B Explanatory memorandum
by Mr Gunnarsson, rapporteur
1. The attacks against women in
Cologne, Hamburg and other cities in Europe on the night of 31 December 2015
– 1 January 2016 created a wave of shock in public opinion. These
attacks will have long-term consequences on the victims, and the
perpetrators must be brought to justice. It is crucial to understand
what has happened and what could have been done to prevent them.
2. The simultaneous occurrence of such mob assaults in several
cities, their scale and the slow response of the authorities are
of great concern. According to witness accounts, the majority of
perpetrators were allegedly of foreign origin. This has triggered
debates in Germany and beyond on reception policies, integration and
so-called cultural differences, as well as on sexism and gender
inequality experienced in general in our societies.
3. Violence against women is one of the most pervasive and widespread
human rights violations. It affects one woman in three in Europe
and occurs most of the time behind closed doors, in the intimacy
of a family or of a private relationship. Harassment in the street
is, however, also common in most European cities. Nevertheless,
the particularity of the 31 December attacks is that they occurred
in open places, in the midst of big crowds, in a setting which might
suggest that they were planned in advance or at least coordinated.
4. Conflicting and delayed media reports, variations in figures,
reports that victims were discouraged from filing complaints and
late official reactions indicate several grey zones with regard
to these attacks and raise a number of concerns. An investigation
by the competent authorities should however shed light on what precisely happened.
5. The Assembly has relentlessly condemned violence against women
and presented proposals for action. It called for the adoption of
the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence
against women and domestic violence (CETS No. 210, “Istanbul Convention”)
and has advocated for its ratification and implementation. Violence
against women cannot be minimised – but it also should not be instrumentalised
for other purposes. This report is an opportunity to reiterate our
strong commitment to preventing and combating violence against women
in any form and to urge Council of Europe member States to do their
utmost to ratify and implement without delay or reservations the
The Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination was seized
for report following the request for an urgent debate by Sir Roger
Gale (United Kingdom, EC) and other members of the Assembly, in
accordance with Rule 51 of the Rules of Procedure, confirmed by
a vote of the Assembly on 25 January 2016.Note
2 Facts as currently known
7. Sexual violence against women
made the media headlines following the attacks in Cologne and other cities,
mostly in Germany, but also in Austria, Finland and Switzerland
on the night of 31 December 2015 to 1 January 2016. Attacks which
occurred in Sweden earlier last year were also reported by the media
on this occasion.
8. This report will not present in detail what happened in every
city but will focus on the attacks in Cologne, which have led to
the highest number of complaints to the police so far. It is not
possible at this early stage of investigation to draw conclusions
but we can try to put forward questions and raise our concerns.
The information presented in this report is based on media reports
and the accounts of victims and witnesses published in the press.
On 31 December 2015, outside the Cologne train station and
in front of the cathedral, hundreds of men gathered about two hours
before the beginning of fireworks. Media report that about a thousand
men were present.Note
Victims and police officers
present reported that most of these men were allegedly of foreign
origin, most of the time under the influence of alcohol. Handwritten
notes with sexual insults translated from Arabic to German were
allegedly also found.
The men harassed, insulted and grabbed women both outside
the cathedral and inside the train station, where there was reportedly
a dense crowd. They stripped some women of their clothing and robbed
them. Some victims reported fearing for their lives. Jessica P.
told a journalist of Le Monde
“We were shaken about, felt up. I could see in their eyes that I
was nothing more than an object with which they could do as they pleased.
They enjoyed feeling my panic. The station belonged to them. I thought
we were going to die”.Note
11. Victims spoke about an overall aggressive atmosphere and reported
their difficulties in extracting themselves from the crowd. Some
women were accompanied by their partners who could not protect them under
the pressure of the crowd. Others stayed in groups while going through
Eyewitness accounts are rare and most of the time anonymous.
