Istanbul Convention. Why is it ratified, and what will change?
Violence is not a private matter. The state is obliged to respond to each known act.
What is the problem?
Eleven years ago, at the beginning of May, the Council of Europe adopted the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Ukraine was one of the convention's creators. On November 7, 2011, Ukraine signed the Istanbul Convention, but the Ukrainian parliament, Verkhovna Rada, didn't ratify it.
For many years, Ukrainian deputies have said that it is "not the right time" to sign this document. Meanwhile, human rights defenders, activists, and everyone who fought for women's rights repeatedly asked the authorities to ratify the convention—they wrote petitions, held marches, and created discussions. Back in January, the Verkhovna Rada seriously discussed the Istanbul Convention ratification in 2022, and at the end of February, russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began.
What is the solution?
It would seem that it is "not the right time" again, but, on June 20, despite the war, a more than ten-year epic ended: the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine ratified the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women and domestic violence. Two hundred fifty-nine deputies voted "for," and eight were "against." Now, after the ratification of the Istanbul Convention (which means that the country undertakes to fulfill its provisions), the most crucial tool for combating violence against women will be in effect in Ukraine. It is an essential step toward the European Union and the civilized world, where violence is prohibited and not recognized as a "norm of life."
How does it work?
The map shows:
🟩–Signed and ratified (Ukraine is already green).
🟥–Not signed (the Member States of the Council of Europe).
The Istanbul Convention is an international agreement of the Council of Europe. Its full name is the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Therefore, the Istanbul Convention is a document that seeks to prevent domestic violence, protect its victims and punish the perpetrators. It strengthens the state's obligations and provides tools to protect the population from all forms of violence, including physical, psychological, sexual, etc.
The Istanbul Convention was signed by 46 states but ratified by only 34. Moldova was the last to ratify the Convention before Ukraine—quite recently, on October 14, 2021. Despite much manipulation around this topic in the country, Moldova managed to ratify the Convention to realize its primary goals.
Until recently, few ordinary citizens of Ukraine knew about the Istanbul Convention and its importance in combating domestic violence, which mainly affects women and children. The Istanbul Convention is a comprehensive international act aimed at the protection, prevention, judicial responsibility, and strategy development in combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention can and should help improve women's position and respect for human rights, provided that any country ratifies it.
The value of the Convention lies in the fact that, for the first time, an international document, which is binding on countries that have ratified it, deals not only with discrimination against women but also with domestic violence (which, although it primarily affects women, also affects men), various manifestations of violence against women (sexual violence, including rape, forced marriage, forced abortion, forced sterilization, female genital mutilation, crimes for the sake of so-called "honor," persecution, sexual harassment).
All types of violence defined in the Convention are considered not as the victim's personal issues or family's internal problems but as crimes and human rights violations. The responsibility for responding to them rests with the state.
Ten main messages of the Istanbul Convention:
- Violence against women violates human rights and is a form of discrimination.
- Violence against women and domestic violence must be ended.
- The real threat to families is the violence itself, not measures to protect and support victims of such violence.
- The Convention contains an exhaustive list of obligations, has no "subtext," and does not require legalizing civil partnership.
- The Convention doesn't regulate family life or structure, define the concept of "family," or promote a particular type of family environment.
- For states, preventing and combating violence against women is not a matter of goodwill but a legal obligation.
- Violence against women and domestic violence are not personal issues. States are obliged to prevent violence, protect victims and punish perpetrators.
- The Istanbul Convention applies in peacetime and armed conflict.
- The Istanbul Convention is a call to action: for countries to sign and ratify the Convention; for governments to develop and implement policies under the requirements of the Convention; for parliaments and parliamentarians to constantly review legislation and monitor the effectiveness of measures; for local authorities and civil society to actively participate in responding to violence against women.
- Ending violence against women should be a goal that unites us all.
A crucial aspect is that the Convention clearly states that the forms of violence covered don't disappear during an armed conflict or occupation, and therefore the requirements of the Convention apply during an armed conflict and complement the norms of international humanitarian and criminal law.
Ratification of the Convention is a significant step for Ukraine on the way to European integration, gender equality, and protection of human rights!
