Femicide 2021: What Has Changed? Development of Femicide Watches and Observatories
by the UN SRVAW Reem Alsalem
The author would like to thank Ann Foster Monk and Eszter Horvath of the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University, who were interning with the mandate in 2022, for their support with reviewing the data this article and systematizing it.
Femicide, or gender-related killings of women, is the most extreme form of violence against women and the most violent manifestation of discrimination against women. lt has been a priority for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women since this post was established, and was the focus of thematic reports in 2012 (A/HRC/20/16) and 2016 (4/71/398). In the latter, the former Special Rapporteur, Ms. Dubravka Simonovic, called on States to establish a "femicide watch" and/or observatories, and elaborated on the modalities for establishing such a mechanism.
In 2016, the Special Rapporteur established a Femicide Watch Prevention Initiative that aimed to foster the creation of such observatories or watch bodies. The mandate has also made yearly calls to States to submit information on the measures it has taken against femicide and provide data on femicide in general and on the number of gender-related killings of women per year, disaggregated by the age and sex of the perpetrators, and by the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. In October 2021, and pursuant to General Assembly resolution 5/161 the Special Rapporteur presented a report on the Femicide Watch Prevention Initiative, to the General Assembly (A/76/132).
Developments Regarding the Prevention of, and Response to, Femicide in 2021
In response to the 2021 call by the mandate for information on femicide, 32 Member States, 7 National Human Rights lnstitutions, and 4 non-state actors responded. The following article is based in large part on these submissions.
Compared to previous years, there has been only a very modest increase in the number of femicide observatories. Between 2016 and 2021, there was significant progress towards the creation of different types of bodies to monitor violence against women and femicide. Yet, in every continent, there are countries that still do not have femicide observatories such as Azerbaijan,2 Cambodia,3 Switzerland,4 Turkey,5 and Ukraine.6 The list includes developed countries and countries that are not in a state of conflict, busting the myth that the presence of a femicide observatory or the lack of it is a matter primarily of resources and capacity.
In some countries, femicide observatories have been created or improved upon by local governments, civil society, and academia, thereby filling important gaps that exist at the national level. This has been the case in Albania, for example, where a femicide observatory has been set up by civil society.7 For example, in Colombia, the Government's Colombian Observatory of Women has a strong relationship with the NGO Feminicidios Colombia which provides the Observatory with information that can help identify possible cases of femicide that are not being investigated.8 Another example is the way data are collected by the Human Rights Commission of the Colombian State of Nuevo Leon which has developed a femicide cartography based on monitoring the news from the local and national press. The data is systematized in a database that contains the date of the event, name of the woman, age, gender identity, location, type of aggression, identity of the alleged aggressor, and age and type of relationship he had with the woman.9 The creation of this cartography and database has made it possible to geographically visualize the violent deaths of women and to look into whether the authorities have failed in their duties to prevent, investigate, and punish gender-based violence; it has also improved the analysis of the context in which these cases occur.10
Conscious of the fact that institutional design of the observatories may differ from one country to another, the mandate recommended that they all have standard roles and functions which are as follows: 1) data are collected according to the modalities recommended by the mandate, and are therefore comparable at the regional and global levels; 2) data are analyzed and made public; 3) cases are reviewed to identify gaps in protection, services, and legislation; 4) recommendations for improvement based on local trends can reach legislators, policy-makers, and the general public; and 5) evidence-based legislation and policy reforms can be implemented.
The Special Rapporteur notes that femicide continues not to be criminalized as a separate offence in several countries such as Albania, Cambodia, Malaysia, Slovakia, Switzerland. The list of countries includes affluent countries and ones with developed legal frameworks and justice systems. The mandates position has been that it is not necessary to have a separate criminal offence for femicide as long as the legal system can adequately identify and prosecute these cases, while also taking into account their gendered nature. However, creating a separate criminal offence can be a useful strategy in this regard.
The collection of disaggregated data continues to be a challenge. For example, courts in Hungary still do not collect data disaggregated by sex, race, nationality, ethnicity, or religion of victim or perpetrator; only by type of crime.16
The mandate has systematically recommended that States collect data under three broad categories: 1. intimate-partner femicide or 2. family-related femicide, based on the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, and 3. other femicides, according to the local context. The centrality of data collection and monitoring in State efforts to combat violence against women was reaffirmed by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, particularly its General Recommendation No. 35 (2017) on gender-based violence against women. In it, the Committee recommended that States parties establish a system to regularly collect, analyze, and publish statistical data on the number of complaints of violence. This system should include information on the sentences imposed on perpetrators and reparations, including compensation, provided to victims. The Committee also recommended that data should be disaggregated by type of violence, relationships between victim and perpetrator, and other relevant socio-demographic characteristics.
