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THE STRATEGIC ROLE OF NGO
IN MAKING STATES RESPONSIBLES FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION OF DUE DILIGENCE OBLIGATION June 05, 2013 – 4.00 – 6.00 P.M.
Palais des Nations - Room VIII
INTRODUCTION – BARBARA SPINELLI Good afternoon and welcome to everyone to this event, organized by International Association of Democratic Lawyers. I am Barbara Spinelli, expert of femicide, and I am member of the IADL (International Association of Democratic Lawyers) and of the Italian Cedaw Platform “Lavori in corsa”. I want to thank all my colleagues of the co-sponsor association, that make possible the realization of this event, and particularly Micòl Savia and Lois for their invaluable logistic and organizational support, as well as I want to thank all the distinguished speakers of today’s event. We strongly wished to organize this event on the occasion of the annual discussion on women’s rights. We want to highlight how important it is to consider the progress made in recognizing femicide as a violation of human rights, thanks to feminists and women’s rights activists work, starting from grassroots movements. All over the world, women face discriminations and violences because they are women. All over the world, States underestimate their due diligence obligation to adequately prevent and persecute violence against women, and adequately protect and procurate redress to women survivor of violence.
Sponsor IADL – International Association of Democratic Lawyers Co-sponsor WUNRN - Women's UN Report Network Femmes Solidaires International Free Women's Foundation Italian Cedaw Platform “Lavori in corsa” Antiviolence Center
We know that a lot of States do not have an adequate legal framework on violence against women. We know also that where States adopted a formal framework on violence against women, in most cases protection is not effective in practice. As it was stated today during the general debate, we have an international framework on violence against women, we know what are the standards, and we only need to work on adequate implementation of the due diligence obligation, and for the justiceability of the violation of these obligations by States. Today here we want to remark how much have been - and still is- strategic the work of women non governative organizations in fighting femicide worldwide, and how important is their struggle to make States aware of violations of the due diligence obligations on violence against women and of the deficiency of their activities for the elimination of violence against women. All over the word, women everyday fight for gender justice. Feminist organizations contributed worldwide to the affirmation of the State responsibility to act with due diligence for the protection of women survivors of gender violence in order to prevent femicide. The “Cotton Field” judgement, the condemnation of the Mexican State by Interamerican Court of Human Rights, would have not been possible without the strong engagement of the feminist Mexican movement and their partnership with NGOs working on human rights internationally. We can say the same for femicide in Austria. Civil society women’s organizations started the CEDAW communication procedures n.5 and 6 of 2005. The Cedaw Committe argued that Austria had violated the rights of Sahide and Fatma under Art 1,2,3 and 5 CEDAW, because austrian authorities had not taken all appropriate measures to protect their lives. The Committee emphasized that is not enough to have good laws, as the laws have to be enforced by all actors. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, in her 2012 annual report on gender motivated killings of women, recognized that the formulation of right-based claims by women remain an important strategic and political tool for women’s empowerment and for addressing human rights violations. (A/HRC/20/16, para 104, P.26). All over the world women are agent of change: women working in the frontline help states to identify weaknesses in prevention of violence and protection of the survivors; women act to strengthen the institutional response to violence. In the 2013 agreed conclusions, the Commission on the Status of Women urged Governments to invite civil society, including non-governmental organizations, to be part of the implementation of the recommended action.
One of our main challenges for the future is the promotion of a strong and continuative dialogue between Institutions and women’s NGOs States’ cooperation with women’s organizations is an unique tool in order to create synergies and make possible to use of all available resources to design implement, and evaluate programs to end femicide. Today we want to show how cooperation with civil society must became a reality to identify gaps and and jointly create a functioning system to eliminate violence against women and to transform our democracy in gender democracy. When cooperation is not possible, is only thank to the support of women’s NGOs that women survivors of violence can claim their rights, expose how they were revictimized by the inadequate action of State’ authorities, and call the State to exercise due diligence to prevent and to respond to violence against women of private actors. In this panel, we want to give the floor to the protagonist of this fight, showing how the action of women from different countries enable a significant change in the regional (European) and national institutional approaches to femicide.