Why did we wait 11 years for ratification?
Over 11 years, the Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women and domestic violence has become overgrown with numerous myths. From entirely debatable ones, such as "we already have our legislation against domestic violence, so the Istanbul Convention is not needed," to completely ridiculous ones, they say the Convention helps "to introduce same-sex marriages."
In 2016, an attempt to ratify this document failed precisely because of the concepts "gender" and "sexual orientation." Then the deputies decided that it was necessary to prepare clauses for the Convention that would correspond to "Ukrainian moral values." The Council of Churches of Ukraine repeatedly opposed the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. They believe it allegedly involves the imposition of gender ideology, which replaces the "usual concept of biological sex." Church members believe that it is a direct way to popularize same-sex relationships. Just the day before, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches again criticized Zelensky's intention to pass the Istanbul Convention through the Rada.
Now it is becoming evident, but all these years, no one thought that the discussion about this document would become one of the explosive weapons of russia's hybrid war. After all, it was from there that the most "resolute" scaremongers regarding the Convention came. It was the Moscow church that prevented its ratification, scaring its parishioners with the "terrible" word "gender," and it was the pro-russian propagandists who shouted the loudest about the Convention's attack on the "traditions of the Ukrainian family." By the way, russia is one of the countries that signed but didn't ratify the Istanbul Convention. In this country, they decriminalized domestic violence in 2017, and russia declares "incompatibility with the norms of traditional morality and the foundations of state family policy" as the main argument against the ratification of the Convention.
In reality, the Istanbul Convention doesn't promote same-sex marriage or other things that contradict the current Constitution of Ukraine. The word "gender" is not so scary. The document defines gender as "the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men."
This document states that a person is the country's principal value and that human safety from violence is a priority in any activity. No one can ever humiliate and abuse a person under any circumstances!
What will the ratification of the Convention change?
How is the Convention better than the current acts?
Ratification of the Convention is an obligation of the state to the international community. Many are familiar with cases when the police, arriving on a call to a home where one person is beating another, answered: "They will figure it out themselves" because society still doesn't have a culture of unquestioningly condemning domestic violence in any of its manifestations: physical, sexual, economic, psychological. The Convention records the obligation of the state to more actively oppose and prevent violence. Violence ceases to be a purely "domestic matter."
Before the ratification of the Convention, violence in Ukraine was subject to administrative and criminal legislation. However, an offender who hasn't been charged with at least two administrative fines within a year cannot be held criminally liable. The Istanbul Convention corrects this deficiency. It requires countries to investigate all cases of domestic violence as criminal offenses.
From now on, offenders will be held criminally responsible for any type of violence. In addition, the punishment will be more severe if the victims are relatives or partners or if a child witnesses the violence.
The Convention also recommends introducing legal liability for harassment and stalking, which are currently not regulated by Ukrainian legislation, and the victims cannot achieve justice.
Under what conditions was the Convention ratified?
Zelensky suggested ratifying the Istanbul Convention with a separate statement.
It states that the purpose of the Convention is to protect women and prevent domestic violence, including against men and children.
Ukraine will not consider any of the provisions of the Convention as obliging it to change the Constitution, the Family Code, or other laws regarding the institutions of marriage, family, and adoption.
Ukraine notes that fulfilling the obligations of the Convention in the temporarily occupied territories is not guaranteed, and any bodies created there are illegitimate; their acts, decisions, and documents are invalid and don't create any legal consequences.
In addition, Ukraine reserves the right not to apply the provisions of Clause 2 of Art. 30 of the Convention (on adequate state compensation for victims of domestic violence) until national legislation is brought into line.
Will it work?
We shouldn't think that after the ratification of the Convention, everything will immediately change, and domestic violence will cease to exist. Changes due to ratification will not happen all at once. Society needs to do a lot of work to speed up the change process.
But the main advantages that Ukraine will have from the ratification of the Istanbul Convention lie in improving legislation and bringing it closer to EU standards. By ratifying this Convention, we confirm our choice of European values. It is another step toward bringing Ukraine closer to full membership in the European Union.