Victims told the press that they did not want to give their full
name, afraid of being found in social media and harassed for contributing
to hatred against migrants and asylum seekers.Note
13. Witnesses mentioned to the press that most men composing the
crowd had an Arab or North African appearance. The precise number
of asylum seekers among the crowd is not known.
14. In Cologne, to date, 766 complaints have been officially made
to the police, including 497 complaints for sexual assaults and
at least three for rape. Some victims reported to the press that
they had been discouraged from filing official complaints to the
police since they had not been robbed.
The Cologne police have been blamed for not foreseeing the
risk and for not reacting proportionately by sending sufficient
support to the officers present. Rainer Wendt, who heads the national
police union, said the police had made several errors.Note
16. Some women told the press that they had asked the police for
help and that they were told that there were not enough police officers
to help. On 1 January 2016, the Cologne police reported that the
festivities had been “relaxed”. On 8 January, the local police chief
was suspended for his failure to prevent and react to the events
described above, among other reasons.
The German authorities and media were accused of hiding the
truth from the public for four days.Note
the first official reactions was the recommendation made by the
Mayor of Cologne to women to stay “an arm’s length” away from men,
which triggered a wave of criticism, since it put the responsibility
of the attacks on the victims and not on the perpetrators.
18. These delays in the release of the information have been used
by PEGIDA and Alternative für Deutschland as an opportunity to argue
that the government had tried to prevent criticism of the behaviour
of migrants and refugees and of the policy adopted a few months
earlier, which led Germany to accept about a million refugees in
2015, mostly from Syria. The attacks have also been used by these
movements to portray immigrants as criminals and potentially dangerous.
Following the attacks, pictures circulated in the social media.
At times, pictures were presented as taken on that night in Cologne
but they had in fact been taken long before, often even in another
is difficult if not impossible to find photographs and videos online
of what happened in Cologne. The lack of readily available images
or footage of the events gave even more room for fake pictures to
be widely circulated, falsely associated with the attacks and published
by the press.
Since the attacks, a shift in the German public opinion has
been reported. At the initiative of PEGIDA, an anti-migrant demonstration
took place in Cologne a few days later.Note
speech against migrants and asylum seekers also increased in the
social media. Physical attacks have also been reported.
Some feminist activists explain their delayed reaction to
the attacks by the fear of being called “racist”. Violence, sexism
and racism are however not necessarily linked. One can condemn attacks
on women perpetrated by foreigners without being racist and, in
general, movements for the protection of women’s rights are for
the protection of human rights. I therefore welcome the fact that
there have been demonstrations jointly condemning violence against
women, sexism and racism in Cologne, making clear that preventing
and combating violence against women should not result in more racism
or mistrust against a part of the population.Note
22. German and international media
reported on the Cologne attacks a few days later, which triggered debates
on their role and what they wanted supposedly to hide from public
opinion. In my view, a crime is a crime and the media should not,
in order to ensure political correctness, hide the truth from the
general public. Honest crime reporting is very important, irrespective
of who might be the perpetrator. This helps building trust between
the public and the media, and ultimately with the authorities, and
can contribute to a harmonious living together.
23. Media hold a responsibility to report on objective facts,
without stigmatising a part of the population. Partial, late or
dishonest media reporting on crimes can feed in conspiracy theories
and fuel hatred against a part of the population.
24. The television channel ZDF presented apologies for waiting
four days to report on the attacks. Since the delay in official
and media reporting raises many questions, I would like to encourage
the holding of an investigation into the reasons behind this delay.
violence against women
data on sexual violence against women in Europe
Violence against women, including
sexual violence and harassment, is widespread in Europe. It is not linked
to a specific social category or to an age group. It is also not
related to a geographic location. According to the survey on violence
against women by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union,Note
of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner
or a non-partner in the European Union since the age of 15, 20%
of women have experienced physical violence by a non-partner since
the age of 15 and 6% have experienced sexual violence by a non-partner
since the age of 15. 55% of women have experienced some form of
sexual harassment since the age of 15. 13% of women indicated they
had contacted the police as a result of the most serious incident
of violence by a non-partner since the age of 15.
