This summer, we Europeans have been confronted with hundreds of thousands desperate refugees fleeing barbarous wars. In these latest conflicts in the new Millennium, humanitarian law seems to have been abandoned. Civilian populations are targeted, hospitals and cultural monuments bombed and women have been kidnapped, enslaved, raped, and killed. Not since the Second World War have such massive war crimes been committed.
These systematic violations of women’s basic human rights by armed groups to intimidate the enemy or simply as enjoyment as part of the spoils of war is not only a military crime, an international war crime, but also represent national crimes of assault, rape, and murder, which should be prosecuted even years after the incidents have taken place. The international tribunals have found men guilty of such crimes. Countries are also now facing up to their responsibilities to charge combatants and officers for these crimes of femicide.
Although Austria has had a “Protection against Violence Act” since 1997, a third of Austrian women report they have been victims of violent abuse inflicted by persons close to them - their partners, husbands, fathers or brothers. It remains one of the most unreported crimes even in Austria. The situation of migrant women is far worse because they fear losing their legal status if they divorce or charge their husbands with battery or rape. Austria is proud of its women and civil society organizations which maintain emergency helplines, shelters, rape crisis, and counselling centres but we realize that these services often do not reach undocumented migrants. All interventions must prioritize the safety of survivors and their children, but special preventive attention should be given to girls, older women, refugee women, and women with disabilities.
Austria is proud to have been one of the first countries to ratify the Istanbul Convention Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. We believe that its provisions can be a model for other regions in the world. We are pleased to have co-sponsored both General Assembly resolutions “Taking Action against the Genderrelated Killing of Women and Girls”.
I was happy to speak on this topic at UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and to endorse the continued work of the Academic Council on the United Nations System on this important topic.
Wolfgang Brandstetter, Austrian Minister of Justice