Putting the Survivors of Domestic Violence at the Center of Justice in Ukraine


The Justice for All report highlights the importance of putting people at the center of justice. This can be achieved by understanding their justice needs, preventing and resolving their justice problems, empowering them, and improving their justice journeys.

The report notes that women and children find it the hardest to access justice.

In Ukraine, even before the pandemic, over 1 million women suffered from domestic violence every year. Research shows that laws alone are not sufficient to prevent domestic violence or resolve problems faced by women. Ukraine is the first country in the world to organize specific national consultations on people-centered justice, which led to the development of two roadmaps (on gender-based violence and informal employment) to inform government action.

This guest blog in our Justice for All blogs series focuses on this process and the collaboration between the government of Ukraine, CSOs, and bilateral donors to make the law meaningful for women facing domestic violence. The authors chart the initial steps taken by the key stakeholders in Ukraine to commence a people-centered journey towards justice. This includes conducting surveys to understand the obstacles women face in resolving their justice problems as a result of domestic violence and designing a multi-stakeholder response to address a key problem in seeking justice through the courts: securing restraint orders. The authors recognize that these efforts are still a work in progress, commencing with small steps with the hope of making a real difference and showing a path for transformative change.

A guest blog by David Vaughn, Chief of Party, USAID Justice for All Activity, Ashot Agaian, Legal and Judicial Advisor, USAID Justice for All Activity, Valentyna Mudrik, Civil Society advisor, USAID Justice for All Activity, Uliana Pashynna, Legal Advisor, USAID Justice for All Activity

Photo: Shutterstock.com / John Gomez

The global commitment to ensure justice for all by 2030 under SDG 16.3 necessitates a transformative approach to justice. Ukraine recognizes this and has endorsed the importance of people-centered justice in the 2019 Hague Declaration on Equal Access to Justice for All by 2030. One of the ways in which Ukraine has started the long journey towards people-centered justice is by focusing on improving access to justice for survivors of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, by putting their needs at the center of solutions. The UN estimated in 2018 that every year over 1.1 million Ukrainian women suffer from domestic violence. The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to a spike in domestic violence globally. With domestic violence disproportionately affecting women, it is one of the most common justice problems they face in Ukraine, requiring a comprehensive approach from various institutions and agencies working together to effectively counteract it.

The Ukrainian Government, civil society, and experts have been working to combat domestic violence for years. Despite the successful adoption of a law aimed at preventing and combatting domestic violence, the struggle to ensure effective implementation continues. Gaps in the law as well as poor implementation have demonstrated the importance of applying a multidisciplinary approach to ensure justice for survivors of domestic violence.

Experience shows that merely passing a law and incorporating safeguarding measures and processes, for example, restraining orders to protect survivors from domestic violence, are not always enough to guarantee justice. Sometimes laws and those implementing them miss a crucial element: considering outcomes. What is it that people need to access justice and resolve their problems?

To address this gap in legislation and practice, the USAID New Justice Program, the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, the Legal Development Network, and the Ukrainian Access to Justice School of Practice organized a series of two national consultations held in November 2020 and July 2021. The consultations brought together representatives of national government, local governments, judiciary, bar, legal aid system, civil society, donor community, and international experts to discuss people-centered justice and its application in Ukraine.

Participants of the First National Consultation on People-Centered Justice on November 17, 2020 (Photo: USAID New Justice Program)

“We are engaged in the justice system and putting people at its center not only in the sense that we draft laws and regulations which concern justice or alternative dispute resolution, but also because we coordinate and ensure the operations of the free legal aid system and enforce court decisions. These are essential components of access to justice. People should be the focus of all these services,” emphasized Minister of Justice of Ukraine Denys Malyuska.

During the National consultation on November 17, 2020, participants reported that approximately 25% to 41% of applications for restraining orders were rejected by courts. This means that many domestic violence survivors were denied basic protection provided by restraining orders. This appeared to be a systemic issue that required a comprehensive approach.

Subsequently, the USAID New Justice Program supported the establishment of a working group to develop a roadmap on how to improve the justice journey for survivors of domestic violence with a focus on issuing restraining orders. The working group included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court, the free legal aid system, prosecution service, bar, as well as civil society, together with experts in domestic violence.

The working group analyzed current practices in issuing restraining orders, including court decisions, applications to police, official statistics, and civil society reports, and identified the biggest challenges from a people-centered justice perspective. To better understand the situation, the working group engaged survivors to learn specifically about their needs and expectations when seeking justice in domestic violence cases. They identified the following issues:

  • Many survivors of gender-based violence were unaware of the possibility of obtaining a restraining order in court as a mechanism to protect themselves;
  • Both survivors of domestic violence and defense lawyers were not sufficiently aware of requirements for applying for a restraining order;
  • Legislative barriers and gaps make it difficult for survivors of gender-based and domestic violence to access justice, including enforcing restraining orders issued by courts;
  • Judges do not always understand the nature of restraining orders, referring to the presumption of innocence of an abuser, while also placing the burden of proof on the survivor, and even the case law of the Supreme Court is inconsistent with lower court decisions contradicting one another;
  • Lack of coordination between government authorities led to responses that were too slow; and
  • Perpetrators did not always comply with restraining orders because police had not developed a unified policy on how to enforce them.

Taking these experiences into account, the working group developed a roadmap that sets out the following solutions:

  • Increase awareness about restraining orders among both the general public and legal professionals by developing a user-friendly application template;
  • Disseminate this template in courts, free legal aid offices, National Police offices, maternity houses, women’s consultations centers, and on partner websites;
  • Develop an online module for the electronic filing of an application for a restraining order;
  • Develop and implement a national concept for sharing information in electronic format between courts, government authorities, and survivors for improved processing of applications for restraining orders making all case files available in electronic form for consideration by courts as soon as possible;
  • Develop guidelines for judges to better assess risks in individual cases in deciding on an application for a restraining order and update their training programs;
  • Develop amendments to address gaps in laws, particularly the Civil Procedure Code, improving the legal framework regarding individuals and entities applying for restraining orders as well as the efficient enforcement of such orders;
  • Develop guidelines for police officers to immediately address non-compliance of restraining orders by perpetrators.
Working group member Liudmyla Hrytsenko presenting the draft roadmap at the Second National Consultation on People-Centered Justice in Ukraine on July 15, 2021 (Photo: USAID New Justice Program)

The draft roadmap was presented and discussed at the Second National Consultation on People-Centered Justice on July 15, 2021. The roadmap is currently being finalized taking into consideration of stakeholder recommendations. It will ultimately be implemented by relevant institutions and organizations who have demonstrated their commitment by creating it. Once complete, key stakeholders are planning to develop an action plan to implement the roadmap with support from the USAID Justice for All Activity — the successor project to the USAID New Justice Program. It is still a work in progress and a small step towards better protecting survivors from further abuse, but hopefully one that will lead to improved justice outcomes for them.