Urgent Interventions

Estonia - Press Release - Violence against Women


The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its concern regarding violence against women in Estonia at the Seventy-Seventh Session of the UN Human Rights Committee

Geneva, 19 March 2003

The UN Human Rights Committee will begin its examination of the implementation of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights in Estonia tomorrow, March 20, 2003. In its alternative country report entitled "Violence against Women in Estonia," which has been submitted to the Committee, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its grave concern at reports of violence against women in the private and community spheres.

Although the Constitution of Estonia provides that international treaties, including human rights treaties, take precedence over domestic law, there is a lack of awareness among the judiciary, police and citizens, including women, regarding the rights guaranteed in these treaties. The Estonian Constitution also guarantees equality and freedom from discrimination for women but in reality, courts rarely handle gender discrimination cases and prosecutors often fail to recognize the aspects of a case that qualify it as discriminatory. The government of Estonia has passed several laws concerning gender equality, but reports to OMCT indicate that very few complaints have actually been lodged under the provisions of these laws. Despite these formal legal protections at the international, constitutional, and statutory levels, the general inequalities between men and women in Estonia make women vulnerable to a variety of different types of violence.

OMCT is deeply concerned by statistics that reveal that domestic violence is a serious problem in Estonia. Despite the gravity of this problem, there is no specific law in Estonia outlawing domestic violence. In addition, there is a lack of awareness concerning the seriousness of this issue not only among the general public but also among police and hospital workers.

OMCT is also troubled by the lack of reliable information concerning rape in Estonia. While the Estonian government has taken some steps to create a more conducive environment for encouraging women to report the crime of rape, the crime remains unreported in the majority of cases. More efforts must be made to train police officers and others involved in the judiciary and law enforcement to be sensitive to all forms of gender based violence, including rape, and investigate and prosecute these crimes with appropriate determination.

OMCT is equally disturbed by Estonia’s status as a source country for trafficked women. Although Estonia has a new Penal Code, which criminalizes trafficking, it is essential that this law be fully implemented in order to protect the rights of women in Estonia.

Furthermore, OMCT is concerned that Estonia’s definition of torture includes only physical violence and not mental or psychological violence. This definition is not in line with the definition of torture under Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture, which Estonia acceded to in 1991.

Overall, OMCT’s report concludes that while Estonia has a duty under international law to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish all forms of violence against women, irrespective of whether this violence is committed by public or private individuals, this obligation has not been adequately implemented at the national level.

For copies of the alternative report on “Violence against Women in Estonia” or for further information on OMCT’s programme on Violence against Women please contact Lucinda O’Hanlon at + 41 22 809 4939 or
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