Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment

Violence against women and the subject of Domestic Violence (DV) has always been a taboo in the patriarchal Armenian society. Family is seen as the foundation of the society and as a preservation for the Armenian traditional values. There has always been a widespread belief that whatever happens inside the family is the business of the family and nobody else’s and especially state or the society have nothing to do there. Due to this patriarchal and conservative state of the society all the attempts to raise awareness about DV were accompanied by very emotional discussions, debates and attacks on human rights defenders.

 

Text : Marine Manucharyan   
Photo : Women's Resource Center Armenia

 

The beginning of the process

If Armenia was by the ocean then we could say that the country was hit by DV tsunamis during 2016 and 2017. We even could give it a female name like in most of the cases with real tsunamis. The Armenian society was discussing the draft law on Domestic Violence (DV).

To understand how Armenia finally came to a state where a law has been introduced we need to go back for 11 years. The Women’s rights organizations started advocating for the need to have a law on domestic violence since 2006. There was a draft law back then which was not adopted but it did open the door to the topic. In 2010, there was a resonating case of domestic violence which brought even more public attention to the subject. 21 year old Zaruhi Petrosyan was murdered by her husband and the trials of her case during which the activist from women’s rights groups were periodically attacked for “destruction of the traditional Armenian families,” resonated in the wider public. Among civil society and human rights defending organizations it was clear that the need for the law is high and that the government should do something to make sure that the cases receive proper attention and there is proper intervention by law enforcement agencies. Besides, back in 1993 Armenia took an obligation on itself by signing and ratifying international conventions like the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which makes it obligatory to adopt a law on domestic violence. Coalition to Stop Violence against women which was created after Zaruhi’s death started raising awareness about different cases, media started reporting on the cases and in 2013 there was another attempt to adopt a law on DV. However, even after revising the draft the government did not come back to it for the next three years.

A decade later

New wave of heated discussions over DV law came in the beginning of 2016 when the ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia first time ever initiated a draft law on Domestic Violence. Organizations working in the field were invited for consultations, the draft was published on edraft.am webpage where legislative proposals are being discussed. However, the draft was hanging on the online platform only for two days because yet again there was a big opposition wave against the initiative and the draft itself. The officials who were responsible for the draft were targeted, and social networks were filled with hate speech against them. It was not clear when will the discussions around DV topic be back into the agenda of the government.

In 2017, the ministry of Justice came back with a new draft. This time it stood online for a longer period and all the parties had enough time to present their suggestions for amendments. Parallel with the discussion of the draft law the government initiated an awareness raising campaign and media was also invited to pay closer attention to the subject. The ministry held meetings with media representatives and women’s rights groups prior to public hearings.

There were many concerns regarding the draft law. Women’s groups were worried because the law did not criminalize domestic violence right away, also the law insisted on reconciliation which is in the DV cases is an uncommon practice as the pressure on the victim is enormous.

The Ministry of Justice held a public hearing which was interrupted by a group of citizens opposing the law, believing that Armenia has no such problem as domestic violence, that Armenian families are strong and that the ministry with such initiatives is trying to destroy the traditional Armenian family, thus harming the foundation of the society.

After all these heated debates and discussions the Armenian Government managed to present the draft law in the National Assembly. The law was adopted, however as a result of pressure from conservative camps, number of significant changes were made in it. The title of the law was changed from “Law on Domestic Violence and Protection of the Victims of Domestic Violence” into “Law on Prevention of Family Violence, Protection of Victims of the Family Violence and Reestablishment of Peaceful Coexistence in the Family.” Women’s rights group believe that “peaceful coexistence in the family” is not a subject to regulations but the rights of citizens and the dignity of individual are.

However, the law is just the beginning. In order to put it in action there will be number of regulations in place and the women’s rights groups will for sure continue suggesting amendments to already existing law. The “battle over DV law” was very heated mostly because the timing of it was very controversial.

Politics around DV

Political scenery around DV law fueled the debates because it was seen as further Europeanisation of Armenia. And this has a negative connotation in the eyes of those who oppose the law. Many saw it as a pressure on Armenia, to adopt the law before it signs the Comprehensive & Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with European Union. The law actually was adopted after CEPA was signed. Many saw the ears of Russia behind the anti-DV law groups as they, usually the same people, oppose every initiative that can improve the protection of human rights in Armenia.

 

In conclusion

Adoption of the law on family violence is a significant step towards elimination of this crime from the lives of many in Armenia. Ten years ago the subject itself was a taboo, today there is a law in action. More and more victims started to speak up and it is getting more and more difficult to silence them.