MS. GWENDOLINE LEFEBVRE - Femmes Solidaires Ladies and Gentlemen, First of all Femmes solidaires would like to thank the people who organize this panel. This is important to multiply the opportunities to speak about feminicide so that this phenomenon is known and recognized everywhere, by the States and the international institutions. That is why we are proud to take part in this event as we did in France at the Parliament in 2011 and earlier this year, here in Geneva, with the International Free Women’s Foundation, to express our solidarity but above all our indignation and our refusal to accept that violence and crimes are perpetuated against women only because they are women. Femmes solidaires is a feminist movement, recognized in France as part of the movement for Popular Education ; we have a consultative status with the ECOSOC. Our NGO defends since 1945 the fundamental values of secularism, gender diversity, equality for women’s rights, peace and freedom. With a network of 190 organizations in France, Femmes solidaires works to reduce all forms of discrimination and domination, to further equality and women’s rights in all the areas of society, to fight against all forms of violence against women. Our NGO is open to all women, in their diversity, enabling them to become actors of their lives and to have the courage to speak during initiatives or events. Femmes solidaires works with women's organisations from different countries to defend their rights and their freedom. It is active in numerous international campaigns and has developed “reciprocal solidarity”. In France and around the world, women's rights remain unequal. Femmes solidaires claims that there are two ways of considering the future of women on our planet. One way consists in thinking that each woman has what she deserves based on where she was born, her culture, the history of her country and her origins. The other way aspires to promote living together and an alignment of women's rights towards the highest level. This collective impulse is incarnate in one concept: the universality of women's rights. Femmes solidaires
advocates for this concept. When trying to understand feminicide, we always ask ourselves why? Why are women murdered? No matter the form that these acts of feminicide take in the world, all of them are an attack on the physical and moral dignity of women. Above all, they all have a similar cause: patriarchal society that justifies male domination. We have noticed that the entire structural gender violence such as economical violence, child marriage, domestic violence, commodification of the female body, rape of women during armed conflicts, extrajudicial violence, stoning… are not considered as a priority by our patriarchal states. They are inherent to a continuum related to, on one side, the global neo-liberal context, whose consequences are higher poverty and job insecurity for women, and on the other side the patriarchy as it exists within families, society and the state. In this context conservative and extremist movements are also growing. These are the reasons why those who defend the criminals are able to downplay these crimes against women under terms like “crimes of passion” or “honour crimes”, trivializing them and leading to decrease the responsibility of the criminals. Thus, when young girls and women are victims, the police and the system of justice trivialise the criminal acts imputing them to the way the women act, out of the norms and morality of society, and making the murdered women responsible for their own death. We cannot continue to accept this essentialist and sexist vision of all the forms of violence against women. In addition, cultural or religious traditions cannot be used as a pretext to justify them. Our first objective: giving a terminology to this murderous violence to designate feminicide. The vocabulary is significant; it is even of prime importance so that society and particularly states and judicial authorities take into consideration the qualification of these crimes. This terminology has to be the basis of the vocabulary in the judicial doctrine, facing the idea of “homicide”, which up to now has been given a masculine gender when qualifying crimes and murders, in order to obtain a judicial qualification of gender violence which is feminicide. Our second objective: facing this barbarity, we have the duty to act so that our states and public institutions no longer ensure impunity to the authors of these crimes. Our states have an obligation to protect the lives of their women citizens through the law and the legal system in order to elucidate and punish these crimes. Impunity sends a message to the authors of these crimes implying that these acts of violence are tolerated and that they can continue to be perpetrated. For that purpose, we have to use all the legal tools and the means of expression we have access to in our states and in the international institutions. We must urgently obtain that the states involve themselves into political actions fighting against criminals’ impunity and really protecting women but also implementing a system in which young people receive a non sexist and non-violent education to eradicate the phenomenon form the beginning. Laws are necessary but not sufficient; they have then to be applied; states have to provide the financial and human means needed for that. As NGO we have to be the voice of the women who cannot speak, the megaphone of the women some people want to silence. That is why Femmes Solidaires launched last January with several other NGOs from different continent, including the International Free Women’s Foundation, an international feminist and secular network of organisations. Because girls and women should not have to feel guilty any more to live their life the way they want.
