Module 6: International Standards and legal frameworks in Europe

Council of Europe
National frameworks
Implementation of International Norms
How guidelines are formed

International frameworks

International organizations have defined a set of minimum standards which governments and service providers should achieve and implement in order to meet their international obligation to exercise due diligence to investigate and punish acts of violence, provide protection to victims and prevent domestic violence.

This section lists human rights conventions and declarations that obligate countries that have ratified these conventions to treat violence against women as a human rights violation and to incorporate international standards into their domestic legislations. Also included in this section are strategy frameworks and policy documents that address domestic violence.

General standards

  • The foundations from which the basic standards are developed encompass confidentiality, safety, security and respect for service users, accessibility, and availability.
  • Support should be available free of charge and interventions should employ the principles of empowerment and self-determination.
  • Service providers should be skilled, gender-sensitive, have ongoing training and conduct their work in accordance with clear guidelines, protocols and ethics codes and, where possible, provide female staff.
  • Each service provider should maintain the confidentiality and privacy of the victim and should co-operate and co-ordinate with all other relevant services. It should monitor and evaluate service provision, seeking participation of service users.
  • The expertise of the specialized NGOs should be recognized.
  • Standards also stress the importance of integration in approaches to domestic violence. They emphasize inter-agency co-ordination and the establishment of intervention chains, referral processes, and protocols.
  • The best way to deliver services is through ‘one-stop shop’ or multidisciplinary teams, or a ‘one-stop person’ approaches.
  • Where appropriate, a range of protection and support services should be located on the same premises.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

Adopted in 1948 by 58 member states of the United Nations, UDHR defines human rights as fundamental to all human beings and requires governments to take actions to protect human rights of all beings.

Council of Europe

Opened for signature in May 2011, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) is the most far-reaching international treaty to tackle this serious violation of human rights.

Preventing violence, protecting victims and prosecuting the perpetrators are the cornerstones of the convention. It also seeks to change the hearts and minds of individuals by calling on all members of society, in particular men and boys, to change their attitudes. In essence, it is a renewed call for greater equality between women and men, because violence against women is deeply rooted in the inequality between women and men in society and is perpetuated by a culture of intolerance and denial.

More information about the convention:

What does the convention require states to do?


  • change attitudes, gender roles and stereotypes that make violence against women acceptable; train professionals working with victims;
  • raise awareness of the different forms of violence and their traumatising nature;
  • include teaching material on equality issues in the curricula at all levels of education;
  • co-operate with NGOs, the media and the private sector to reach out to the public.


  • ensure that violence against women is criminalised and appropriately punished;
  • ensure that excuses on the grounds of culture, custom, religion or so-called “honour” are unacceptable for any act of violence;
  • ensure that victims have access to special protection measures during investigation and judicial proceedings;
  • ensure that law enforcement agencies respond immediately to calls for assistance and manage dangerous situations adequately.

Integrated policies

  • ensure that all of the above measures form part of a comprehensive and co-ordinated set of policies and offer a holistic response to violence against women and domestic violence.
Who is covered by the convention?

The convention covers all women and girls, from any background, regardless of their age, race, religion, social origin, migrant status or sexual orientation. The convention recognises that there are groups of women and girls that are often at greater risk of experiencing violence, and states need to ensure that their specific needs are considered. States are also encouraged to apply the convention to other victims of domestic violence, such as men, children and the elderly.

What does the convention criminalise?

The convention requires states parties to criminalise or otherwise sanction the following behaviours:

  • domestic violence (physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence)
  • stalking
  • sexual violence, including rape
  • sexual harassment
  • forced marriage
  • female genital mutsilation
  • forced abortion and forced sterilisation

To emphasise the particularly traumatising effect of crimes within the family, a heavier sentence can be imposed on the perpetrator when the victim is a spouse, partner or a member of the family.

How is the implementation of the convention monitored?

The convention sets up a monitoring mechanism to assess how well its provisions are put into practice. This monitoring mechanism consists of two pillars: The Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), an independent expert body, and the Committee of the Parties, a political body composed of official representatives of the States Parties to the Convention. Their findings and recommendations will help to ensure states’ compliance with the convention and guarantee its long-term effectiveness.


General Leaflet on the Istanbul Convention (2014)

Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul, 11.V.2011)

More information about the Istanbul Convention

WHO Clinical and Policy Guidelines

Responding to intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women

A health-care provider is likely to be the first professional contact for survivors of intimate partner violence or sexual assault. Evidence suggests that women who have been subjected to violence seek health care more often than non-abused women, even if they do not disclose the associated violence. They also identify health-care providers as the professionals they would most trust with disclosure of abuse.

They also provide advice for policy makers, encouraging better coordination and funding of services, and greater attention to responding to sexual violence and partner violence within training programmes for health care providers.

The guidelines are based on systematic reviews of the evidence, and cover:

  • identification and clinical care for intimate partner violence
  • clinical care for sexual assault
  • training relating to intimate partner violence and sexual assault against women
  • policy and programmatic approaches to delivering services
  • mandatory reporting of intimate partner violence.

The guidelines aim to raise awareness of violence against women among health-care providers and policymakers, so that they better understand the need for an appropriate health-sector response. They provide standards that can form the basis for national guidelines, and for integrating these issues into health-care provider education.


