Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Feminicide across Europe: Austria

There is no specific term in German for the murder of women: the same expression is used both for female and male victims (the German word, “Mord” is of Germanic origin and does not allow for a female suffix). The intervention centres (victim protection organisations, established by the Austrian Protection against Violence Act 1997) have been pointing out the risk of being killed by a (former) partner for years.  
The first (and only) empirical research study on femicide was completed by Birgitt Haller in 2011, financed by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Under the title of “High-risk victims. Homicide in relationships,” all convictions for (attempted) femicide from 2008 to 2010 were analysed: 39 legal proceedings against male perpetrators (and, additionally, eight legal proceedings against female aggressors) were analysed. 

Homicide data are collected and published annually by the Austrian police/ Ministry of the Interior. These are based on police reports - so, for example, it may emerge that a person was not murdered, but died in a domestic accident. Police data provide the sex of both victim and aggressor, but the categories used to define the relationship between victim and aggressor are very imprecise: they reflect whether the persons concerned had been living together or not, but they do not reveal the type of relationship between them (partners, aunt and niece, etc.).  Therefore, precise information on femicide in the strict sense is not available 

Birgitt Haller

In order to fight feminicide/femicide, various Latin American and European countries have adopted increasingly specific laws and legal instruments that penalize feminicide. The ratification of the Belém do Pará Convention1 in Latin America and the entry into force of the Istanbul Convention2  in Europe, demonstrate an increasingly stronger international commitment against this kind of violence. The establishment of the Bi-regional Dialogue on Gender by the European Union (EU) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), as well as the adoption of the Urgent Resolution on Feminicide in the European Union and Latin America3 by the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat) also express this commitment.    

However, legal norms, agreements, and international dialogues alone are not sufficient for the eradication of violence against women, nor its most extreme manifestation, feminicide.

Traditionally, States were only responsible for their own actions or those of their agents, but international public law has evolved and currently, the principle of due diligence makes the State responsible for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of violence, regardless of who commits the crime. The duty of due diligence obliges States to enter the private sphere, where historically, they have not intervened, but where the majority of cases of violence against women occur. 

Therefore, it is the duty of the State to take all necessary measures to prevent human rights violations, such as feminicide, before they occur. This means, on the one hand, adopting pertinent laws and policies to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and punish those guilty of abuse, and on the other hand, successfully implement them. 

Patricia Jiménez, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung – European Union, Brussels


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