26. The results of the FRA survey are rather similar for Germany.
They indicate that 35% of women have experienced physical and/or
sexual violence by a partner or a non-partner since the age of 15,
21% of women have experienced physical violence by a non-partner
since the age of 15 and 7% have experienced sexual violence by a
non-partner since the age of 15. 60% of women interviewed in Germany
have experienced some form of sexual harassment since the age of
15. 10% of women indicated they had contacted the police as a result
of the most serious incident of violence by a non-partner since
the age of 15.
According to Monika Hauser, President of Medica Mondiale,
“sexual violence is not a new phenomenon in Germany. 8 000 cases
are registered every year, which means 100 000 in reality. It is
time for the denial to end”.Note
The Cologne attacks shed light
on this phenomenon and triggered debates in German society and beyond
on violence against women. It happens everywhere and perpetrators
come from a variety of backgrounds. While the Cologne attacks were
allegedly mostly perpetrated by men from an immigrant background,
we should not pay more attention to the country of origin of perpetrators
than to the gravity of the acts committed.
Festivities involving high alcohol consumption are an environment
where sexual violence and harassment is more likely to happen. At
the Oktoberfest in Munich, every year, dozens of sexual attacks
are perpetrated despite a significant police presence and video
surveillance. Women who feel in danger can go to a “security point”
to receive assistance. According to data released by the Munich
police, two complaints for rape during the Oktoberfest are made
to the police every year. According to Maike Bublitz, Frauennotruf München,
there have already been cases of group violence and harassment against
women at the Oktoberfest. Sexual jokes and harassment are common
and too often go unnoticed.Note
There were discussions in Germany about a possible updating
of the law on rape even before the Cologne attacks. Currently, rape
is not prosecuted in Germany if the victim failed to fight back.
The current legal definition of rape does not include the notion
of consent, which has been criticised for many years by women’s rights
advocates. The revision of this definition would remove the requirement
to prove that the victim fought back. In the circumstances of the
Cologne attacks, it could be difficult to prove that victims fought
back and therefore to prosecute the perpetrators under the current
30. Violence against women, including sexual violence, is a despicable
act, and should not be excused under any circumstances. It cannot
be considered more acceptable if it occurs within a family or if
the perpetrators are Europeans. With this report, I would like the
Assembly to take a strong stance and denounce all violence against
women, wherever it occurs and whoever the perpetrators might be.
To this end, we have at our disposal the most advanced international
treaty on preventing and combating violence against women, the Istanbul
of violence against women
31. Although violence against women
is widespread in Europe and beyond, victims feel often too ashamed to
file a complaint to the police. Some took more than a week to turn
to the police following the attacks in Cologne. They may be discouraged
from lodging a complaint, believe it will not be useful or be afraid
of possible consequences including reprisals. In cases of domestic
violence, victims fear for their future, afraid that they will not
to be able to provide for their families and that they will not
receive sufficient support.
32. Lack of trust in the police and judiciary can also explain
the underreporting of violence. Training of police officers on how
to best support victims of violence should be generalised.
33. The Cologne attacks demonstrate once again the importance
of filing a complaint, the possible impact of underreporting and
the relevance of systematic data collection on violence against
women in order to prevent future violence. I would like to make
a reference to the upcoming report by Ms Maria Edera Spadoni (Italy,
NR) on “Systematic collection of data on violence against women”
which will present precise recommendations in this specific area.
Data collected on violence against women provides an indicator of
the scale of violence and the profile of perpetrators, and therefore
help to design targeted policies for more efficient action.
34. The Istanbul Convention offers
a comprehensive approach to preventing and combating violence against
women and domestic violence. It is based on the “4 Ps”: prevention,
protection and support of victims, prosecution of perpetrators and
integrated policies. It covers all forms of violence and does not
accept culture or religion as excuses for violence against women.