MS. NURSEL KILIC - International Free women’s foundation en, Dear friends, The IFWF was founded on 9 March 2001 in Amsterdam by women from Kurdistan, Turkey, the Netherlands and Germany. Important aims of the IFWF are to support women and children who are victims of war and violence to intensify solidarity and cooperation for fighting any form of violence and discrimination against people, because of their sex, language, religion, nationality or social status. In order to achieve our goals we see it essential to promote education and campaigns on women’s rights on the grassroots level. Against this background during the last five years the IFWF got involved in important campaigns that aimed on dismantling the different forms and aspects of the feminicide and violence against women by breaking the silence and taboos. The campaigns were launched by the Kurdish women’s movement in cooperation with many different NGOs and individuals. Exactly 5 years ago, on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 2008, the first campaign started with the slogan „We are women. We are nobody's honour. Our honour is our freedom!“ The second campaign was organised with the motto: „Let's strengthen our struggle for freedom to overcome the culture of rape!“ The third Campaign “Stop the cruelty of stoning and executions!” was initiated by the IFWF in 2011 to protests against death penalties and executions including the stoning of women which threaten the lives of women and women human rights activists in countries like e.g. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia or Nigeria. Beside public protests and conferences the international signature campaign “1 Million signatures to stop the stoning” was initiated as well as the support of petitions was organised to save the lives of the Kurdish women’s rights activist Zeynep Celaliyan and Sakine Ashitian who were sentenced to death by Iranian courts. Sequel to these campaigns the current, fourth campaign “Stop the Feminicide!” was started on 8 March 2011. By exposing the concepts of honor, systematic rape and killing of women just because they are women we have been trying to reveal, name and understand the reasons and the dimensions of violence against women. In doing so we came across the terminologies of “femicide” and “feminicide”. Three main goals of the Campaign are: 1. to reach a common definition that is adequate to name and combat all forms of violence against women effectively
2. to achieve social and political changes to challenge, outlaw and prevent the “normality” of violence against women 3. to compass legal adjustments in international and national laws so that feminicide will be prosecuted as a crime against humanity The following activities have been realized in the framework of the campaign: The first goal – to reach a common and adequate definition – was elaborated through conferences that the IFWF organised in cooperation with various women’s networks and NGOs in Cologne, Paris, Stockholm, London and Utrecht in 2011 and 2012. A common result that was stipulated in the final statements of all conferences was to refer to the concept of feminicide and to continue with activities aiming at the outlaw and prosecution of feminicide as a crime against humanity in parallel to Genocide. The second goal - to achieve social and political changes to counteract and prevent feminicides – was dealt with by providing popular educational programmes in community centres. The cooperation with the media has also been an important tool to create more awareness of the roots and extent of feminicides. In cooperation with local, national and international women’s organisations demonstrations, rallies, seminars, debates and actions were organised in different towns. While protests against concrete cases of feminicides composed one part of the mobilisations joint activities and platforms on March, 8th and November, 25th were also strengthened. The third goal - to compass legal adjustments in international and national laws for the prosecution of feminicide as a crime against humanity – has now become one of our greatest concerns. Therefore we have been lobbying to create spaces for an interface of this campaign which developed from the grassroots with decision making bodies at the UN and national levels. An important step was the side event “Feminicide is a crime against humanity” which we have done during the 22th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The IFWF has been organising in cooperation with different organisations like the European Feminist Initiative (EFI), Femmes Solidaires and the International Women’s Alliance (IWA). We had the opportunity to exchange our experiences and commune perspective concerning our struggle against Feminicide. I would like to thanks again Ms Barbara with her very important vision on Feminicide by her participation with her Statement to this last event. In the end of my speech i would like to remind you the terrible assassinations of Paris on 9 January 2013 where we’ve been so painful and choked. 3 Kurdish women’s, 3 feminists, 3 resisting people for their women’s and existence rights. 3 generations of resistance. 5 months after this massacre expected in the heart of Paris, the French Justice didn’t give any declaration concerning the real mechanism which are behind of those politics assassinations. The evidence that we couldn’t ignore is that this massacre have only one name, this is Feminicide. As many women’s association in Europe we will continue to struggle for the elucidation of this case. Because we are all Sakine, Fidan6and Leyla...
