10 years on: Istanbul convention in Cyprus and the EU 

 

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the Council of Europe Convention on Combating and Preventing Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (“Istanbul Convention”). When the treaty came into force on the 1st of August 2014, it began holding its ratifiers to a commitment of legal standards that criminalises multiple forms of gender-based violence. As of January 2024, 22 EU member states, including Cyprus, have ratified it and all EU members had signed it. Turkey has since withdrawn from the Convention, but other member states and non-member states have shown interest in ratifying it. Cyprus ratified the Convention in November 2017, while it entered into force in March 2018. 

Amnesty International has called the Istanbul Convention “the Gold Standard” for tackling gender-based violence and discrimination, mainly because its comprehensive nature allows for practical implementation. The Istanbul Convention focuses on four areas often called the “Four Ps”: preventing violence against women, protecting victims, prosecuting perpetrators and implementing feminist policies. The goals are aimed at promoting national efforts to root out violence against women without discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, disability, or any form of identity.  

A major focus of the Istanbul Convention is on victim support with particular emphasis on avoiding “secondary victimisation.” Since going through the traditional criminal justice system can often serve as a form of secondary victimisation, the Convention’s efforts to eliminate this is an important step. Yet, the Convention’s dismissal of alternative dispute resolution processes in Article 48, have unwisely kept women from restorative justice services.  

Restorative justice and gender-based violence 

Understandably, some victim support groups have been sceptical about the use of restorative justice with gender-based violence especially due to the power imbalances that exist within intimate violent relationships. Some critiques of restorative justice, often based on misinformation, argue that it shifts gender-based violence into the private realm, potentially further victimising women and creating power imbalances (Pali and Madsen, 2011, p. 49). Additionally, critics perceive restorative justice as the “easy way forward” for offenders (Wager, 2013, p. 16; Marsh and Wager, 2015, p. 5). However, these criticisms are largely theoretical and lack supporting evidence. In reality, restorative justice has been shown to be effective in serious cases, including violence against women (Gavrielides, 2017; McGlynn et al., 2012, pp. 5-6; Knowles, 2013, pp. 44-45; Chan et al., 2015, p. 234) and has been used to address the problems victims face in the conventional justice system. Restorative justice plays a crucial role in empowering victims, enabling them to voice the full extent of their harm and articulate their healing needs. In 1999, qualitative research concluded that mediation in domestic violence cases has significant potential in reinforcing empowerment and liberation processes for victims (Pelikan, 2000) 

After Cyprus ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2017, it passed the new Prevention and Combating of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence Law in 2021 in an attempt to implement the Convention (The Prevention and Combating of Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence and for Related Matters Law (2021) Law 115(1)/2021). In the final stages of passing the Law, changes were made that conflated gender, gender identity and biological sex, which in practice can easily hurt the recognition of gender-based violence and the kind of data that is collected about it. Additionally, since Cyprus has not coordinated the 2021 Law with pre-existing laws on domestic violence, these earlier laws remain to have outdated definitions of domestic violence that do not recognise the often-gendered nature of the violence, leaving some victims without the appropriate protections. While the 2021 Law defines femicide as gender-based violence, other forms of violence such as rape and female genital mutilation are not recognised in the same way. There is also a practical gap in helping victims of gender-based violence, as evidenced by the lack of rape crisis centres or sexual violence referral centres in Cyprus. 

When it comes to justice, survivors are not adequately taken care of either. Despite the 2000 Violence in the Family Law that pushed for a quickened process for domestic violence cases, the reality is lengthened processes that can take up to several years, leading to victims not wanting to stay in the process. Perpetrators are often given lighter sentences and judges do not have the training to ensure that victims of gender-based violence are not deprived of support and protection. At the same time, domestic and partner violence is rising. In 2022, the Association for the Prevention and Handling of Violence in the Family (SPAVO) helpline centre in Cyprus handled 3,122 cases, a notable increase from previous years. However, what is even more discouraging is Cyprus’s low reporting rates, which make it difficult to assess the true levels of gender-based violence and create policies that will adequately address it. 

Restorative justice in Cyprus law 

Finally, we must note that restorative Justice is not present in legislative efforts in Cyprus and knowledge about its use and recognition of its importance is severely limited to scarce community-based initiatives operating in the “shadow of the law”. Yet, the potential that restorative justice has to empower survivors and secure justice for them should not be ignored. The goals that the Istanbul Convention laid out are not at odds with restorative justice, in fact, restorative justice helps to further those goals of ending gender-based violence and discrimination. On this ten-year anniversary of the Convention’s entry into force, restorative justice remains relevant and should be seen as a necessary tool for the future of combating gender-based violence, always accompanied by necessary risk assessments and safeguarding provisions. 

