II. Goals of the Social Advocates Program The Social Advocates program recognizes the complexities of domestic violence cases. It is not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to initially identify legal problems other than the abuse. In addition, women who seek to leave abusive relationships often prefer not to pursue criminal charges but to use other legal remedies, such as divorce or eviction proceedings. Social Advocates, therefore, receive training in the various aspects of Russian law which could be implicated in a domestic violence case, such as civil law, administrative law, family law and housing law. In turn, the Social Advocates gain knowledge of various aspects of the law so that they will be able to address a number of problems that disproportionately affect women, such as discriminatory hiring and firing practices. An equally important component of the program is to train Social Advocates in ways to work with local government agencies and law enforcement organs. It is critical that Social Advocates, and NGOs more generally, engage State structures on the issue of domestic violence, since ultimately the State is responsible for protecting the human rights of its citizens. International human rights law clearly requires States to take appropriate measures to combat all forms of violence against women. For example, the United Nations, through the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, obliges States to ensure that laws against gender-based violence give adequate protection to women (including both criminal and civil remedies), to provide protective and support services for victims and to carry out gender-sensitive training of judicial and law enforcement officers as well as other public officials (See General Recommendation No. 19 2 ). The Russian Federation has ratified the fundamental human rights treaties of both the UN and the Council of Europe that lay out the obligation to protect women from both State and private-actor violence. In addition, the Russian government must respond to human rights violations when they occur, through investigation of violations, punishment of perpetrators and compensation of victims. Unfortunately, victims of domestic violence often remain outside the protection of the law. The Social Advocates program aims to hold the State accountable for its commitments, by educating the trainees about Russia’s obligations under international human rights conventions and also by giving them both the skills and confidence to raise the issue of protection of women’s rights with local authorities whenever possible. The Social Advocates program attempts to demystify the legal process in order to prepare the participants to take a more active role in challenging local public officials and law enforcement bodies. Once they have participated in the training course, the Social Advocates gain significant knowledge that they become resources for other NGO staff and for the community. In addition to their work with victims, many Social Advocates have initiated round tables and seminars on the issue of domestic violence following their participation in the 2 U.N. Doc. A/47/38 (1992).
26 training course. The Social Advocates not only share their expertise with other NGO staff, but have carried out public awareness activities, some aimed at specific sectors of the law enforcements structure, such as the police. As an ancillary goal, the Social Advocate program hopes to create a group of activists who will pass along accurate information about combating domestic violence.