The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Dubravka Šimonović, has urged Bulgaria to comply with its international and regional obligations on violence against women and to reopen the ratification process of the Istanbul Convention.
“Bulgaria has made important steps towards ending discrimination and violence against women. However, in the aftermath of the Constitutional Court’s decision on the incompatibility of the Istanbul Convention with the Constitution, backlashes against women’s rights and women’s organisations have increased,” said the expert in a statement at the end of an eight-day official mission to the country.
The UN expert stressed that the campaign against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention led to the creation of an “anti-gender movement” that resulted in attacks on women and on all those providing services to victims of violence. This was partially due its misinterpretation and to the incorrect translation in Bulgarian of the term “gender” contained in the Convention, which was translated as “social gender”, inconsistently with the translation of the same term in other regional and international instruments, including the EU Victim’s Rights Directive.
On legislative revisions, Šimonović praised the amendments to the Criminal Code, but also urged Bulgaria to amend several provisions of the Criminal Code, including the provision on rape which should be fully based on the lack of consent,cover all forms of rape and explicitly include marital rape.
According to the EIGE Gender Equality Index of 2017, Bulgaria has one of the lowest reporting rates on domestic violence. The Special Rapporteur explained that one of the reasons for such a low reporting rate was the requirement to prove systematic physical, psychological and sexual violence. The Office of the Prosecutor has issued an ordinance which requires a victim to prove three episodes of physical, psychological and sexual violence for a criminal case to be opened. “There is an urgent need to uphold the principle that domestic violence is not a private matter, but a public concern,” the expert said, calling on the Ministry of Justice to repeal the term “systematic”.
During the visit, the Special Rapporteur visited different shelters. “I was surprised to see that there is only one shelter for women victims of violence in Sofia, a city of two million inhabitants. Providing integrated services for women victims of violence, including shelters and efficient protection orders, is an international obligation, as already established by CEDAW in its recent case* on Bulgaria,” Šimonović said. She added that Bulgaria must revise its Law on the Protection against Domestic Violence, abolish the one-month limitation to file a request for protection orders and establish a national coordination mechanism on violence against women and domestic violence.
Due to the lack of data on violence against women, she called on collection of data on violence against women and femicide and the establishment of femicide watch or observatories that would analyse cases of femicide and propose measures for their prevention.
The Special Rapporteur expressed concerns on women who face intersecting forms of discrimination, such as Roma women and girls. Roma girls are particularly vulnerable to violence and she recommended Bulgaria make more efforts in preventing girls’ high rate of school drop outs, early marriages and early pregnancies.
“I was alarmed to hear about the existence of a new form of trafficking of women and unborn babies who are sold to neighbouring countries,” she added. “The Government should urgently investigate and undertake measures to prevent this new form of violence against women.”
Women and girls need to be empowered and learn about gender equality and gender-based violence. Education on equality between men and women, prevention of violence against women and sexual and reproductive health are crucial for achieving substantive gender equality, she said.
During her mission, Šimonović met senior governmental officials, services providers, independent institutions, international organisations and a range of civil society organisations.
The UN Special Rapporteur will present her findings and recommendations in a report to the Human Rights Council in June 2020.
Ms Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015, to recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. Ms Šimonović has been member of the CEDAW Committee from 2002 to 2014. She headed the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia and was the Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the UN in New York. She was also Ambassador to the OSCE and UN in Vienna. She co-chaired the Ad hoc Committee (CAHVIO) of the Council of Europe that elaborated the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention). She has a PhD in Family Law and published books and articles on human rights and women’s rights.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.