RJ4All is dedicated to enhancing the implementation of restorative justice in both law and practice within Cyprus, fostering a restorative justice ethos. By replicating well-established models from our work in the UK, we aim to extend these practices to Cyprus and advocate for necessary law reforms through our evidence-based approaches. RJ4All has been actively applying for European funding in the field of gender-based violence. We will continue these efforts to showcase and explore the potential of restorative justice as a tool against gender-based violence, despite the critiques it has received.  

RJ4All recognises that domestic violence and abuse, especially in intimate relationships, are complex phenomena, often influenced by biases and cultural and societal tendencies. These acts are expressions of a need to exercise power and control over others, particularly those closest to us. Therefore, the solution should not be to simply criminalise domestic violence and incarcerate more individuals. Instead, we advocate for generating institutional change, considering the circumstances of each case, and allowing victims to identify the problems they face. Tailored training for criminal justice professionals is essential, focusing on the complexities of domestic violence, cultural education, and learning from both “victims” and “offenders” of abuse. 

To achieve our goals, we extend an open call for partners to collaborate with us on an EU-wide scale. If you are interested, please reach out at: s.sideridou@rj4all.org 

Also, in line with our objectives and upcoming projects, RJ4All has opened positions for volunteer interns in Cyprus. We seek passionate individuals committed to restorative justice and human rights, eager to empower marginalised and vulnerable individuals. Take a look at the vacancy details here and apply if you are interested. 

 

Resources 

Chan, J.B.L., Bolitho, J. and Bargen, J. (2015). Restorative justice as an innovative response to violence. SSRN Electronic Journal 10.2139/ssrn.3439193.  

Gavrielides, T. (2023). Domestic Violence and Power Abuse Within the Family: The Restorative Justice Approach. In Violence in Families: Integrating Research into Practice (pp. 421-439). Cham: Springer International Publishing. 

Gavrielides, T. (2017). “Structured & Unstructured Restorative Justice: The case of violence against women” in Halder, D. and Jaishankar, K. (Eds). Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Overcoming Violence Against Women, Pensilvania: IGI Global Publications. 

Gavrielides, T., & Artinopoulou, V. (2013). Restorative justice and violence against women: Comparing Greece and the United Kingdom. Asian journal of criminology, 8, 25-40. 

Knowles, G. (2013). Evaluating law reform using victim/survivor stories from the criminal justice system. Sexual Abuse in Australia and New Zealand 5(2):40–47. 

Marsh, F. and Wager, N.M. (2015). Restorative justice in cases of sexual violence: exploring the views of the public and survivors. Probation Journal 62(4) 62(4):336–356. DOI:10.1177/0264550515619571. 

McGlynn, C., Johnson, K., Rackley, E., Henry, N., Gavey, N., Flynn, A. and Powell, A. (2020). ‘It’s torture for the soul’: the harms of image-based sexual abuse. Social and Legal Studies 30(4):541–562. Https://doi.org/10.1177/0964663920947791. 

McGlynn, C. and Rackley, E. (2017). Image-based sexual abuse. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 37(3):534–561. Https://doi.org/10.1093/ojls/gqw033. 

McGlynn, C. and Westmarland, N. (2019). Kaleidoscopic justice: sexual violence and victim-survivors’ perceptions of justice. Social and Legal Studies 28(2):179–201. Https://doi.org/10.1177/0964663918761200. 

McGlynn, C., Westmarland, N. and Godden, N. (2012). ‘I just wanted him to hear me’: sexual violence and the possibilities of restorative justice. Journal of Law and Society 39(2):213–240. Https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6478.2012.00579.x. 

Pali, B. and Madsen, K.S. (2011). Dangerous liaisons? A feminist and restorative approach to sexual assault. Temida 14(1):49–65. DOI:10.2298/TEM1101049P. 

Wager, N. (2013). The experience and insight of survivors who have engaged in a restorative justice meeting with their assailant. Temida 16(1):11–32. 10.2298/TEM1301011W.  

As RJ4All Europe, we embarked on a quest to enhance our understanding and contribute to the ongoing discourse surrounding disengagement, deradicalisation, and rehabilitation efforts.

Passionate about restorative justice, community cohesion and human rights? Eager to empower marginalised and vulnerable individuals? RJ4All Europe is seeking Volunteer Interns to join our dynamic team in Cyprus! 

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