The Council of Europe’s monitoring body GREVIO in its first report on Georgia released today welcomed the many steps taken by the Georgian authorities to align its laws, policies and institutional framework with the standards of the Istanbul Convention. However, further legal amendments are needed, more domestic violence shelters and sexual violence crisis referral centers should be established across the country, bureaucratic obstacles related to obtaining victim status should be addressed, and steps must be urgently taken to increase women’s equal status in the Georgian society where patriarchal attitudes still prevail. The comments of the Georgian government were equally published.
The adoption of the National Action Plan on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims 2018-2020, accompanied by policies, constituted a very important step in aligning Georgia’s obligations with its commitments under the convention. Besides, the Law on Domestic Violence has been amended to address all forms of violence and contains such welcome elements as the provision of special leave for victims of violence for the duration of their stay at a shelter/crisis center, as well as the formal assignment of victim status to those witnessing domestic violence, notably children. The offence of domestic violence as well as new crimes such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation, stalking and forced sterilisation have been introduced into the Criminal Code. Significant changes were made to legislation in 2019 in terms of prohibiting sexual harassment, and much effort has been made to raise awareness of the different forms of violence against women. However, the definition of rape and the other offences of sexual violence in the Georgian Criminal Code still needs to be amended, in order to fully incorporate the notion of the lack of freely given consent, as required by the Istanbul Convention.
Victims have no access to fully established rape crisis and/or sexual violence referral centres that would be adequately geographically distributed all over Georgia. Besides, there are still very few services for women and girls at risk of or subjected to forced marriage, and administrative requirements such as obtaining formal victim status place barriers on women’s access to domestic violence shelters. GREVIO also urges the authorities to improve the access to support services and protection mechanisms to women exposed to the risk of intersectional discrimination, such as those from national and/or ethnic minorities, living in rural areas, women with disabilities and refugees, lesbian, bisexual or transgender women and older women. Children who witness violence often remain invisible to the system. Besides, financial resources allocated to state and NGO actors should be augmented, and the involvement of the latter in anti-violence law and policy development increased.
The criminal justice mechanisms for combating sexual violence face serious shortcomings: investigations and prosecutions lack in promptness, effectiveness, and sensitivity. The report calls for immediate measures to guarantee a quick and adequate response, in particular in cases of rape and sexual violence. The factors that contribute to the very high threshold for proving rape in court should be identified and addressed, and re-traumatisation of victims avoided all along the way. Urgent action should also be taken to ensure that criminal penalties imposed are dissuasive and commensurate with the gravity of the offence, and that courts take into account all incidents of domestic violence when deciding on custody or visitation rights.
Besides, GREVIO urges the authorities to review the process of issuance of emergency barring orders by the police, to identify and address reasons for the high proportion of orders annulled by the courts (around 60% in 2018-2021), as well as to monitor compliance with such orders. Similarly, the causes of the high number of violations of restraining and protection orders should be identified, and adequate sanctions applied in cases of breaches of such orders. GREVIO notes with great concern that while in 2018 the number of investigations initiated for violations of restraining orders was 60 and in 2019 the number went up to 516, no information has been provided concerning the sanctions imposed.
In its report, GREVIO also urges the Georgian authorities to ensure that women victims of violence who are in need of protection, regardless of their status or residence, shall not be returned under any circumstances to any country where their life would be at risk or where they might be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Finally, GREVIO points out that patriarchal attitudes, and stereotypes about gender roles and acceptable behaviour are still prevalent in Georgian society. Persistent gender stereotypes and their peddling by the media should be addressed, and efforts to increase women’s equal status in society, public discourse and the media must be urgently undertaken.