UK: Tackling violence against some women, but not all

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(London) – The UK government is set to tarnish its own historic leap forward in violence against women by excluding migrant women from key protections. This perpetuates long-standing barriers for migrant women whose residence status depends on their abusers, as they may fear deportation from the UK if they seek help for domestic violence.

More than 10 years after the convention was signed, the UK government has pledged to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, known as the Convention Istanbul, by July 31, 2022. However, he plans to do so with reservations. to two articles, one of which requires measures to ensure that migrant women victims of violence are not forced to continue to depend on the aggressors for their residence status.

“After a decade of promises, the UK government is casting a shadow over what should be a historic rights victory by excluding some of the most marginalized women from vital protections against violence,” said Hillary Margolis, senior researcher on the women’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “No woman should have to choose between escaping violence and possibly being deported.”

On May 17, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the government’s intention to ratify the convention with reservations to Articles 44 and 59, meaning the government intends to modify or exclude its obligations legal to comply with these provisions.

Section 44 concerns the prosecution of British citizens or residents for crimes committed outside British territory. Article 59 obliges countries to adopt measures to protect migrant victims of violence whose residence status depends on that of a spouse or partner who is or becomes violent. This includes issuing autonomous residence permits and suspending deportation proceedings to allow victims to apply for such permits.

The UK Government’s reservation to Article 59 will continue to deprive migrant women who are dependent on their abusers of assured access to crucial support and a pathway to escape violence, putting their health and lives at permanent risk. , Human Rights Watch said.

Patel said the government will apply a reservation to Section 59 pending evaluation of the Migrant Victim Support Scheme, a pilot scheme introduced alongside the Domestic Violence Act 2021 to support a limited number of women who do not cannot access public benefits. Persons holding visas related to spouses or fiancés have “no recourse to public funds” under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, making them ineligible for most government benefits, which often include spaces of refuge.

The Migrant Victim Support Programme, which ended in March, has been roundly criticized by key organizations led by and for black, minority and migrant women as “totally inadequate” both in scope and substance to respond to the needs of migrant women victims of violence.

Significant evidence already points to the need for greater protection for migrant women victims of violence with precarious residency status. In a study by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, 62% of migrant women surveyed in London said their abusers had threatened deportation if they reported the abuse to the authorities.

Southall Black Sisters, which ran the migrant victim support program, reported that more than 60% of women who seek their help have precarious immigration status. Research from the Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales highlights that women in such circumstances are less likely to seek or receive services or escape violence.

The UK has long positioned itself as a champion in tackling violence against women and girls internationally, but has faced growing evidence of measures to prevent, respond and inadequate accountability at the national level and a failure to prioritize the fight against domestic violence. Partners or former partners killed 214 women – more than one a week – in England and Wales in the three years ending March 2020. Police recorded almost 1.5 million incidents and crimes related to domestic violence in the year ending March 2021. Years of campaigning by women’s organizations in the sector, led by IC Change, preceded the ratification.

The rejection of a guaranteed route to independent residency for abused migrant women follows years of the UK government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, a series of immigration policies that target undocumented people and block their access to work, housing, health care, education and other key benefits. Organizations working to prevent and respond to violence against women have cited hostile environment policy as a deterrent to migrant women experiencing violence from coming forward and accessing vital services as well only a means of control by the aggressors.

Article 44 concerns the prosecution of British citizens or residents for breaches of the convention committed outside British territory. The UK government argues that UK law already allows for prosecution in most of the circumstances required by the convention and that the reservation will mean that minor offenses committed overseas will not be prosecuted in the UK.

More than 80 organizations, including Human Rights Watch, sent a letter to the interior minister on May 30 calling for unqualified ratification. A June report by the House of Lords International Agreements Committee said it saw no justification for the reservation to section 59 and called on the government to withdraw it.

In a July 1 letter to the Home Secretary, the chairs of the Joint Human Rights Committee, Home Affairs Committee and Women and Equalities Committee called for a commitment to review and ultimately to withdraw the reservation, noting “serious concerns that the issue of non-discrimination will continue to go unaddressed and vulnerable women will remain at risk.

The Istanbul Convention sets strong, legally binding standards for governments to prevent violence against all women and girls, support survivors and hold perpetrators to account. It is uniquely inclusive and comprehensive and requires protections for all victims of violence, regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, immigration status or other characteristics.

Thirty-six countries have ratified the convention. Turkey was the target of international condemnation when it withdrew from the convention in 2021, despite its continued failure to effectively protect victims of domestic violence. Nine countries have ratified Article 59 with a reservation, including Armenia, Cyprus, Germany, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, North Macedonia, Romania and Slovenia. Germany is the only country to provide a substantial explanation: its national legislation differs from the convention but includes measures to suspend deportation from the country and allow the application for autonomous residence for migrants who are victims of violence.

The government should ensure that all women in the UK are equally protected from violence by ratifying the convention without reservations and act urgently to fully implement its provisions equally for all women and girls.

“The Istanbul Convention is critical because it encompasses all women and girls, not just those whom the government believes are entitled to all protections against violence,” Margolis said. “The UK government risks perpetuating a system in which some are seen as less worthy of support than others, and running counter to the very spirit of the convention and its fundamental principle of protecting every woman. and daughter.”

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