Furthermore, the mandate has reiterated on numerous occasions that the existence of criminal law provisions establishing the crime of femicide (as a standalone offence or as an aggravating circumstance to homicide) is not a prerequisite for the collection of data. Furthermore, when such legal definitions of femicide as a specific crime are in place, often only prosecuted cases are counted; in those States, data collection should be broader and encompass all gender-related killings of women.
The mandate considers it problematic that, in some countries, data on femicide or gender-related killings of women and girls continue to be limited to intimate-partner violence. A comprehensive approach should include all types of femicides relevant to a particular context, including intimate-partner and family-related killings, and others in which, while there is no relationship between victim and perpetrator, there is a gender motive.
The Special Rapporteur notes with satisfaction, however, that since 2020, there have been further moves to gather better data in several countries, even if this has relied on different methodologies and scope. In Argentina, for example, through resolution 48/2021, the lntegrated System for Cases of Violence for Gender Reasons (SICVG) was created. This system is a tool for recording, processing, and analyzing information on queries and complaints of gender-based violence in order to contribute to the design and monitoring of public policies on gender-based violence. The integrated mechanism would prevent the duplication of data and improve the gathering and analysis of data arising from diverse sources such as complaints, consultations, and legal cases.17 T
The mandate has recommended that data collected should include three broad categories: 1. intimate-partner femicide or 2. family-related femicide, based on the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, and 3. other femicides or gender-related killings, according to the local context. In Bolivia, the Ministry of Justice and lnstitutional Transparency has established a national monitoring commission for femicide cases to monitor the judicial processes on femicide. An electronic form has been created that allows the effective monitoring of criminal proceedings and shows the areas of greatest prevalence of these crimes.
Submissions sent by different governments to the mandate in 2021 show that femicide continues to be monitored predominantly in the framework of domestic violence or family violence in several countries. Similarly, where States have adopted national plans to address femicide, many have done so through a heavy focus on ending domestic violence and intimate-partner violence (for example Albania,18 Azerbaijan,19 lraq,20 Malaysia,21 Norway,22 Serbia,23 and Ukraine24 are cases in point). In Malaysia for example, while femicide is not defined in any laws including the Penal Code, the Domestic Violence Act of 1994 has been amended to introduce new elements, such as immediate protection for victims of violence at harm to supplement the offences under the Penal Code; it also expands the definition of domestic violence to also include emotional, mental, and psychological abuse, the recognition of victims' rights and the right to exclusive occupation of the dwelling and access to a rehabilitation programme.25 However, and as the mandate has emphasized on numerous occasions, while the categories of domestic violence, family violence, and intimate-partner violence are all relevant categories for understanding the phenomenon of femicide, none of them is sufficient as a standalone proxy for femicide.
Studies and improved data continue to show that women are the primary victims of intimate-partner killings and also the prevalence of a prior history of violence leading up to the femicide. For example, data collected by the German Institute for Human Rights Project in Germany from 2018 to 2020 show that more than 79% or more of women that were killed in homicide cases had been killed by intimate partners.26 Similarly, data collected in Argentina show that, in 90% of the cases of femicide in Argentina, victims had a previous link with their aggressor; 66% of these were committed by partners or former partners.27 Finally, in Colombia, the data gathered shows that there is a strong correlation between domestic/gender-based violence and femicide. This shows that improving responses to cases of dornestic/gender-based violence can reduce the incidence of femicide.28
In the 2021 report to the General Assernbly, the mandate highlighted the difficulty of gaining a clearer picture of the irnpact of COVID-19 on femicide, in part due to the pandemic-related lockdown measures. Anecdotal inforrnation received frorn different parties by the mandate since then confirrn that, while rneasuring the impact of COVID-19 continues to be challenging, femicide and domestic violence cases appear to have increased during COVID-19 in some countries, such as Poland29 and Costa Rica.30 Interestingly, the number of femicides reported during COVID-19 restrictions in Argentina (frorn 20 March to 31 October 2020) were higher than in 2019. Yet, this increase in femicide was a result of an increase in femicides by perpetrators unrelated to the victirns, while the nurnber of partner femicides decreased.31 Similarly, in Colornbia in 2020, the rate of cases associated with femicide seerns to have decreased in 2020, which could be attributed to the fact that courts were closed during the mandatory isolation period in Colombia because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of femicide victims had also decreased by 23% between March and December 2020 compared to the same period the previous year, though the number of domestic violence reports had increased. This period corresponds to the different periods of mandatory isolation throughout 2020.33
Several countries adopted rneasures to imnprove inforrnation to women at risk of violence during COVID-19 as well as improve referral rnechanisms. This was the case in Argentina, where the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity improved measures to facilitate access for women at risk or actual victims.34
While much progress has been made in establishing violence-against-women observatories or femicide watch bodies, dedicated to the issue of femicide or gender-related killings of women, the femicide-related inforrnation that the rnandate received in 2021 continues to be uneven. While sorne countries and regions have put significant resources into setting up their Femicide watches, in others there is very little progress, if any. The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that data are not yet comparable, as in many cases the modalities proposed by the mandate are not observed.
