Gender – based violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina: is the Istanbul Convention enough?

The Gender Inequality Index is a composite indicator which measures gender inequality between women and men in three different, key dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment, and economic status. Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereafter, BiH) ranks 38th amongst all countries, with the index equal to 0.149 (United Nations Development Programme, 2019)[1]. Arguably, the country occupies quite a high position in the list, meaning that women enjoy an appreciable degree of equality. However, the index does not take into account gender – based violence, a phenomenon still widespread in BiH.

This article aspires at framing women violence in BiH within the Instanbul Convention through the reports of the main international organizations and NGOs. It will argue that, despite the arguably low Gender Inequality Index, women violence is still a paramount problem in the country, and that the implementation of salient provisions of the Convention remains, to a large extent, inconsistent (Human Rights Watch, 2020).

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is an international treaty signed in Istanbul in 2011 by all the member states of the Council of Europe, except for Azerbaijan and Russia, and the EU; it entered into force in 2014. It is the first binding international convention that establishes a complete legal framework with the objective of detecting and prosecuting violence against women (Council of Europe, 2014). In particular, art. 1 specifies that the Convention aims at protecting women against all forms of violence by preventing, prosecuting and eliminating violence against them; contributing to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and promote substantive equality between women and men; protecting and assisting victims of violence; and promoting international co-operation and awareness in the field. Art. 11 binds Member States to submit periodical reports on the implementation of the Convention through the collection of disaggregated statistical data.

In the Convention, violence against women is understood as a violation of human rights and it is intended to comprise of «all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty» (art. 3A). More precisely, arts. 33 – 42 specify the crimes covered by the Convention: psychological violence; stalking; physical violence; sexual violence; forced marriage; female genital mutilation; forced abortion and sterilisation; sexual harassment; “honour” crimes. As can be seen, the Convention provides protection against a wide range of crimes, which for sure helps tackling down the phenomenon.

In BiH, the Convention entered into force on the 1st of August 2014. Its prescriptions have largely been implemented in all the entities[1] of the country. The 2010 Gender Equality Law, that is a federal law and thus it is applicable to the whole country, implements the definitions contained in the Istanbul Convention. Furthermore, the Convention requires the criminalisation of all forms of violence therein. In this regard, Criminal Codes of both entities still have to fully implement the Convention. In fact, both Codes criminalise homicide and physical violence, with higher penalties for family members and intimate partners, but psychological violence is not subject to criminal punishment (Council of Europe, 2019). A 2019 OSCE – led survey found out that intimate partner’s psychological abuse is the widest spread form of violence, with 36% of women experiencing it since the age of 15. This kind of violence takes multiple forms. In particular, it manifests itself as controlling behaviour (28%), abusive behaviour (26%), economic violence (12%) and blackmail with/abuse of children (6%). 

This gap between the elements that compose gender violence in the Convention and the ones contained in the BiH legislation leads to serious drawbacks when it comes to data collection under art. 11. In fact, since psychological violence is not considered as a form of violence by BiH legislation, statistical authorities do not include it in their periodical reports to be submitted to the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), leading to the lack of important data (Council of Europe, 2019).

Generally speaking, data collection is a critical matter in both entities of BiH. To date, there is no systematic data collection system and crime reporting is still not sufficiently disaggregated to identify cases of violence against women from cases belonging to the more general category of criminal violence, determining further spillover of data from the reports.

Another important vulnus in BiH legislation lies in the fact that, for a crime of violence to be punished, sexual intercourse needs to take place. Stalking, physical violence, sexual violence, forced marriage; female genital mutilation, forced abortion and sterilisation and sexual harassment all describes different ways of coercing a person to have a sexual intercourse or a similar act. Thus, while there is the acknowledgement of different means, beside physical force, to coerce someone to a sexual intercourse, but the sexual act itself will only be criminalised if an actual sexual intercourse, or an equivalent act, takes place (Council of Europe, 2019). As a result, beside the fact that the offender does not get punished in absence of sexual intercourse, the offence would neither get registered as such. To conclude, BiH is taking some serious efforts to tackle gender – based violence. However, despite the legal framework being fully in place, the actual implementation of the legal provisions remains problematic, with the specific need for institutional capacity building and assistance to victims of domestic violence (Council of Europe, 2019). As argued, a major problem within the Istanbul Convention is systematic data collection, a goal still far from being achieved (Human Rights Watch, 2021)

To conclude, BiH is taking some serious efforts to tackle gender – based violence. However, despite the legal framework being fully in place, the actual implementation of the legal provisions remains problematic, with the specific need for institutional capacity building and assistance to victims of domestic violence (Council of Europe, 2019). As argued, a major problem within the Istanbul Convention is systematic data collection, a goal still far from being achieved (Human Rights Watch, 2021). 

Articolo a cura di Alessio Pasquali

Notes:

[1] Following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in 1992. However, right after the declaration of independence, the country faced a three – year conflict which ended with the Dayton peace agreement. The agreement divided BiH into two “entities”, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. Both entities are quite independent, only sharing the Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

[2] The Gender Inequality Index ranges from 0 to 1. Values closer to 0 reflect less inequality, while values closer to 1 reflect more inequality.

 

References:

Council of Europe, 2014. Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. [Online] 
Available at: https://www.coe.int/it/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/210
[Accessed 2021 April 19].

Council of Europe, 2019. ADMINISTRATIVE DATA COLLECTION ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA, IN LINE WITH ISTANBUL CONVENTION STANDARDS.

Council of Europe, 2019. VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN POLITICS IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA.

Human Rights Watch, 2020. World Report 2020. [Online] 
Available at: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/bosnia-and-herzegovina
[Accessed 22 April 2021].

Human Rights Watch, 2021. World Report 2021. [Online] 
Available at: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/bosnia-and-herzegovina
[Accessed 24 April 2021].

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, 2019. OSCE-led Survey on Violence Against Women: Bosnia and Herzegovina – Results Report.

United Nations Development Programme, 2019. Gender Inequality Index (GII). [Online] 
Available at: http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/gender-inequality-index-gii
[Accessed 19 April 2021].

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