European Human Rights Court Urges Russia to Tackle 'Staggering Scale' of Domestic Violence

A European human rights court issued a ruling on Tuesday for Russia to pay four domestic abuse survivors a total of more than half a million dollars in damages and said the country should add provisions to help tackle the "staggering scale" of domestic violence against women.

Four Russian women—Natalya Tunikova, Yelena Gershman, Irina Petrakova and Margarita Gracheva—filed a case in the European Court of Human Rights claiming Russian police officers did not protect them from the domestic violence they endured at the hands of their partners.

Gracheva's case of domestic abuse received a great deal of attention in the country. In 2017, her husband kidnapped her, drove her into a forest and chopped off her hands with an ax.

The four women also claimed in their court filing that the Russian police did not respond to their cases in an appropriate manner.

The court found that Russia was in violation of Articles 3 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting "inhuman, degrading treatment and discrimination" in its handling of the four women's cases.

Currently, there is little to no legal protection for people who suffer from domestic abuse in Russia. The court ruling said Russia should make "urgent changes" to the way it handles domestic abuse, including establishing a legal definition of domestic violence, criminalizing all domestic violence behavior and allowing the use of protective and restraining orders.

Russia, Domestic Violence, Protest
With a ruling on Tuesday, December 14, a European human rights court urged Russia to tackle the "staggering scale" of domestic violence in the country. In this November 25, 2019, file photo, a woman holds a banner reading, "We demand the adoption of a law against domestic violence. We have not been killed yet, but we're close," as she attends a rally in Moscow. Pavel Golovkin/AP Photo

"It is not the first time the court notes Russia's failure to fulfill its obligations on protection from domestic violence, but this time the court clearly and in detail pointed out measures Russia must adopt, including legislation against domestic violence, restraining orders, protocols for assessing and managing risks, mechanisms of interagency cooperation and much more," said lawyer and women's rights advocate Mari Davtyan, who represented two women in the case.

Current Russian laws address a range of violent crimes, but attempts to create measures to prevent these crimes from happening have faced resistance from authorities.

Assault against a family member was a criminal offense in 2016 under a measure passed by lawmakers, prompting a backlash from conservative organizations. As a result, it was decriminalized in 2017 and downgraded to misdemeanor status, punishable by a $68 fine.

Valentina Matviyenko, the current chairwoman of the country's upper house of parliament, acknowledged in 2019 that domestic violence was a problem in Russia and aimed to have a domestic violence bill before the year's end.

One was drafted by lawmakers and women's rights advocates but faced resistance from conservative groups and the Russian Orthodox Church, which argued that the state should not interfere in domestic matters. As a result, the legislation was watered down and never received a vote.

In Tuesday's ruling, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay the four women a total of over 450,000 euros ($507,000). Tunikova, Gershman and Petrakova are to get 20,000 euros ($22,500) each for damages. Gracheva is to be paid 40,000 ($45,000) for damages and over 330,000 euros ($372,000) for medical expenses. All will get money for legal expenses as well.

Doctors reattached Gracheva's left hand, but it regained only limited function. She lost her right hand and is using a bionic prosthetic.

Gracheva's husband is currently serving a 14-year prison term, and she has become a key activist in Russian women's fight for a domestic violence law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Domestic Violence, Protest, Russia
The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Russia to pay four women a total of over 450,000 euros ($507,000) for damages stemming from incidents of domestic violence. In this November 25, 2019, file photo, people hold banners against domestic violence as they attend a rally in Moscow's downtown area. Pavel Golovkin/AP Photo