INTRODUCTION TO ITALIAN CONTEXT – BARBARA SPINELLI Now I am very proud to start the discussion about how our Italian NGOs made possible a relevant change in Italy, thank to the strategic use of the international human rights system. It was 2006 when we translated for the first time in Italian CEDAW recommendation to Italy, as our Government never quoted the CEDAW o.p. and general recommendations, and they never translated and published all the relevant documentations, including CEDAW recommendations to Italy. It was 2008 when I published the first book in Italian about femicide (Femminicidio. Dalla denuncia sociale al riconoscimento giuridico internazionale, FrancoAngeli,2008), that constituted a base for the feminist movement to know about criminological researches on femicide all over the world, and about the struggle of Mexican women and their strategic use of international human rights mechanisms to hold accountable the Mexican state for Ciudad Juarez feminicides. It was 2010 when our different associations (Giuristi Democratici, Fondazione Pangea onlus, BeFree, Le Nove, ActionAid, Arci-Arcs, Fratelli dell’Uomo, Differenza Donna) created the Italian CEDAW Platform and decided to jointly present our first CEDAW shadow report, since 1985 when Italy ratified CEDAW. In our report we showed the failure of the State in
preventing femicide, because of the lack of structural action and the inadequate protection of women survivors of intimate partner violence. CEDAW Committee, in 2011 recommendations to Italy, for the 1st time used the word “femicide” addressed to an European country, and argued that the high number of women murdered by their partner or ex-partner (femicide), may indicate a failure by the italian authorities to adequately protect women victims from their partners or ex-partners. In 2012, we strongly supported the visit of Rashida Manjoo in our country for an official mission as Special Rapporteur on violence against women. In her report the SR stressed that “Governments achievements have not led to a decrease in the femicide rate or translated into real improvements in the lives of many women and girls, and that the high levels of domestic violence, which are contributing to rising levels of femicide, demand serious attention”. As regards the role of women’s NGOs, the SR noted that “persons with significant expertise and skills are working for the advancement of women‟s rights. Challenges that exist include: the management of public funds which may lead to lack of implementation in some cases; responding in a coordinated and effective way to address violence against women and girls; and establishing strategic partnerships with international and regional human rights mechanisms, to further the promotion and protection of women‟s rights”. The SR recommended to the Italian Government to “recognize, encourage and support public-private partnerships with CSOs and higher learning institutions, to provide research and responses to addressing violence against women” So, what is the situation in Italy one year after the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and two years after CEDAW recommendations? We are proud to say that is thanks to our awareness raising activities at the national and international level, today Institutions do not feel ashamed to use the word femicide, and they’re going to ratify Council of Europe Convention on violence against women and domestic violence. The new Government and Parliament are aware that it is because the systematic violation of their due diligence obligation that women continue to experience violence because they are women. We are here today to illustrate (part of) the work we have done so far, and then if you will be curios we will talk of what will be our future struggle.
MS. DONATELLA MARTINI - WECAMS - Women’s European Coalition Against Media Sexism I’d like to say a few words on the close relation between women’s misrepresentation in the media, inequality in general and feminicide in particular. As you know, the European Parliament has been working on gender equality since the 90ies and in 2008 they issued a Resolution (2038/2008) called “How marketing and advertising affect equality between women and men”. The title itself recognizes the heavy consequences of sexism in the media on society. Media, especially television and advertisement, portray an image of women still linked to old gender stereotypes, that is of women as sexual objects or good housewives. Misrepresenting women or not representing them at all – for instance in Italian school books , has a direct impact on under representation . I repeat in case I was not clear enough: misrepresentation means under representation in politics but also in Company’s Boards, for instance. We will never reach gender equality if media doesn’t change its attitude towards women. Moreover, it’s a fact that all media have a great responsibility towards violence against women. On tv and on adverts, women are depicted only as sexual objects or housewives, most of the times silent or submitting to men’s wishes while in real life the situation is very different. Women graduate more than men, have a career and reach important positions. As a result, in 2012 only in Italy we had 127 feminicides. In France they had 146 feminicides. In your folder you can find some documents I would like you to read. Among them, there’s a brief presentation of the three groups which decided to work together to end sexism in the media with a list of some of our actions. Italian DonneinQuota, French Chiennes de garde and English Object fought for years , achieved some small but wonderful results but now we decided it’s time to raise the level of the discussion from single countries to European Parliament and European organizations. The real fact is governments in Italy, France and U.K. underestimate the impact of women’s misrepresentation on society. This is true – at least in Italy - especially on televisions but in all three countries in advertising. That’s why Wecams decided to start from advertising as in this field there are no laws to regulate this sector at all. In Europe there are private self regulatory organizations, which are responsible for dealing with citizens complaints about sexism in advertising. These organizations are: In Italy IAP, in France ARPP and in U.K. ASA. DonneinQuota, Chiennes de Garde and Object tried at first to work with them but they don’t listen to our complaints and don’t respect European Parliament Resolutions. They do not recognize the use of stereotypes as discrimination but instead a form of taste and decency. On the top of them there’s EASA, European Advertising Standard Alliance, and our first action as Wecams was to address them a letter asking for a meeting (you can find it in your folder). We’ll meet their Board in September in Brussels. Why we decided to meet them?
