March 2. 2024. 2:32

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EU lawmakers demand bloc ratifies Istanbul Convention

Members of the European Parliament voted on Wednesday (15 February) to push EU countries to ratify the Council of Europe’s (CoE) Istanbul Convention in line with a European Court of Justice 2021 ruling.

In 2017, the Strasbourg-based CoE presented the convention to prevent gender-based violence, increasing victim protection and ending the impunity of perpetrators.

It was signed by the EU the same year, but it was never ratified due to the refusal of several member states. Over the years, more countries have moved to sign it, but Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia still have not.

However, the EU Court of Justice’s opinion of 6 October 2021 stated that the European Union could ratify the Istanbul Convention without having the agreement of all member states, paving the way for Wednesday’s vote.

Arba Kokalari, the rapporteur for the Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, said: “It is time for the EU to ratify the Istanbul Convention. The EU must step up and go from words to action to stop gender-based violence, protect victims and punish perpetrators.”

The text, adopted by 469 in favour, 104 against and 55 abstentions, says the Istanbul Convention remains the international standard and a key tool in eradicating gender-based violence, including domestic violence, according to a Parliament press release published after the session.

The EU lawmakers’ text also calls for universal access to a full range of sexual and reproductive health services, age-appropriate sex education, family planning services, various modern contraceptives, and the right to safe and legal abortion.

According to MEPs, putting in place safeguards for sexual and reproductive rights is seen as a way to prevent gender-based discrimination and violence and aligns with the Convention’s purpose of protecting women, girls and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

It also lays down comprehensive guidelines for protecting women against domestic violence and preventing it.

A controversial convention

In 2008, the process for drafting the Convention started with an expert group set up by the Committee of Ministers of Justice of the CoE. After the draft was finalised in 2010, the Convention was opened for signatures in 2011 in Istanbul.

Asides from the six EU states yet to ratify it, it has been widely criticised by European conservatives, including Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who asked Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal “to examine if the Convention is in line with the Polish constitution”, Reuters reported.

Poland also debated pulling out of the Istanbul Convention and announced its intention to withdraw over concerns that it would teach children about gender in schools.

In 2022, Turkey actually withdrew from the convention with the backing of the country’s top administrative court, the Stockholm Center for Freedom, reported.

Balázs Hidvéghi, a Hungarian MEP from the governing Fidesz party, also questioned the Convention on Wednesday. He accused the European Parliament of ideological pressure and violating national competencies in the debate on the Istanbul Convention, Hungary Today reported.

A pandemic of violence

Roughly 62 million women have experienced physical and sexual violence in Europe, according to EU Parliament data. Additionally, 44% of women have experienced psychological violence from a partner in their lifetime, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) reported.

Furthermore, more than half of women in the EU (55%) have experienced sexual harassment at least once since age 15.

Łukasz Kohut (S&D, Poland), the rapporteur for the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, said: “Six years ago, the EU signed the Istanbul Convention, which aims to prevent violence, protect victims, and prosecute perpetrators., The reality – that violence is happening in many homes – must change soon.”