Demonstrators rally outside government headquarters in Tbilisi on October 21, 2014 to protest violence against women. Banging spoons on saucepans and frying-pans, protesters were calling on the authorities to address domestic violence. Some protesters were holding banners reading: “Let us hear woman‘s voice”. Photo: InterPressNews
A recent spate of murders of women by current or former husbands pushed the problem of domestic violence in Georgia in the center of public attention, prompting the government to pledge prioritizing tackling of the issue.
With more than twenty women killed this year, domestic violence has periodically been in media spotlight over the previous months, but a murder-suicide case that occurred in the Ilia State University in Tbilisi center last week made wider public, not just rights groups, to set alarm bells ringing. The case has also exposed failures in police’s response to victims of violence.
A 33-year-old English teacher Maka Tsivtsivadze had to interrupt a lesson in the Ilia State University on October 17 after her former husband arrived and asked her to leave the classroom; in the hall he shot her for several times with a handgun and then killed himself. Maka Tsivtsivadze died several hours later in hospital.
On October 18 police reported that a 68-year-old woman was stabbed to death by her 73-year-old husband in Gurjaani municipality in eastern Georgia.
On October 19 police was called to a domestic violence incident in Tbilisi’s Saburtalo neighborhood. When the police arrived, a male family violence perpetrator shot and wounded one of the police officers. Perpetrator was badly injured after another police officer returned fire, according to the police.
Georgian Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, said on October 21 that while efforts have been made to improve legal framework to tackle family violence, the practice shows that lack of proper enforcement of law is a problem.
“Along with public indifference, main challenge is inadequate application of available protection mechanisms,” Nanuashvili said. “In most of the cases of [domestic violence], examined by the Public Defender’s Office, the reaction of law enforcement agencies was limited to just issuing a warning letter. Such measure is not even envisaged by the existing legal framework for protection against violence… and is completely ineffective. There have been some cases, when a person had such written warning, but violence was still occurring.”
That was the case with Maka Tsivtsivadze too; the police was notified by her about her ex-husband threatening her and there were two “warnings” issued against him.
Women’s rights activists say that issuing such “warnings” is a widespread practice by the police in such situations, as they avoid applying restraining order – a mechanism, which is actually envisaged by the law. Violation of restraining order by a perpetrator carries administrative sanction; to impose it, however, police will have to go through court proceedings as restraining order requires approval from judge.
The Interior Ministry has acknowledged ineffectiveness of this holdover practice of issuing “warnings”, but as the ministry official said on October 21, police officers have been instructed “to eradicate completely” this practice and to use restraining orders when applicable.
Maka Peradze, an official from the Interior Ministry’s international relations division, who also chairs secretariat of domestic violence prevention and response commission at the Interior Ministry, said on October 21 that internal scrutiny will also be intensified to examine how the police have been reacting on reported cases of family violence, among them particularly on Tsivtsivadze’s case.
PM’s office said on Tuesday that inter-agency group to address “violence-related problems, including domestic violence” has been established. The group, which includes interior, justice, education, healthcare, economy and prison system ministers, will hold a session on October 22 under PM’s chairmanship. PM’s office said that representatives from civil society and international organizations will also be invited at “the next stage” of inter-agency group’s work. PM’s office also said that the government plans to present initial draft of “national strategy of violence prevention” on October 24; after public discussions, it said, the document will also incorporate recommendations provided by human rights groups and international organizations.
Human rights committee in the parliament will hold a hearing on October 22 on domestic violence with the participation of Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, as well as well officials from the interior ministry.
Tsulukiani said on October 20 that there were “shortcomings” in investigations of such cases. In particular she recalled a case when a woman was shot dead in May, 2014 by her former husband and the latter was charged with inflicting serious bodily injuries that led to a person’s death and not with murder clause of criminal code; victim’s brother was badly wounded by the perpetrator in the same incident.
UNM parliamentary minority group has asked vice-speaker of parliament, Manana Kobakhidze, who chairs gender equality council, to summon Interior Minister Alexander Tchikaidze to grill him on police response to domestic violence cases.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili together with the first lady Maka Chichua met on October 20 with clerics from various religious groups to discuss the problem of domestic violence.
“We met today spiritual leaders over those tragic cases, which, unfortunately, have become a tendency in our society,” President Margvelashvili said after the meeting. “We have agreed to develop a long-term action plan. An idea was also floated, which I supported, to make 2015 woman’s year to jointly challenge this problem of [domestic violence]. On the one hand I will try to stress this issue in my speeches and on the other hand all the religious [groups] will intensify [addressing] this issue their sermons.”
The President also said that the state has its share of responsibility to tackle this problem, “but the state alone will fail.”
Council of Europe (CoE) Secretary-General, Thorbjørn Jagland, reacted to murder of Maka Tsivtsivadze with a written statement on October 19 saying that this case “reminds us that violence against women is a serious problem and that we cannot afford to ignore it. It is a problem which poses many difficult challenges all over the world.”
He commended Georgia for signing in June, 2014 the Council of Europe’s 2011 Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence
“I encourage Georgia‘s efforts to join the ranks of our 15 other Member States which have ratified the Convention,” CoE Secretary-General said.
Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, said on October 20 that the convention will soon be presented to the Parliament for ratification.