European Union

Although there is relatively little European Union (EU) law that deals specifically with domestic violence, the obligations imposed by the EU’s legal framework regarding violence against women would govern Member States’ obligations with regard to domestic violence.

While not legally binding, a resolution issued by the European Parliament does indicate that criminalization of domestic violence is an appropriate way for Member States to fulfill their legal obligations under EU law. In its Resolution on the report from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the state of women’s health in the European Community (COM(97)0224 C4-0333/97), Official Journal C175, 21 June 1999, the European Parliament called on Member States to “make domestic violence against women, including rape within marriage and sexual mutilation, a criminal offence and to set up services to help women who are victims of this kind of violence.”

Although it has not yet become law, the European Parliament and European Council have proposed a new directive that, like the United States’ Violence Against Women Act, would provide victims of domestic violence with the ability to retain their EU residency even after divorce from their EU resident spouses. Article 13(2) of the Proposal for a European Parliament and Council Directive on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States (COM/2001/0257), Official Journal C 270 E, 25 September 2001, provides that “divorce or annulment of marriage shall not entail the loss of the right of residence of an EU citizen’s family members who are not nationals of a Member State where . . . (c) this is warranted by particularly difficult circumstances.” The accompanying explanatory memorandum explains that “the wording in the Article is vague and is meant to cover, in particular, situations of domestic violence.”

In Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the “Proposal for a European Parliament and Council Directive on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States” (COM(2001)257), Official Journal C149, 21 June 2002, the Economic and Social Committee criticized the wording of Article 13(2) and unduly vague and recommended “that the wording . . . be more explicit, referring, inter alia, to family, domestic or gender violence, both psychological and physical in nature.”

Finally, although also non-binding, the Council of the European Union has issued a report containing draft Council conclusions on review of the implementation by the Member States and the EU institutions of the Beijing Platform for Action (13348/02), 12 October 2002, with regard to the issue of domestic violence. The report, to be reviewed by the Social Questions Working Party in late October 2002, includes draft Council conclusions relating to domestic violence indicators and list of indicators prepared by the Danish presidency for measuring Member State compliance with the domestic violence provisions of the Beijing Platform for Action.

Council of Europe

Although the Council of Europe (COE) has yet to create a binding instrument concerning domestic violence, the problem has been receiving increasing attention and both the COE and its Council of Ministers have issued a number of recommendations on domestic violence.

The COE’s work on the issue of domestic violence began with Recommendation No R (85) 4, adopted by the Committee of Ministers in 1985. Recommendation No R (85) 4 was followed by Recommendation No R (90) 2 on social measures and family violence. (These documents can be ordered from the Equality Division of the Council of Europe.)

Violence against women, including domestic violence, was also a subject of the Third, Fourth and Fifth European Ministerial Conferences. The subject of the Third Conference in Rome in 1993 was “Strategies for the elimination of violence against women in society: the media and other means.” At the conclusion of that conference, the Ministers adopted a declaration that recommended that the COE draft and implement a plan of action to combat violence against women.

The COE established a Group of Specialists to investigate the issue and produce the Plan of Action. The Group of Specialists’ final report, Equality Between Women and Men: Priorities for the Future (EG-S-FP (99) 1), describes efforts that have been undertaken in Europe to combat violence against women, discusses the success of these efforts and obstacles to success, evaluates options that are available to enforce anti-discrimination provisions, and makes recommendations for future action.

The Plan of Action to Combat Violence Against Women (EG-S-VL (98)), June 1998, was finalized in 1998. The report describes the Group of Specialists’ findings with respect to the nature of violence against women, the scope of the problem, the work that has been undertaken, and current challenges and problems. The report also describes the COE’s Plan of Action for Member States. The Plan of Action recommends a number of strategies to combat domestic violence, including legislative, judicial and law enforcement reforms. The Plan also emphasizes the importance of prevention, education, assistance to victims and treatment of perpetrators.