The focus of the convention is on the victims and on what can be
done to support them.
35. I would like to reiterate that violence against women, including
sexual violence and harassment, cannot be considered as a cultural
problem. Article 42 of the Istanbul Convention clearly states that
“culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called “honour” shall
not be regarded as justification”. Violence against women is present
everywhere and it would be misguided at best to say that it is more
related to one culture or another.
36. Sexual insults, hands grabbing parts of a body, forced hugs
or kisses are most probably not currently classified as criminal
offences in most Council of Europe member States; this is why the
ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention is of
the utmost importance. Harassment and the so-called invisible forms
of violence should be criminalised in order to achieve a tangible
change in attitudes.
37. The Istanbul Convention provides standards for efficient actions
to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence.
The convention has been ratified by 19 States to date and with this
report I call on Council of Europe member States which have not
yet ratified it to do so, in order to contribute to protecting millions
of violence against women
38. Following the attacks, we have
heard that the women were assaulted because of their clothing or lifestyle.
I strongly condemn the words of religious leaders or other public
figures who have stated that women in some way or another, because
of their clothing, perfume or attitude, deserved the violence they
experienced, in Cologne or elsewhere in other contexts. A victim
should never be blamed for violence.
39. Protecting women from violence does not mean having a patronising
attitude towards them. Calls for women to dress or not dress in
a specific way do not address the roots of the problem. They make
women feel responsible for the violence.
Prevention efforts should target possible perpetrators of
violence and not incite women to change their behaviour. In the
recent report on “Promoting best practices in tackling violence
against women” by Ms Sahiba Gafarova (Azerbaijan, EC), several awareness-raising
initiatives which had had positive results were presented.Note
The involvement of men in prevention
campaigns should be further encouraged.
All media reports on the 31
December attacks highlighted the fact that the perpetrators were
often Arab speakers and came either from North Africa or from the
Middle East. Some media outlets seized the opportunity to associate
them with the 1 million refugees received by Germany in 2015 and
to criticise this policy, stressing cultural differences and incompatibilities.
Articles on a possible clash of civilisations have published in
the press, contributing to exacerbating tensions. “After Cologne,
when Europeans think of refugees, many no longer picture persecuted
families or toddlers. Instead they see menacing young men imbued
with the sexism that is all too common across the Middle East and
North Africa”, reports The Economist
The request for an urgent debate referred to a supposed practice
of “taharrush gamea”
here to mean group harassment of women) in the Arab world to describe
the Cologne attacks. However, the ordinary meaning of the word “taharrush”
is simply “harassment”, and there is little evidence of widespread
practices of mob sexual assault across the Arab world.Note
Much attention has been
paid in recent years to mob harassment of and assaults against women
in public spaces in Egypt, something that came to international
attention following the sexual assault perpetrated against journalist
Lara Logan in Tahrir Square, Cairo, in 2011.Note
While all such attacks must be condemned
in the strongest terms, caution should be used before suggestion
that a “culture” of such attacks exists or that they stem from any
religious practices. Anti-sexual harassment activists in Egypt appear
to have expressed some frustration at the focalisation of attention
on extreme meanings of the term “taharrush”, such as mob sexual
assaults, to the detriment of the fight against everyday sexual harassment
of kinds familiar to women throughout the world.Note
43. Further to the attacks in Cologne and other European cities,
several commentators have pointed out that migrants are mostly young
men, which could generate sex-ratio changes in a number of European
countries. According to the available data, 73% of asylum seekers
in Europe in 2015 were men, among whom 40% were aged 18 to 34. It
has been observed that in a country like Sweden the gender ratio
could reach 116 men for 100 women if all asylum applications were
granted. However, this risk does not affect all European countries but
in the first place the least populated European States, receiving
higher numbers of refugees. In Germany, the ratio would be 106 men
for 100 women for 18 to 34 year olds if all asylum applications
Gender imbalance may have serious social consequences in the
long term. A link has, for instance, been found between imbalanced
sex ratios and the emergence of both violent criminal gangs and
anti-government movements. One explanation was that “when young
adult males fail to make the transition to starting a household
– particularly those young males who are already at risk for sociopathic
behaviour due to marginalization, a common concern among immigrants
– their grievances are aggravated.”Note
Consequences for women have also been established: “crimes
such as rape and sexual harassment become more common in highly
masculinized societies, and women’s ability to move about freely
and without fear within society is curtailed.”Note
In Resolution 1829 (2011)
on prenatal sex selection, the Assembly already warned
member States against population imbalances which are likely to
create difficulties for men to find spouses, lead to serious human
rights violations such as forced prostitution, trafficking for the
purposes of marriage or sexual exploitation, and contribute to a
rise in criminality and social unrest.