More about violence against women

UN- Resolution: Violence against Women

Violence against women has been addressed in numerous resolutions by both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. Although such resolutions do not have binding legal authority, they do set forth international standards and best practices.

IMPRODOVA: The UN and its role in combating violence against women

Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women

Adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, CEDAW has been ratified by 187 countries. CEDAW does not explicitly mention violence against women, but it defines what constitutes discrimination against women, establishes norms and standards, and obligates states that have ratified the convention to end discrimination against women and girls.

Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Adopted in 1993 by the UN General Assembly, this declaration defines violence against women. As a consequence of the declaration, the Commission on Human Rights adopted Resolution 1994/45 that appointed a Special Rapporteur on violence against women.

One of the most important resolutions on violence against women is the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW). Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, DEVAW establishes the most comprehensive set of standards in international law for the protection of women against sexual and gender-based violence. DEVAW recognizes violence against women as “an obstacle to the achievement of equality” and a “manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women,” as well as a violation of fundamental freedoms including the prohibition against torture. The Declaration defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life” (Art. 1). This includes, but is not limited to, “[p]physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family” (Art. 2). The Declaration not only declares that State actors should refrain from engaging in violence against women, but also asserts that States should take affirmative measures to prevent and punish violence committed by public and private actors alike and establish support networks to care for victims of gender-based violence (Art. 4).

The Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse “the Lanzarote Convention”

The Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse “the Lanzarote Convention”

  • requires criminalisation of all kinds of sexual offences against children
  • its objectives are more effective prevention of sexual offences against children, prosecution of perpetrators and protection of child victims

The convention requires states to:

  • prevent and combat sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children;
  • protect the rights of child victims of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse
  • ensure that children are made aware of the risks of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and of how to protect themselves
  • promote national and international co-operation against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children by implementing legislative measures to protect the rights of children
  • screen, recruit and train persons working in contact with children
  • ensure regularly monitored intervention measures for offenders and potential offenders

Source: The Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (CETS no. 201, Lanzarote, 25.10.2007)

Victim’s Rights Directive
  • establishes minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime
  • ensures that victims of crime are recognised and treated with respect and receive proper protection, support and access to justice.

The Directive

  • strengthens the rights of victims and their family members to information, support and protection.
  • strengthens the victims’ procedural rights in criminal proceedings
  • requires that EU countries ensure appropriate training on victims’ needs for those officials who are likely to come into contact with victims.

Source: Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2001/220/JHA

Convention on the Rights of the Child – OHCR

Article 19

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

Article 34

States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent:

  • The inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity;
  • The exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;
  • The exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.


Resolution 58/147

In 2004, the UN General Assembly also specifically addressed domestic violence in Resolution 58/147, entitled “Elimination of domestic violence against women.” In this important resolution, the General Assembly, recognizing that domestic violence is a human rights issue with serious immediate and long-term implications, strongly condemned all forms of domestic violence against women and girls and called for an elimination of violence in the family. The resolution also recognized:

(a) That domestic violence is violence that occurs within the private sphere, generally between individuals who are related through blood or intimacy;

(b) That domestic violence is one of the most common and least visible forms of violence against women and that its consequences affect many areas of the lives of victims;

(c) That domestic violence can take many different forms, including physical, psychological and sexual violence;

(d) That domestic violence is of public concern and requires States to take serious action to protect victims and prevent domestic violence; [and]

(e) That domestic violence can include economic deprivation and isolation and that such conduct may cause imminent harm to the safety, health or well-being of women.

The General Assembly also included in the resolution dozens of specific actions that States should take to eliminate domestic violence, including strengthening legislation, providing training to public officers, improving police response, and creating educational campaigns.

Additional Resolutions

In addition to these major resolutions, the subject of violence against women has also been addressed in several other resolutions, including a series of resolutions on the “Intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women” (see Resolutions 64/137 (2009), 63/155 (2008), 62/133 (2007) and 61/143 (2006), a series of resolutions on “Elimination of all forms of violence, including crimes against women” (see Resolutions 59/167 (2004), 57/181 (2002), and 55/68 (2000), and a series on “In-depth study of all forms of violence against women (see Resolutions 60/136 (2005) and 58/185 (2003). Many of these resolutions resulted in in-depth reports to the Secretary-General. A complete list of General Assembly resolutions and accompanying reports on violence women can be found on the UN Women website. The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) has also passed several resolutions on eliminating discrimination and violence against women, including Resolutions 14/12 (2010), 15/23 (2010), 12/17 (2009), 11/2 (2009), 7/24 (2008), and many others. A complete list of HRC resolutions and accompanying reports can be found on the UN Women website.

Special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences

The Special Rapporteur has four mandates, which includes seeking information on violence against women, and recommending measures, ways, and means to eliminate VAW.

International framework for action to prevent trafficking in persons protocol

This framework is a technical assistant tool designed to support UN member states to effectively implement the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, which is a protocol that obligates its ratifying states to prevent and combat trafficking in persons.

Explanatory report to the council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings

Council of the European Convention provides definitions and information about prevention and protection measures, victim’s rights, investigation and prosecution, and other international instruments.


UN Women website

Further information on international frameworks: