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Calls for femicide to become separate crime in Greece mount as two more women killed | Greece

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The Greek government has come under growing pressure to introduce femicide as an offence in the country’s penal code amid outrage over the growing and unprecedented number of women being brutally murdered by their partners.

Two women were murdered by their husbands within five days last week, bringing the death toll to 17 since January, according to state-run television. Both men allegedly told police that they had killed their wives out of fear that they would leave them.

On Saturday police narrowly prevented an 18th woman being killed by her husband when officers broke down the door of the couple’s house as he held a knife to her throat.

With the Mediterranean country shaken by the sheer savagery of the killings, calls have mounted for tougher legislative action to confront what are seen by many as hate crimes.

Highlighting the issue, Alexis Tsipras, the country’s former prime minister and main opposition leader, emphasised that time was running out. “Disgust and fury is not enough. It’s the time for action.

“We’re already late,” he said, deploring the Greek parliament’s refusal to discuss the issue. “Recognition of femicides by the state ought to be only the beginning.”

A dramatic rise in domestic violence – attributed increasingly to the pandemic and months of confinement – has been accompanied by a string of brutal murders, putting renewed focus on abuse in Greece.

From the start of the year, Greek media has reported victims being shot, strangled, suffocated, stabbed, beaten and drowned, with many of their arrested partners reportedly confessing to the murders.

The femicides come amid unparalleled allegations about sexual abuse of women in the arts and sports worlds. The revelations have been widely seen as a turning point for a society that remains one of Europe’s most socially conservative.

In November the centre-right government responded by initiating a public campaign urging victims of domestic and gender-based violence to speak out. It also established a 24-hour helpline and is set to expand a network of counselling centres.

Changes to the penal code more recently have ensured that the severest penalties will be meted out to those found guilty of murdering women, with perpetrators no longer able to cite extenuating circumstances in the hope of receiving a lighter sentence if the act is deemed a “crime of passion”. The justice ministry is also poised to overhaul domestic violence legislation drafted more than a decade ago.

The country’s gender equality minister, Maria Syrengela, described the measures as unprecedented. “There’ll be no ability for men to claim they acted in the heat of the moment, that it was a crime of passion,” she told the Guardian.

“And when the domestic violence law is redrafted in line with the Istanbul convention, we will of course advise that femicide is included,” she said. “It’s about time.”

It was appalling, she added, that in cases of homicide, men in Greece had been able to claim “provocation”, or claim that it was a crime of passion, when the murders amounted to the ultimate exercise of power over women.

“We will be one of the first countries in Europe to have a law that refers to femicide and that is what is important,” she added, noting that no EU member state had so far incorporated the intentional killing of women and girls as a separate criminal offence.

Classes on sex education and promoting greater awareness of diversity have also been introduced in schools.

But the opposition say the policies still fall short of what is needed. With passions running high and graffiti condemning the hate crimes appearing more often around Athens, the left-wing opposition has vowed to keep up the pressure until femicide as a motive is introduced into the country’s criminal code.

“It has to be recognised as a term and as a crime,” said Eirini Agathopoulou, Syriza’s spokesperson for human rights and gender equality. “We have tabled proposals twice in parliament but the government simply refuses to discuss it.”

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Kill the Bill and period protests: human rights this fortnight – in pictures | Global development

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‘No embargo’ on meetings with Putin, EU says

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EU leaders are free to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin despite his threats to start a new war with Ukraine, the EU foreign service has said. “There is no embargo on contacts and visits between member states and Russia. Each member state decides … on their own judgment,” the EU foreign service told EUobserver. The comment follows reports Croatia invited Putin to visit and that Hungary’s leader will meet him.

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Vulnerable Malians could ‘pay the price’ of heavy sanctions, warn aid groups | Global development

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More than a dozen aid organisations have called for humanitarian exemptions to heavy sanctions imposed on Mali after the military leadership postponed planned February elections.

The EU has announced support for the sanctions imposed earlier this month by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which include closing borders and a trade embargo.

But this week, 13 international groups working in Mali warned of devastating consequences for the population, a third of whom rely on aid.

Humanitarian access is hindered by the Malian interim authorities’ decision to reciprocate border closures with Ecowas member states, except Guinea.

Thousands of people demonstrated against the sanctions last week in the capital Bamako, carrying placards saying “down with Ecowas” and “down with France”.

The country is in the grip of the worst food insecurity in 10 years.

A joint letter signed by the NGOs, including the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Care and the Norwegian Refugee Council, said: “To continue their work effectively, humanitarian actors must have unfettered access for the transportation of life-saving goods including food and medicine, as well as guarantees that they can transfer funds into the country without violating the sanctions.”

Mali’s current insecurity dates back to early 2012 when northern separatists rebelled against the government. Islamist militants that initially allied with the separatists, including Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, ultimately hijacked the rebellion.

France, the former colonial ruler, made a military intervention in 2013 on the government’s side against the militants. The UN has also deployed an estimated 18,000 peacekeeping staff, in what was called its most dangerous mission.

The Malian military, led by Col Assimi Goïta, has conducted two coups in two years and reneged on promises to hold new elections. The junta’s most recent power grab, in May 2021, was the fifth coup since Mali’s independence in 1960 and it has been unwilling to commit to transition to civilian rule, despite international pressures.

Postponement of elections has been blamed on Islamist insecurity, an impasse that has deepened with the arrival of private military contractors belonging to the Russian mercenary firm Wagner Group. European states have condemned Wagner’s presence, concerned it will enable the military to hold on to power.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said this month that EU sanctions on Mali were in part in response to the involvement of Russian contractors. France is withdrawing troops, but 14 other EU members, led by Sweden, had established a taskforce to replace them in a three-year mandate. As tensions intensified over the Wagner Group, Sweden said last week that it had decided to withdraw its troops.

France, which holds the rotating EU presidency, has been vociferous in its support of sanctions but Russia and China have blocked the UN security council’s move to follow suit.

Ecowas has frozen financial aid and Malian assets at the Central Bank of West African States.

Elena Vicario, director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Mali, said: “Malians are already bearing the brunt of the humanitarian catastrophe, punctuated by horrifying attacks against civilians. Sanctions must not hold us back from delivering essential assistance in a country where drought, rising insecurity, and the economic impacts of Covid-19 are already pushing millions of Malians over the edge.”

Franck Vannetelle, the IRC’s country director in Mali, echoed Vicario, saying: “Despite more than a third of the country’s population being dependent on humanitarian aid, organisations working in Mali already face severe access constraints. It’s imperative that the international community keeps responding to people’s urgent needs, and that any new sanctions have concrete humanitarian exemptions. These must be monitored and implemented, or the most vulnerable people in Mali will pay the price.”

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