United Nations Model Legislation
last updated August 2013
UN Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women
On November 13, 2008, The United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (now part of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women))and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime issued the report of an expert group meeting, entitled "Good practices in legislation on violence against women."   (For the Russian version of the report recommendations, click here.) The expert group was convened in response to the Secretary-General’s 2006 in-depth study on all forms of violence against women and General Assembly resolution 61/143.  The group studied different legislative approaches to violence against women and developed this model framework for legislation based upon best practices and lessons learned.  “The purpose of this report is to assist States and other stakeholders in enhancing existing, and developing new, legislation on violence against women,” said Carolyn Hannan, former Director of the then United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (now UN Women).[1] “While States have made significant progress in the enactment of such legislation, numerous gaps and challenges remain.”[2]
In 2010, the results were published as the UN Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women. The   UN Handbook   contains a new framework for legislation on violence against women, which addresses implementation, monitoring and evaluation, definitions of violence against women, prevention, protection, investigations and legal proceedings, protection orders, sentencing, family law cases involving violence against women, civil lawsuits, and violence against women and asylum law. 
The Handbook is available in Arabic, English, French, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish.
  • A PowerPoint presentation on this United Nations model framework for legislation on violence against women is available for download here.
  • A video dialogue between two experts discussing the model framework for legislation on violence against women is available here.
Under current international law, States must address violence against women, including through the enactment of legislation. As of 2006, only 89 countries had specific legal provisions on domestic violence.[3] By 2011, domestic violence had been outlawed by 125 countries.[4] But despite the advancement of laws and justice systems in many countries, practical barriers to protection and justice remain for too many women. In the 2011-2012 Progress of the World’s Women report, Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, recognized that “the reality for many millions of women is that justice remains out of reach.”[5] While more and more states enact legislation to address domestic violence, many of the elements of the model framework set out in the UN Handbook, including implementation, monitoring and evaluation, prevention programs, and protection and support initiatives, are not being realized.

The 1996 U.N. Model Framework
A previous framework for model legislation on domestic violence was released in 1996.  At that time, then United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Radhika Coomaraswamy issued a report, Further Promotion and Encouragement of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, submitted in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 1995/85 (United Nations E/CN.4/1996/53), 6 February 1996. This report included, as an Addendum to the report (E/CN.4/1996/53/Add.2), a framework for model legislation on domestic violence.
In her report, Ms. Coomaraswamy stated the purpose of the model law: "The objective of this model legislation is to serve as a drafting guide to legislatures and organizations committed to lobbying their legislatures for comprehensive legislation on domestic violence."
The model legislation includes a definition of domestic violence, a declaration of purpose and both civil and criminal provisions. It includes requirements for police officers, judges and prosecutors. Importantly, the legislation highlights the importance of victim safety throughout criminal and civil proceedings. Under the Declaration of Purpose, the model law stresses that all domestic violence legislation should "[a]ssure victims of domestic violence the maximum protection in cases ranging from physical and sexual to psychological violence." The model legislation directs that upon responding to a report of domestic violence, police officers "shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that the victim and her dependents are safe." The legislation contains provisions for ensuring safety during criminal proceedings. It states, "during the trial phase, the defendant accused of domestic violence shall have no unsupervised contact with the plaintiff."
The model legislation includes provisions on protection orders and ex parte restraining orders. The legislation provides that "[w]here a situation of grave danger exists to the life, health and wellbeing of the victim and she is unlikely to be safe until a court order is issued, the victim/plaintiff a relative or welfare worker may apply to a judge or magistrate on duty to provide emergency relief, such as an ex parte temporary restraining order to be issue against the abuser within 24 hours of violence occurring."
The model legislation emphasizes the importance of developing written procedures for officials prosecuting crimes of domestic violence and, in Section V, directs the State prosecuting attorney or attorney-general to put such procedures into effect.
The model legislation recognizes that domestic violence cannot be effectively addressed solely in the legal system. In Section VII, the model legislation directs States to provide emergency and long term services to domestic violence victims and to train legal professionals and social service providers in the complicated dynamics of domestic violence.

[1] UN Division for the Advancement of Women and UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Good Practices in Legislation on Violence Against Women, 3 (2008), accessed August 7, 2013, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/egm/vaw_legislation_2008/Report%20EGMGPLVAW%20%28final%2011.11.08%29.pdf.
[2] Ibid.
[3] UNite to End Violence Against Women, Fact Sheet (2008), accessed August 7, 2013, http://www.un.org/en/women/endviolence/pdf/VAW.pdf.
[4] UN Women, 2011–2012 Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice, accessed August 7, 2013, http://progress.unwomen.org/pdfs/EN-Report-Progress.pdf.
[5] Ibid.