Remarks by UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton at First Reading of Draft Law on Domestic Violence, National Parliament, Skopje

27 Aug 2014

Dear Madame Chairwoman
Dear Mr. Deputy Minister
Distinguished Members of Parliament
Representatives of responsible institutions
Our friends in civil society and the media

It’s truly an honor to represent the United Nations family here in Parliament today for the first reading of the new draft law on domestic violence. Thank you for the kind invitation.

For the United Nations, fighting domestic violence and all forms of violence against women is a global top priority, and we are proud to have been working together with both the Government and civil society here for many years to support the adoption of effective policies and practices. 

As our Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon likes to remind us, violence against women is at once the most widespread and the least acknowledged human rights abuse in the world.

European countries are unfortunately no exception to this rule. A recent survey  of 42,000 women from all 28 countries in the European Union confirms the scope and relevance of the problem for all of us. This survey showed that nearly one in three adult women across the EU had experienced physical violence in her adult life, and that seven percent of all women in the EU had experienced physical violence in the preceding 12-month period. That amounts to 62 million women victims of domestic violence over a lifetime and, shockingly, 13 million women victims in just a single year.

Statistics, however definitive, can sometimes make problems seem abstract or impersonal. We should not lose sight of what this abuse means in the lives of individual woman.

The EU survey posed the question this way.

“In the past 12 months, has someone:

Pushed you or shoved you?
Slapped you?
Thrown a hard object at you?
Grabbed you or pulled your hair?
Beat you with a fist or a hard object, or kicked you?
Burned you?
Tried to suffocate you or strangle you?
Cut or stabbed you, or shot at you?
Beat your head against something?”

That experiences like these are an everyday reality for so many women, with such a high cost to individuals, families and society as a whole, explains why it is essential to treat domestic violence not as a private, personal matter, somehow to be confined within the four walls of the family home, but rather as a public issue that demands state intervention.

This recognition is captured in the draft law that has being submitted for your consideration today, and in this sense we see it as a big step forward for the country.

Once again, we commend the Minister of Labor and his team for grasping the importance of dedicating a law specifically to this issue, and for the wider resolve it reflects to work towards a society that shows zero tolerance for any form of violence against women.

We are pleased that the new law follows key international conventions in defining domestic violence – or “family violence,” as it is known here – as one form of violence against women, and therefore identifies the ultimate remedy to the problem in broader efforts to ensure that men and women enjoy genuinely equal rights and freedoms.

We see progress in the establishment of an integrated, multi-sectoral approach that tasks a wide range of institutions – not just police and prosecutors, but also healthcare and social workers, NGOs, judges, teachers and the media – with clear roles and responsibilities.

The UN was pleased to support the Ministry in organizing a series of consultations earlier in the summer for interested stakeholders to discuss the first draft of the law, and we are pleased to see that some of the suggestions from these discussions have since been incorporated in the draft that is now being submitted for parliamentary consideration.

The parliamentary debate offers a further opportunity to refine the provisions of the law.

In this process, as well as in the drafting of bylaws, strategies and any related legislation, we recommend the maximum possible reference to the relevant international conventions, in particular the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, which the country has signed but is still preparing to ratify. This “Istanbul Convention” is the world’s “gold standard” for the fight against domestic violence, and it entered into force at the beginning of this month, with 14 ratifications.

One area where refinement of the new law is still possible is in harmonizing the new law with the criminal code, to ensure that victims of domestic violence enjoy the most effective forms of protection. Another lies in ensuring that adequate funding is available for the staffing and training that new provisions may require, to ensure that police and other civil servants are able to perform the new responsibilities they are assigned.

This country is not alone in grappling with these issues, and I’m pleased to announce that the UN will be organizing a regional conference in Skopje at the end of September for countries from the region to share their experiences in addressing the challenge of domestic violence.

Here the focus will be on efforts to align legislation with international standards; on the crucial role of civil society in protecting victims and advocating change; and on the practical measures that countries have adopted to deliver a coordinated, multi-sector response.

We think that this country has much to contribute to this discussion, and also will find good examples to follow.

As this important law makes its way towards implementation, please know that you can count on continued support from the United Nations in this and every other effort to end violence against women.

Thank you for your attention, and for the excellent cooperation that the UN enjoys with all the institutions and organizations gathered here today.