Today, on May 11, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of opening the Istanbul Convention for signatures.
Istanbul Convention was – and still is – an extraordinary achievement in the international arena of women’s rights advocacy. The golden standard for policies targeting gender-based and domestic violence saves the lives of women all across the continent due to two focal points: victim protection and putting an end to the impunity of perpetrators.
And yet, the ten years were surely tumultuous. The document has been under attack since the very beginning, especially from the far-right and religious fundamentalists. It became one of the most widely discussed documents in the history of international advocacy and policymaking, often drawing a wedge in local societies. In several countries – most of them Central and Eastern European – the decision to sign and ratify quickly grew from simply willing to protect citizens to making a very political statement.
Due to that fact, countries of Central and Eastern Europe vary tremendously when it comes to attitudes towards Istanbul Convention. Romania and Bosnia and Herzegovina have both signed and ratified the Convention, and steps have already been undertaken by local policymakers to implement new solutions into their countries’ legal systems. Local initiatives aiming to destigmatise the topic of gender-based violence in order to open the conversation with the general public are generally welcome, and women’s rights NGOs usually have a seat at the table.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan and Russia have not signed the Convention at all, and Hungary signed the document back in 2014, but voted against ratification a year ago, in May 2020. Poland is rumoured to possibly join Turkey in leaving the Convention, after a civic draft bill called “Yes to family, no to gender” was sent to a committee instead of being rejected by the Parliament in March 2021.
It would seem we may be at a turning point for the Istanbul Convention on the eve of its second decade of existence. To determine whether that is so, we would recommend reading into a detailed analysis of the Convention’s status in each country, along with any relevant documents, available on a monitoring-dedicated website. As a small addition to the data available there, some ASTRA Network members decided to summarise the convention’s history in their local context. We are presenting the overview below:
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Signed 2013; Ratified 2013
Sarajevo Open Center: Bosnia and Herzegovina ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2013, and it was among the first Council of Europe member states to adopt it. Every four years, our Government adopts the Strategy for its implementation. There have not been any setbacks or right-wing oppositions in the public discourse or institutions regarding its adoption or implementation. However, there are still many of its provisions that BiH has not put into practice, especially regarding the entities’ criminal codes (Federation BiH and Republika Srpska), and financing and functioning of safe houses that encounter many challenges in their work.
Croatia: Signed 2013; Ratified 2018
B.a.B.e.: Although Croatia ratified and put into force the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence in 2018, the problem of gender-based violence remains. Victims and survivors are still frequently not guaranteed physical distance from the perpetrators when giving statements to the police; problematic practices of double arrests and penalizing both victim and the perpetrator, soft penalties for the perpetrator, and domestic violence that falls under the category of misdemeanours persist.
It is important to emphasize that Croatian legislation was harmonized in line with Convention’s regulations even before the official ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Croatian legal framework is frequently being improved, but the biggest problem is the inconsistent application of the law in practice, the individual approach of individual judges, police officers, social workers, medical staff, educational workers, and other professionals who’re the contact point to the victims. Quality and well-established multisector cooperation of all relevant stakeholders in the field of violence prevention and control is necessary.
Far-right politicians are still terrified of gender ideology and including the term ‘gender’ in the Croatian legislation, even though this term is already being used in many laws, regulations, national strategies, Constitutional Court rulings, and decisions of specialized agencies, for more than 15 years. Some politicians are requesting amendments to all legislative acts in which the term ‘gender’ was used. For now, such requests did not reach any formal level.
Regarding the establishment of shelters for victims of domestic violence, the Croatian Government promised to establish 6 shelters by the end of 2019. So far, just 2 agreements for the establishment of shelters for victims of domestic violence were concluded.
Hungary: Signed 2014; Did not ratify
PATENT: Unfortunately, in Hungary the government already voted against the Convention’s ratification in May 2020. The events and statements surrounding the topic are thoroughly described in this summary. The government’s main and most repeated objection is that the Convention includes the concept of gender, which they find “unconstitutional”.
Moldova: Signed 2017; Did not ratify
Family Planning Association of Moldova: The Republic of Moldova signed the Istanbul Convention in February 2017, followed by a process of aligning national legislation with the provisions of this treaty. Due to the delay in ratification, on November 28, 2019, several non-governmental organizations, platforms, and activists came up with a public appeal requesting ex-Prime Minister Ion Chicu and Parliament Speaker Zinaida Greceanii to ratify the Convention by the end of 2019. Thus, on December 11, 2019, the subject of approving the draft law on ratification of the Convention was included on the agenda of the government meeting. However, before the meeting began, the subject was excluded from the agenda.