- to make them publicly acknowledge sexism in advertisements is a problem for society as a whole - to have in all European codes the same attention to gender discrimination and gender stereotypes - to spread all over Europe one self-regulatory model for dealing with discrimination against women in advertising We are also trying to organize a meeting with European Parliament deputies in order to lobby with them. Our second target is to ask for a hearing at the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Commission in the European Parliament in order to present them our work and our plans. In your folder you will find Wecams letter to FEMM Commission. Our third action will be to unite in Wecams all European groups working on sexism in the media. Together we’ll be stronger. Finally, the last document you will find in your folder is OERG press release. OERG is the European Observatory on Gender Representation. They monitored the news on television in five European countries: France, Spain, Italy, Germany and England. OERG main findings shows that women are less than one third of news subjects and/or people interviewed by the European news programmes: 29%. Just 24% in Italy. Only newscasts in Spain and France have a women's visibility above the average with percentages of women in the news of 37% and 33% respectively. Italy is the country with the lowest women's presence in the political news stories (13%), followed by England and Germany (19%) and, at a distance, by Spain (28%) and France (34%). Italy is the country with the highest gender imbalance: only 14% of the experts interviewed by Italian newscasts are women (the remaining 86% of experts are men). On the other hand, women are 38% of ordinary persons' opinions. You can read the rest of the data of this very interesting project in your folder. As you can see, also for television we still have a lot to do, especially in Italy. Even if a lot was already done but I don’t have enough time to tell you about it. We, as Non Governative Organizations work hard, achieve only a few but never give up. But we believe in cooperation among different entities. That’s why we are here today: to ask you to help us to push our governments to consider sexism in the media a prevention against gender inequality and violence. D.I.RE Italian network of shelters (statement - The femicide research group, Women Center against violence, Bologna) “Casa delle donne per non subire violenza” is an antiviolence centre and a women’s shelter, located in Bologna (Italy), which among its many activities, periodically issues a research on femicide in Italy. Precisely, it began its investigation in 2005 to monitor and shed light onto this phenomenon in order to raise public awareness and the relevant institutions’ attention. Since the end of the 90s, the frequency of homicides in Italy which are not related to gender is decreasing, whereas, the killings of women is increasing year after year. According to the data from the Casa delle donne investigation, since 2005 over 900 women have been killed.
However, this figure is most probably underestimated because the investigation was based exclusively on what was reported by the media. Incidentally, the reason why this research was only able to consider the femicides reported in the news is that nowadays, regardless the CEDAW Committee’s requests on this account, the Italian Government still does not hold official accounts of these numbers. In order to highlight the fact that these deaths were not the result of common or organized criminality, but rather of relationships between men and women, the killings must be considered through an entirely different lens. To this end the researchers of the Casa delle donne used the specific and not gender neutral term, “femicide”, which was coined and developed within Anglo-Saxon circles by intellectuals such as D. Russell and J. Campbell. The gender roles of these crimes are emphasised by another neologism, “femminicide”, adopted by south American feminists to denounce all the forms of violence that women suffer physically, psychologically, economically, symbolically, institutionally, and in all other spheres of a women’s life, which can result in their physical elimination. When discussing femicide, it is important to note that these crimes are not accidental, but rather they are the result of broad gender discrimination. Regrettably though, the media refer to the perpetrator’s passion or jealousy as the explanatory cause of the woman’s death, but this stereotyped reasoning has negative consequences given that it appears to lessen the perpetrator’s responsibility. These crimes are actually the result of an unbalanced male-female relationship which is characterised by a disproportion in the control of power within family and society. The redefinition of gender identities and values inevitably brought by the economic crisis, is met by Italian men with difficulty. It would seem that the masculine response has been and continues to be to put women “in their place”. After many years of activity, the Women Centres against violence began breaking ground on violence against women. They did so not only through their services for the victims, but also by investing energy and resources