The Special Rapporteur will continue to call on States to establish femicide watches or observatories on violence against women, where none exists, and collect and publish each year comparable data on femicide or gender-related killings of women as part of data on violence against women. She will also continue to encourage States to strengthen collaboration with civil society organizations, National Human Rights lnstitutions, academia, and all other entities in collecting data and producing information on femicide. Finally, States are reminded to strengthen the gathering of data on gender-based violence and femicide or gender-related killings of women during the COVID-19 pandemic and to conduct a comparison between femicide data collected before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
2 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2021, p. 1, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/azerbaijan.pdf
3 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia, 3 December 2021, p. 1, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/cambodia.pdf
4 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Swiss Confederation, 3 December 2021, p.1, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/switzerland.pdf
5 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Turkey, 25 November 2021, p. 8, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/turkey.pdf
6 Submission by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine, 2021, p. 5, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/ukraine.pdf
7 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Albania, 2021, p. 1, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/albania.pdf
8 Submission by the Permanent Mission of Colombia, 2021, p. 2, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/colombia.pdf
9 Submission by the State Human Rights Commission of Nuevo Leon (La Comision Estatal de Derechos Humanos de Nuevo Leon), 2021, p.2, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/CSOs/comision-nuevo-leon-mexico.pdf
10 lbid, p.6
11 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Albania, 2021, p. 4, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/albania.pdf
12 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia, 3 December 2021, p. 4, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/cambodia.pdf
13 Submission by the Permanent Mission of Malaysia, 6 December 2021, p. 1, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/malaysia.pdf
14 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Slovak Republic, 2 December 2021, p. 3, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/slovakia.pdf
15 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Swiss Confederation, 3 December 2021, p. 3, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/switzerland.pdf
16 Submission of the Permanent Mission of Hungary, 2021, p. 3, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/hungary. pdf
17 Submission by the Permanent Mission of Argentina, 2021, p. 2, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/argentina.pdf
18 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Albania, 2021, p. 4, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/aIbania.pdf
19 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2021, p. 1, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/azerbaijan.pdf
20 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of lraq, 23 December 2021, p. 2, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/iraq.pdf
21 Submission by the Permanent Mission of Malaysia, 6 December 2021, p. 2, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/malaysia.pdf
22 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Norway, 2021, p. 1, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/norway. pdf
23 Submission by the Protector of Citizens of the Republic of Serbia, 2021, p. 1, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/NHRIs/protector-citizens-serbia.pdf
24 Submission by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine, 2021, p. 3, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/ukraine.pdf
25 Submission of Permanent Mission of Malaysia, 6 December 2021, p. 2, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/malaysia.pdf
26 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany, 2021, p. 2, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/germany.pdf
27 Submission by the Permanent Mission of Argentina, 2021, p. 5, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/argentina.pdf
28 Submission by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Colombia, 2021, p. 4, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/colombia.pdf
29 Submission by the Womens Rights Center Poland, 2021, p. 1, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/CSOs/femicide-watch-poland.pdf
30 Submission by the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica, 2021, p. 8-9, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/costa-rica.pdf
31 Submission by the Ombudsman of Argentina (La Defensoria del Pueblo de la Nacion Argentina), 2021, p. 3, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/NHRIs/defensoria-argentina.pdf
32 Submission by the Permanent Mission of Colombia, 2021, p. 11, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/States/colombia.pdf
33 ibid, p.11-12
34 Submission by the Latin American Justice and Gender Team / EI Equipo Latinoamericano de Justicia y Genero (ELA), 2021, p.1, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/lssues/Women/SR/femicide-watch-initiative/CSOs/equipo-latinoamericano-argentina.pdf