Following public pressure, on December 27, 2019, the subject was re-introduced on the agenda of the Government meeting and approved. According to art. 14 para. (2) of the Law on International Treaties of the Republic of Moldova No. 595-XIV of September 24, 1999, the President of the Republic of Moldova shall rule on the international treaty within a period not exceeding 60 days from the date of its presentation by the Government of the Republic of Moldova. Subsequently, the written request of the President should have been sent to the parliament. But it did not happen.
There are no legal grounds for delaying the ratification of the Convention. Experts in the field say that the Republic of Moldova is ready to ratify the Convention. However, some comments by politicians and some manipulative speeches disseminated by conservative and ultra-religious groups could prevent ratification of the Convention. The nature of informal relations between the ex-President Igor Dodon and the Russian Orthodox Church could be an obstacle to ratification. During one of the official visits to Moscow, Igor Dodon assured the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church “that our people will continue to keep the faith in our Church, and all branches of power in our country will pay special attention to preserving our traditional values and strengthening the status of the family in our society ”.
In March 2020 the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic paid a visit to Moldova. In her report about the visit she wrote that “the Republic of Moldova should ratify the Istanbul Convention, improve its response to hate speech and advance access to quality healthcare, affordable housing and social inclusion for all.”
With legislation on domestic violence and its implementation increasingly in line with international standards, Commissioner Mijatovic urged the Moldovan authorities to ratify the Istanbul Convention without further delay.
Poland: Signed 2012; Ratified 2015
Federation for Women and Family Planning: Just as in other Eastern European countries, Istanbul Convention caused a heated debate in Poland. The decision to sign (and later ratify) was deemed “radical and leftist” by many – conservative voices warned of the document “ending traditional Polish family”. Convention has also been associated with “gender ideology”, at which point some started calling it an ideological tool of Western Europe against Christianity and tradition. This narrative is still present in the public discourse today, often used not only by fundamentalist activists but also conservative politicians. Talks of withdrawing from the Convention started just a few months after the ratification due to a change of government. Since 2015, we have been observing an organised, meticulously planned long-term action aimed at undermining the document. Just over a month ago a civil draft bill called “Yes to family, no to gender” was forwarded to a committee for further discussions – the opposition’s motion to dismiss the bill altogether was outvoted by the ruling majority. Polish women’s rights NGOs are campaigning in order to raise awareness about the nature of the Istanbul Convention, but we are still balancing on the edge of withdrawing from the Convention. We recommend this Euractiv article that covers the most recent events.
Russian Federation: Did not sign
Russian Association for Population and Development: The Istanbul Convention is signed by the European Union and 46 countries and only two countries that are members of the Council of Europe have not ratified or signed the convention — the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan.
Nevertheless, the long and painful struggle for the adoption of the law on the prevention of domestic violence continues in Russia. The bill was prepared for a long time, in September 2020, the Speaker of the Federation Council Valentina Matvienko again stressed that the issue of countering family and domestic violence is a priority and should be resolved in the autumn session. However, the resistance that meets this obviously necessary initiative is difficult to explain. The key argument is still the inviolability of patriarchal values in the way of Russian families. At the same time, the authors and supporters of the bill are accused of the most unthinkable sins, among which, of course, is adherence to foreign Western values.
In the same vein, in 2018, the Russian Federation explained to the UN Human Rights Council the reasons for refusing to ratify the Istanbul Convention. Among them, the non-compliance of the provisions of the Convention with the “fundamental approaches of the Russian Federation to the protection and promotion of traditional moral and family values and the Concept of the State family Policy of the Russian Federation until 2025” was mentioned.
Unfortunately, as a result of numerous administrative reforms in Russia, specialized bodies for the protection of women’s rights were eliminated: the Interdepartmental Commission on the Status of Women under the Government of the Russian Federation, the Interdepartmental Commission on Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence and Human Trafficking, the Commission on the Status of Women in the Russian Federation under the leadership of the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation and the Commission on Women, Family and Demography under the President of the Russian Federation. Ensuring and protecting women’s rights today is actually carried out by three structures — the Committee on Social Policy of the Federation Council, the State Duma Committee on Family, Women, and Children, as well as the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection.
Except the countries described above, the Istanbul Convention in other countries of the region represented in the Network stands as follows:
Albania: Signed 2011; Ratified 2013
Armenia: Signed 2018; Did not ratify [Detailed story here]
Azerbaijan: Did not sign
Bulgaria: Signed 2016; Did not ratify
Georgia: Signed 2014; Ratified 2017
Latvia: Signed 2013; Did not ratify
Lithuania: Signed 2016; Did not ratify
North Macedonia: Signed 2011; Ratified 2018
Romania: Signed 2014; Ratified 2016
Slovakia: Signed 2011; Did not ratify
Ukraine: Signed 2011; Did not ratify
Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are not members of the Council and they cannot, therefore, join the Convention.