Report on the side event to the 2015 Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: “Violence against women: from rape to femicide – criminal justice as prevention cure?”

Author: Stephanie Krauth
Editor: Ilse Wuyts

On May 19th 2015, the Academic Council on the United Nations System, in collaboration with the Thailand Institute of Justice, hosted during the 2015 Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice the side event “Violence against women: from rape to femicide – criminal justice as prevention cure?”. This side-event focused on the role that criminal justice systems may have in preventing and responding to violence against women and girls.

femicide-eventClaudia Baroni, Drug Control and Crime Prevention Officer of UNODC, gave the opening remarks and acted as moderator of the expert panel. Ms. Baroni welcomed everyone and thanked the organizers of this side event: the Government of Thailand, and the Thailand Institute of Justice and its co-sponsors UNODC, the International Center for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy and ACUNS; as well as the panelist. She stressed that violence against women is one of the most wide spread violations of human rights, pointing out that no country is immune to this type of violence that can include physical, sexual, psychological and economical abuse. Ms. Baroni asserted that while progresses have been made in some countries and certain areas, there are still many impediments to effectively prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls. She highlighted the fact that today more than 160 countries have laws to address violence against women, and that yet all too often the rights of women are violated twice: the first time when they become victims of violence and the second time when they seek, but not find the justice and services they are entitled too. She stressed that in many countries the justice chain is still failing female victims of violence, and that this failure results in a high level of violence against women going unreported and prosecuted. Ms. Baroni concluded by explaining the role that UNODC is playing today, essentially by assisting countries to develop and implement appropriate crime prevention policies and strategies and by promoting equality in the criminal system.

femicide-event-2015Dr. Sita Sumrit, adviser to projects for Promotion of Women’s and Children’s Rights in the Thailand Institute of Justice, presented a study on the trial of rape, conducted by the TIJ in collaboration with UNWOMEN and with the technical support of UNODC and UNDP. Ms. Sumrit pointed out that this study is a part of a multi-country study on criminal justice response to sexual violence, led by fellow panelist Eileen Skinnider and her colleagues. The study presented by Dr. Sumrit focused on Thailand (where rape occurs every 15 minutes with only 4 000 cases reported to the police and 2400 resulting in arrest in 2014) and Vietnam. Dr. Sumrit explained that the aim was to understand how criminal justice tackles rape and sexual related cases. During her presentation, she highlighted the barriers existing to access justice in Thailand and Vietnam, where women have limited knowledge of the legal system and limited access to information about their rights. Dr. Sumrit stressed how sexual violence against women is not a priority for action in the criminal justice system of these countries and how they found that cases are filtered out at every stage of the justice penal process. She asserted that many women in Thailand and Vietnam do not trust the criminal system. They are also often ashamed of what happened to them. If they do decide to report the crimes, they encounter many difficulties in pursuing the case as they are treated in very gender discriminatory ways since the initial contact. Dr. Sumrit pointed out that officers lack the skills to deal with rape cases and that often the support for the victims is very limited. She concluded her presentation by recalling a case of a gang raped girl who had to go eight times to the police station to try to report the case; this example shows clearly the problems entailed by limited access to information and the lack of assistance to victims by the criminal justice system.

Eileen Skinnider, Senior Associate of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy (ICCLR) in Canada, presented the global tools to repress and prevent violence against women. Ms. Skinnider began her presentation highlighting the difficulties that victims often encounter while navigating through the criminal justice system and the need for quality assistance, safety and support for victims. She also emphasized the importance of building institutional capacities to transform organizational cultures and create gender awareness and sensitivity; as well as the importance of comprehensive legal and policy frameworks. Ms. Skinnider concluded by presenting the UNODC handbook on the effective prosecution responses to violence against women and girls; a global tool that can be useful for a variety of legal systems and that should be implemented.

Rosa Logar, a national and international women’s rights activist and currently one of eight experts in the Council of Europe Task Force to Combat Violence Against Women, began her presentation by underlining the fact that with the prevention of femicide, other forms of violence of women are being prevented as well. Ms. Logar affirmed that the question of violence against women and girls is a question of accountability and that this issue should be prioritize; and accountability is not possible without criminal justice. She stated that if a system is unwilling to take the violence seriously, support the victims, and coordinate investigations, there won’t be any progress and reduction of violence. To illustrate her statements she described how Vienna tries to introduce a new system, with a victim based approach. Here, the institutions represent the rights of the victims, include them in every decision and provide them with a safety plan.

Andrada Filip, presented, on behalf of the Academic Council on the United Nations System, the third volume of the ACUNS Femicide Publication on “The targeting of women in conflict”. During her speech, Ms. Filip explained the objectives of the publication, as well as ACUNS’s involvement for the last three years to create awareness of the crime of femicide. She also pointed out how this problem affects our world and requires a sustained and holistic approach, which must include all relevant stakeholders, including civil society and grass roots. Ms. Filip concluded her presentation by calling on Member States to strengthen the capacity of their criminal justice institutions in order to more effectively prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish gender-related killing of women. Finally, she stressed the importance of close cooperation with civil society and relevant stakeholders, such as women’s organizations, community leaders, or human rights defenders, to attain the above-mentioned goals.

Claudia Baroni, ended the side event by thanking the panelist and the audience. Finally, she expressed her delight about the adoption of the Doha Declaration at the occasion 13th Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, whereby Member States have highlighted the importance of mainstreaming a gender perspective in the criminal system and protecting women and girls from all forms of violence including gender related killings of women and girls. Ms. Baroni was also pleased that, thanks to the initiative of Thailand and Croatia, at this year session of the CCPCJ a resolution on gender related killings of women and girls is being presented, which is currently being under discussion within the committee.