in promoting awareness about masculine violence toward women. In fact, our NGO believes that it is valuable and important to help individual victims, but it is also necessary to build a culture that recognises women’s agency. Differently from the European and international situation, antiviolence centres have been in large part left alone in Italy. In recent years a total disinterest in confronting gender violence has developed within Institutions, Universities, and the communication world which commonly regard the problem as a question that concerns women only. As mentioned at the beginning, Casa delle Donne’s research revealed that from 2005 to 2012 there have been 901 women killed in Italy, this, as said, being considered a conservative estimation. The majority of the women killed during 2012 (61%) had recently ended or were still in a relationship with her killer. The latter is usually unable to accept the end of their relationship, its redefinition, or the victim’s independent choices. Moreover, in 2012 the number of femicides perpetrated by the women’s children rose. Accordingly, the most dangerous place for women is the house, either their own houses (22%) or the couple’s ones (38%). Furthermore, the research recorded that 73% of the aggressors in the reported cases were Italian and that also the victims were mainly of Italian nationality. Therefore, we would like to assure that the frequency of femicides in our nation is not a result of immigration and that these crimes cannot be attributed to religious traditions or cultural
differences except from when they result from patriarchal norms which, however, are common at all latitudes. According to the Casa delle donne research, in 2012 40% of the women killed were already a victim of gender violence on behalf of the partner and would be killer. This result shows that it is possible and necessary to stop violence before it reaches a critical level by granting further and more adequate protection to women living in a situation of violence. In order to do this it is necessary that the Italian Institutions allocate more funds and resources to antiviolence centres, it is necessary to strengthen the public-private networks against violence, and to promote a correct training of legal, social, and sanitary workers. To oppose violence and its extreme form represented by femicide it is necessary that Institutions, politics and the whole civil society measure up against the fact that violence is a problem not only for women but for the whole society itself. To contrast the culture of violence is also necessary to fight its acceptance that, like observed by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women during her recent mission in Italy, continues to be prevalent and persuasive in our society, together with the socio-cultural tendency to easily condone gender violence.
MS. LORETTA BONDÌ - BE FREE - Italian CEDAW Platform
Dear Colleagues, I wish to thank the organizers for inviting me to this important discussion. It’s literally vital that violence against women, one of the most pressing human rights challenges all over the world, figures prominently on the radar of human rights advocates everywhere and the international community as a whole. I am speaking on behalf of Be Free, a Rome-based social cooperative and a member of the CEDAW platform. Violence against women and the fight against human trafficking are at the core of Be Free’s mandate and actions. Among its activities, Be Free has developed a five-year experience in psycho-social and legal counseling through a help-desk at the migrant-related detention center of Ponte Galeria (Rome, Italy). Be Free also facilitates access to justice for the victims. This background allowed Be Free to spearhead a case in 2010 involving Nigerian women who were trafficked to central Italy and two years later, win compensation for 17 of the victims in a criminal court. To the best of our knowledge, this is unprecedented in Italy. I will explain why in a moment. For those of you who work to combat trafficking in human beings, the story of the victims at the center of Be Free’s case is tragically familiar. It’s a story of intimidation, confiscation of documents, financial exploitation, ill-treatment, torture, rape, forced prostitution, forced abortion, and conditions of slavery. In our case, most of the women were trafficked from Benin City in southern Nigeria by a prostitution ring of Nigerian criminals with bases of operations in the village of Martinsicuro near the cities of Teramo and L’Aquila in central Italy. Once in Italy, the women were made to work every day of the week with very little time for rest, were often denied adequate food as well as access to medical treatment. They were routinely assaulted if they failed to meet their exploiters’ expectations while their families in Nigeria were threatened by local operators of the racket. The women were placed as virtual detainees in apartments owned by the ring, shuttled by trusted taxi drivers to their places of work, that is, to main roads outside populated centers, and submitted to a strict regime of surveillance and abuse by ironfisted “mamans” and their accomplishes. It was a very profitable operation which went on for years.
