September 2020

Victory in the European Court of Human Rights in the Case of Domestic Violence: how it contributes to women and the judicial system of Ukraine

On September 3, 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a decision in the case of Iryna Levchuk v. Ukraine. Representatives of leading women's and human rights organizations and direct participants in the trials took part in the press conference to explain how this precedent could change the situation with women's rights. 

The courts of appeal and cassation did not allow Iryna Levchuk to evict her aggressor husband, despite the facts of violence against her and her four children had been proven. The right to respect for family life had to be sought in the ECHR. The special attitude to the case in Strasbourg, the victory and the resonance in Ukraine demonstrate that the problem of domestic violence is large-scale. Women's organizations, associations of lawyers and human rights activists offer joint solutions. 

The first step to Iryna Levchuk's victory was a training program for lawyers who defend women's rights. At the end of 2018 a series of training modules took place in Kyiv and Strasbourg, giving its participants - Ukrainian human rights activists to study European case law on domestic violence and how to file such lawsuits with the ECHR. The training program was developed and implemented by the Ukrainian Women's Fund (UWF) together with the international organization IREX Europe. 

Human rights activists from Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Russia took part in the training program. Anne-Katrin Zapryanova from IREX Europe (France) did best effort in gathering participants from all over the region:The main objective of the French NGO IREX Europe is to promote Human Rights by developing the capacities of local defenders and activists. This was also the main objective of the EU-funded regional project implemented from January 2018 to February 2020 which aimed at strengthening the skills and promoting the role of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs). In order to have a tangible impact, this project included a component to strengthen the technical capacity of lawyers working for women's rights to submit applications to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the only institution with the power to induce changes in national legislation in the targeted countries, or, through judging a state for the non-respect of women's rights, encourage improvement of those rights. 

The Ukrainian Women's Fund acted as a regional partner of the IREX Europe training program for human rights defenders in Ukraine and Moldova. The fund's mission is to support women's organizations, promote their participation in the development of a powerful, effective and popular women's movement that is able to protect women's rights and promote gender equality. Natalia Karbowska, Strategic Development Director of the Ukrainian Women's Fund, commented on the victory in the ECHR: “The story of Iryna and her lawyer, a graduate of our training program, is a story of how one victory can change system. And also, it’s about solidarity and mutual support of different women - representatives of civic organizations in Ukraine and France, human rights activists, lawyers and attorneys. I am sure that this is just the beginning and there are still many victories ahead for women who suffer from domestic violence - both in Ukrainian and European courts." 

Natalia Bukhta, lawyer, trainer in Council of Europe projects, Iryna Levchuk’s representative and a graduate of the Ukrainian Women's Fund’s and IREX Europe training program for human rights defenders explained in detail the essence of the case and its significance for Ukraine: “Iryna Levchuk complained to the police about domestic violence by her husband lots of times, but the case was not filed, the police just issued warnings. If the materials of the investigation were submitted to the court, the consideration of the case ended with a conciliation agreement. The violence continued even after the divorce. In 2016, the woman filed a lawsuit to evict her husband from the apartment (Article 116 of the Housing Code) because she decided that this would be the only effective way to protect herself and her children. The following year, the Rivne City Court ruled in favor of Iryna Levchuk. However, the husband, having appealed the decision, received a support of the appeal and cassation and remained living in the apartment, continuing to put psychological pressure on his ex-wife and children. In March 2019, Iryna Levchuk appealed to the ECHR, alleging violations of the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms under three articles: the right to a fair trial (Article 6), the right to an effective remedy (Article 13) and the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8). 

On June 30, 2020 the court made a decision and published it on September 3. In fact, we received it within one year. Given the workload of the ECHR, this decision was made extremely quickly due to the case was recognized as a priority. 

This is the first case against Ukraine where a violation of Article 8 of the Convention (right to respect for private and family life) has been identified. In other words, Iryna Levchuk will go down in the history of the European Court of Human Rights as the first Ukrainian woman to raise the problems of domestic violence at the European level. We hope that this will help thousands of Ukrainian women to talk about the problem, seek help, defend their rights and achieve justice.” 

The ECHR found a violation of Ukraine's international obligations, in particular Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms - the right to respect for private and family life. The review of judgments on the basis of ECHR judgments is the exclusive prerogative of the Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court. The decision of the European Court of Human Rights is of great importance for the formation of a unified judicial practice not only in cases of civil jurisdiction, but in all court proceedings where domestic violence and the need of victims for protection will be established", - commented Nadiya Stefaniv, Supreme Court Judge, President of the Ukrainian National Association of Women Judges. 

"Unfortunately, in cases related to the protection of the rights of victims of domestic violence, lawyers rarely apply the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, which is binding on the courts, even if the case does not concern Ukraine. Applying the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and conducting strategic cases is extremely important for the legal system of Ukraine, as such decisions affect the change of approaches and improvement of Ukrainian legislation, "said Khrystyna Kit, lawyer, head of the Association of Women Lawyers of Ukraine" YurFem". 

"When public authorities do not react to a case of domestic violence, not every victim is ready to seek justice in the European Court of Human Rights, simply without seeing prospects and results," said Maryna Lehenka, vice president of La Strada-Ukraine. - This decision should be a significant impetus to change the jurisprudence, as well as the transformation of the consciousness of the representatives of the subjects of response to cases of domestic violence. After all, according to a study we conducted with DCAF, 39% of police officers and prosecutors and 38% of judges consider domestic violence a private matter. Time for change!” 

Please watch the videorecording of the press conference “For the first time a Ukrainian woman won a case of domestic violence in the European Court of Human Rights” 

See also

September 2020
The Ukrainian Women’s Fund in partnership with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) carries out gender monitoring of local elections scheduled for October 25, 2020.
September 2020
August 2020
Marta Kolomayets passed away on August 16, 2020. Marta was for many years a member and chairman of the board of the Ukrainian Women's Fund. As UWF looks back at the time we were fortunate to share with Marta, we realize that she in one way or another was with us from the beginning, as an advisor, inspirer, and generator of ideas.