Urgent Interventions

Russia: Widespread Violence Against Women


The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its concern regarding violence against women in Russia at the 31st Session of the UN
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Geneva, 17 November 2003

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will today begin its examination of the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Russia. In its alternative country report entitled "Violence against Women in Russia," which has been submitted to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its grave concern at reports of violence against women at the hands of both private individuals and state officials.

Although Russia has ratified most international human rights treaties, which prohibit discrimination against women, sex discrimination persists in Russia. Women are discriminated against in politics (with only 7.6% of the State Duma members being women) and in employment (with many expressing the view that in difficult economic times, any available jobs should be given first to men). Discrimination against women in Russia also manifests itself in forms of violence against women, which is prevalent in Russia.

There is a proverb in Russia which says, “A beating man is a loving man.” Not only is domestic violence common in Russia, it is widely accepted as a private matter. Statistics indicate that the majority of married women have experienced some type of violence within the family and that women are frequently blamed for having provoked the violence. The tendency to treat domestic violence as a private matter is reflected in police response to reports of such violence, making it extremely difficult for women to file complaints. There is no specific legislation outlawing domestic violence in Russia and it seems that this type of violence is not a priority for the government.

Women in Russia are particularly vulnerable to becoming trafficking victims. With a lack of job opportunities at home, and offers of lucrative employment abroad, Russian women fall prey to trafficking schemes where they are taken abroad and upon their arrival, their passports and other identification papers are seized, and they are forced to work as prostitutes. Trafficking victims are often deported back to Russia, where they have very little social support and are extremely afraid to press charges against the traffickers. Although specific legislation concerning trafficking is in draft form in Russia, it is unclear whether this legislation will be fully effective in offering protection to trafficking victims and preventing further violence.

OMCT’s report also expresses serious concern about the widespread sexual harassment suffered by women in the work force of Russia. Sexual favours are reportedly a condition of employment for many women in Russia and there is currently no law which prohibits this treatment.

The ongoing conflict in Chechnya is another context in which violence against women is pervasive. Women in Chechnya are subjected to violence particularly during “clean-up” operations and at checkpoints. Women human rights defenders have also been killed, disappeared, tortured, and threatened as a result of their work in Chechnya.

Overall, the government has failed to protect women from violence whether at the hands of private individuals or state officials. OMCT’s report concludes that while Russia 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 Russia” or for further information on OMCT’s programme on Violence against Women please contact Lucinda O’Hanlon at + 41 22 809 4939 or