A breach in this daily inferno occurred in 2007 when a Carabinieri patrol intercepted one of the women who showed clear marks of physical abuse. This set in motion an investigation and finally a raid on the ring as well as, crucially, a series of protection measures for the trafficked women. A network of support was offered by “On the Road,” a non-governmental organization, and ultimately by Be Free. Through their courage, and their determination, bolstered by NGO services, the victims were empowered to overcome their fears, fight back, and have their day in court. When the case against the trafficking racket was heard before the Criminal Court of L’Aquila, all defendants were found guilty of conspiracy for the purpose of trafficking, slavery, and illegal immigration. Their assets were confiscated and the ring was dismantled. Yet the victims and their rights, including their right to compensation, remained in the background. Be Free and On the Road were not satisfied. We had argued that any repressive measure against human trafficking would fail in its primary obligation of protection if the victims and their rights were not placed squarely at the center of State action and due compensation for their suffering granted. On our side of the argument we had international law, including European Council Directive 2004/80/EC of 29 April 2004 relating to compensation to crime victims. This Directive sets up a system of cooperation to facilitate access to compensation to victims of crimes in cross-border situations. Article 12 states that: “All Member States shall ensure that their national rules provide for the existence of a scheme on compensation to victims of violent intentional crimes committed in their respective territories, which guarantees fair and appropriate compensation to victims.” These principles were reaffirmed in European Union Directive 36/2011 on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims which in article 17 specifically holds that: “Member States shall ensure that victims of trafficking in human beings have access to existing schemes of compensation”. However, these directives had not been translated into Italian law. Further, the focus of criminal courts in Italy has traditionally been on the perpetrator rather than the victim. Thus, when the assets of a perpetrator are seized, this confiscation accrues to the State, not the victim. The victim is left to find recourse and compensation through expensive and lengthy civil court procedures. As Carla Quinto, Be Free’s lead-lawyer, would say: “When I meet obstacles, I also get good ideas.” Carla found a legal ground to pursue an appeal on behalf of the Nigerian women and to seek compensation contextually with the judgment of the Appeal Court. That ground was offered by the dormant article 600, paragraph 7 of the Italian Penal Code which stipulates that goods can be seized by the State only if they are not needed by the victims. Clearly, the victims supported by Be Free were in dire need of compensation for the physical, psychological and financial abuse they had suffered. Be Free and On the Road made sure that this argument resonated when the case was appealed both by the two NGOs in a class action, and by the defendants. On April 25, 2012, the Court of Assize of L’Aquila (the appellate court) revoked the confiscation order delivered in the original trial. Instead, it granted each of the 17 victim 350,000 Euros in damages, with 50,000 Euros to be paid immediately. As participants in a class action, Be Free and On the Road received 10,000 Euros each. Fourteen defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 5 to eighteen years.
Subsequently, the perpetrators have lodged an appeal with the Corte di Cassazione—the last port of call in the Italian judicial system. This high Court rules only on procedural issues and errors, rather than the substance of the matter at hand. Thus, we are confident that the judgment of the Court of Assize of Aquila will be upheld in higher jurisdiction. L’Aquila case set a very important precedent that can and must be replicated. But frankly, propitious circumstances also played their part. To begin with, the victims were able to come forward and seek redress under a protective shield. This is not always the case since all too many endure abuse in total isolation and fear. Further, the racketeers had identifiable assets that could be seized, including real estate and the taxis that shuttled the victims to work. Such conditions do not always obtain, as criminal rings are often also well versed in hiding their wealth. In this process, we have learned many lessons, but two are of critical importance. First, in criminal proceedings involving victims of grave human rights violations, such as trafficking in human beings and gender-based violence, it is imperative to sensitize the courts to the needs and rights of victims, including their entitlement to immediate compensation. The neglect of courts to tackle such issues is regrettably systemic rather than occasional. Let’s not forget that when victims are forced to pursue exclusively the track of civil courts to obtain compensation, not only are their entitlements deferred and their needs put on hold, but the expansion of the temporal horizon to obtain justice also exposes them to higher risks of re-victimization. Second, States must heed international law and ensure that dedicated funds are created and devoted to compensation of victims of transnational crime. They are often the most vulnerable to abuse and the least likely to be protected. Both these lessons are and will continue to be main points of advocacy for Be Free and our colleagues. We will keep working to ensure that L’Aquila case will not stand in “splendid isolation.” Public