russian society.
Groups and individuals affiliated with the church, and those claiming to promote “traditional” or “family” values, lobbied strongly against adopting a domestic violence law. They have organized public protests against the bill and falsely characterized efforts to prevent and punish domestic violence as an assault on the Russian family, at times using misleading, untrue, or even outright inflammatory statements, Human Rights Watch said.
In late November, the head of the church’s Patriarchal Commission on the Family Dimitry Smirnov suggested that a domestic violence law would break up Russian families and make it easier for the authorities to remove children from families and put them up for adoption, to be “brought up by homosexuals.”
In October, several politicians and experts reported that threats have been made against them and their families in retaliation for their work advocating for a robust draft law on domestic violence. They include Mari Davtyan, a lawyer; Alyona Popova, an activist and legal expert; Alexey Parshin, a lawyer; and Oksana Pushkina, a member of parliament.
In July, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women reiterated its call for Russia to urgently adopt comprehensive legislation to prevent and address violence against women.
The European Court of Human Rights issued its first ruling on a domestic violence case in Russia in July. The court recognized the Russian authorities’ overall “reluctance to acknowledge the seriousness and extent of the problem of domestic violence in Russia and its discriminatory effect on women.”
“The momentum to adopt domestic violence legislation in Russia has been building for decades and it would be a shame to waste this opportunity,” Gorbunova said. “Parliament should do the right thing and bring the existing draft in line with international standards so that domestic violence survivors have a place to turn for the protection and services they need, and perpetrators are held to account.”