46. Responses to this risk vary from one State from another. For
instance, Canada decided in November 2015 to welcome only women,
children, families and LGBT men. This measure could however be seen
as in conflict with refugee rights which should apply with no discrimination
on the ground of sex. Other countries like Germany or Norway have
set up voluntary classes for migrants to raise awareness about social
behaviours towards women and women’s rights. Further research could
be carried out in order to identify how the potential social impact
linked to gender imbalance could be minimised. Recent proposals
to refuse family reunification to asylum seekers having lived in
Denmark for less than three years – which have already been criticised
on other grounds – may also deserve to be reassessed against this
between women and men
47. These deeply troubling events
oblige us to think about the roots of violence. Violence against
women is rooted in a profound inequality between women and men and
an alleged different status of women and men in society. It will
not be brought to an end as long as men think that they have more
power than women and can coerce them into doing what they would
like them to do.
48. This inequality is unfortunately still widely present. Current
debates on the attitude of migrant men towards European women may
even be intended to dilute or distract attention from this problem.
49. Violence against women and gender inequality did not appear
in Europe with the migration wave of 2015. They have existed for
centuries and progress has been slow. One should not minimise the
level of violence in countries of origin of migrants and asylum
seekers but the eradication of violence against women will not become
a reality unless we step up efforts to promote gender equality from
an early age throughout the world – including in Europe.
50. The Cologne attacks appear
to have marked a shift in Europe’s attitude towards migrants and
asylum seekers. Some have used this opportunity to label migrants
and asylum seekers as a threat to women’s rights and their freedom
of movement, using this as an argument for further limiting immigration.
Limiting women’s access to public space cannot be considered a solution.
We cannot allow women’s rights and their protection to be used as
an instrument for racist propaganda.
51. These attacks also contribute to a climate of fear which may
endanger the democratic pillars of our societies and encourage some
to look for other alternatives.
52. I consider this report an opportunity to reiterate our firm
commitment to preventing and combating all forms of violence against
women in Council of Europe member States and beyond, and to call
once again for the ratification and implementation of the Istanbul
Convention. The provisions of the Convention are more relevant than
ever. States should take all necessary steps to promote gender equality,
raise awareness on the need for full equality between women and
men, implement prevention programmes, provide assistance to victims
of gender violence and prosecute perpetrators.
53. Perpetrators of any form of violence against women should
be brought to justice, wherever they come from and whatever the
motivations underlying their acts of violence. I welcome the call
by the German authorities for zero impunity and urge them to conduct
full investigations and shed light on what happened, analyse whether
it was planned in advance and if so how, and what could have been
done to prevent it.
54. The public authorities and the media hold an important responsibility
to report on events in an honest manner, without stigmatisation.
The response of the authorities, including the police, also deserves
attention and the investigation should help us understand what has
55. The attacks stunned observers with their scale and simultaneous
nature. But throughout Europe, on a daily basis, thousands of women
experience sexual harassment merely when walking down the street
or taking public transportation. I therefore recommend that a follow-up
report on women in the public space be drawn up, and the Committee
on Equality and Non-Discrimination could draw it up.