The Declaration on Equality Between Women and Men as a Fundamental Criterion of Democracy (MEG-4 (97) 18), was developed at the Fourth European Ministerial Conference on equality between women and men in Istanbul on 13-14 November 1997. In this document, the Ministers called on the COE to prepare an instrument setting forth the COE’s position on domestic violence, and recommended that Member States work to reduce and eliminate men’s violence “by initiating education ensuring respect of the other person and as concerns violent men, by supporting practical and therapeutic initiatives.”

Recommendation No R (2002) 5, The Protection of Women Against Violence, was adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 30 April 2002. In that resolution, the Committee “[r]eaffirm[ed] that violence towards women is the result of an imbalance of power between men and women and is leading to serious discrimination against the female sex within society and within the family” and “[a]ffirm[ed] that violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The Recommendation called on Member States to:

  • Review their legislation and policies with a view to [ensuring the fulfillment of women’s rights];
  • Recognise that states have an obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence, whether those acts are perpetrated by the state or private persons, and provide protection to victims;
  • Recognise that male violence against women is a major structural and societal problem, based on the unequal power relations between women and men and therefore encourage the active participation of men in actions aiming at combating violence against women;
  • Encourage all relevant institutions dealing with violence against women (police, medical and social professions) to draw up medium- and long-term co-ordinated action plans, which provide activities for the prevention of violence and the protection of victims;
  • Promote research, data collection and networking at national and international level;
  • Promote the establishment of higher education programmes and research centres including at university level, dealing with equality issues, in particular with violence against women;
  • Improve interactions between the scientific community, the NGOs in the field, political decision-makers and legislative, health, educational, social and police bodies in order to design co-ordinated actions against violence;
  • Adopt and implement the measures described in the appendix to this recommendation in the manner they consider the most appropriate in the light of national circumstances and preferences, and, for this purpose, consider establishing a national plan of action for combating violence against women . . . .

In an Appendix, the Recommendation listed a number of specific steps that could be taken by Member States to combat violence against women. The Recommendation made clear that domestic violence was included in the definition of violence against women.

The Council of Europe’s (COE) report, Gender Equality: a core issue in changing societies (MEG-5 (2003) 3), a document developed at the Fifth European Ministerial Conference on Equality between Women and Men, held in Skopje on 22-23 January 2003, sets forth the Committee of Ministers’ recommendations to the Steering Committee for Equality between Women and Men on violence against women. The third objective outlined in the document is preventing and combating violence against women. Towards this goal, the Council recommended that the Committee develop COE norms and standards on violence and continue to develop activities to combat violence against women.

The roles of women and men in conflict prevention, peacebuilding and post-conflict democratic processes—a gender perspective (MEG-5 (2003) 4), sets forth the COE’s recommendations developed through the Fifth European Ministerial Conference on Equality between Women and Men, held in Skopje on 22-23 January 2003. As part of these recommendations, the COE calls on governments to “raise awareness on the violation of the human rights of women during and after conflicts, and on the increase of domestic violence.”

In April 2000, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Recommendation 1450 on violence against women in Europe. In this Recommendation, the Parliamentary Assembly called on the Committee of Ministers to create a European program to combat violence against women, with the aim of, among other things, “bringing in legislation outlawing all forms of domestic violence; establishing legal recognition of marital rape and making it a criminal offence; ensuring greater protection for women, for example by means of orders restraining violent husbands from entering the marital home and measures to properly enforce penalties and sentences; [and] ensuring greater flexibility as regards both access to justice and the availability of various procedures, with provision for ex officio action by the authorities, in camera hearings and court benches made up equally of female and male judges.”

Domestic Violence: Law and Policy | International Legal Framework | Model Legislation | Sample National Domestic Violence Laws | Protocols and Policies

| Home | Contact | Feedback | Disclaimer |

Copyright © 2003 Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights.
Permission is granted to use this material for non-commercial purposes. Please use proper attribution.