On International Human Rights Day: Judicial Response to Femicide in the Western Balkans

10 December 2023

The Western Balkans is faced with an urgent issue — research shows that women are oftentimes the least safe at their homes, and most often are harmed and/or killed by their close family members and intimate partners. Even though femicide – the killing of a woman on the grounds of her sex, gender, gender roles, and the most extreme manifestation of violence against women – is not criminalised in most of the Western Balkans countries, the prevalence and the grave impact of this crime is felt almost daily, prompting more demands for protections of victims and their families, and more severe punishments for those responsible. With each new case, the question of how the judiciary can effectively prosecute these crimes and deter future offences becomes more important.

To respond to this question, after three years of research, the AIRE Centre and FemPlatz have presented a comprehensive regional study on femicide titled “Judicial Response to Femicide in the Western Balkans: Legal Framework and Judicial Practice”. On International human rights day, it is more important than ever to look back at the progress made in the prosecution of these crimes, and to evaluate how these processes can be improved.

“Our focus was on analysing court judgments, primarily to gain insight into judicial practice and to produce specific and tailored recommendations”, said the author of this report, dr. Kosana Beker, Gender Equality Expert, Program Director of FemPlatz, and Regional Board Member of Gender Champions in the Judiciary Network.

“However, our work was not without its challenges. Keeping in mind that femicide is not criminalised as a separate criminal offence in the Western Balkans countries, except for North Macedonia very recently, it is very challenging, if not impossible, to properly monitor and analyse cases of femicide. Official national statistics do not provide data on femicides separately; therefore, there is no publicly available data regarding this widely spread social phenomenon.”

The main aim of this report is to present, very briefly, the current state of affairs regarding the judicial response to femicide in the Western Balkans states. A short legal overview enables readers to get familiar with the respective national criminal legislation concerning different types of murders, because that legislation is available to prosecutors and judges when it comes to qualifying the criminal offences. In addition, two selected case studies per country give a glimpse of the court proceedings and sanctions imposed on perpetrators of femicide, while provided comments are reminders on what should be done differently in order to ensure proper judicial response to femicide. At the end, several recommendations are given that are important, relevant and applicable in every Western Balkans state, while more national specific recommendations are part of the national reports.

“Over the last three years, we successfully concluded the basic research on judicial practices across all six countries, which is made available through both national reports and this regional report. As we delved into the specifics of each country, we identified both differences and striking similarities within their legal systems. But all of this work over the years has been implemented with a key goal in mind — to create recommendations that are comprehensive, focused, and applicable throughout the region”, said Kosana Beker.

Dr. Beker said that one of the greatest findings of this research was the best practice which can be used as guidelines for judges, information which can also be valuable for all the other actors involved in these judicial proceedings, from prosecutors to attorneys.

“Our research showed certain inconsistencies in proceedings in cases of femicides, especially in terms of qualification of criminal offence, and determination of whether it is a gender-based crime. Also, mitigating, and aggravating circumstances, very often, were not elaborated well. There were also cases of guilty agreements with the prosecution, leaving the victim’s family without a voice and proper satisfaction”, said dr. Beker.

From the criminalization of femicide to the establishment of the data collection systems and the enhancement of judicial databases, implementation of best practices for processing femicide cases, improvements in judicial training, and the establishment of femicide watch throughout the region — there are numerous ways through which the judiciary can become better equipped to address the growing challenge of femicide in the Western Balkans. Find out more in the publication “Judicial Response to Femicide in the Western Balkans: Legal Framework and Judicial Practice”, which can be downloaded here.

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