The 10th anniversary of the signing of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – more widely known as the Istanbul Convention – falls on 11 May during Germany’s Chairmanship.
The Istanbul Convention was opened for signature on 11 May 2011 during Turkey’s Chairmanship and entered into force on 1 August 2014. The Convention requires the Parties to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. This includes raising awareness about the issue among the general public, providing help for women and ensuring more effective prosecution of perpetrators. The definition of violence encompasses – in addition to physical and sexual violence – psychological violence, stalking as well as sexual harassment. What is more, the Convention provides that forced marriage, forced abortion, forced sterilisation and genital mutilation are to be criminalised. Implementation of the obligations under the Convention is monitored by an independent group of experts known as GREVIO. It has a total of 15 members, including a German expert.
The Istanbul Convention comprises numerous instruments aimed at effectively protecting women and girls from all forms of violence. Nevertheless, there has been a verifiable increase in violence against women and domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, also in several European states which are Parties to the Convention. Marking the 72nd anniversary of the establishment of the Council of Europe on 5 May, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stressed as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers in a joint statement with Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe:
In times of crisis, it is often the most vulnerable who suffer. Sadly, the pandemic has worsened the situation for those who have become victims of domestic violence. We uphold the Istanbul Convention as an instrument to protect women and children. We urge member states to stand up for those who so often find themselves marginalised and neglected.
Of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, 34 countries are also Parties to the Istanbul Convention, including Germany. Eleven member states have signed the Convention but have not (yet) ratified it, including the EU member states Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. Russia and Azerbaijan have neither signed nor ratified the Convention, while Turkey declared its withdrawal on 22 March 2021, which enters into force on 1 July. In Poland, the government has asked the constitutional court to review the Convention’s compatibility with the Polish constitution but has not announced its withdrawal. Not least, the European Union as a whole has signed the Istanbul Convention but has not yet ratified it. At the request of the European Parliament, the European Court of Justice is currently drafting an opinion on the legal basis for ratification, also with regard to a unanimous decision by the Council to accede.
Despite all the challenges, some progress has been made during the last few years with regard to the Convention’s content – in terms of the attention paid to violence against women and domestic violence, the strengthening of gender equality as well as the fight against sexism. In order to highlight these key achievements ten years after the signing of the Istanbul Convention and, at the same time, to identify and analyse current and future challenges, a high-level conference is taking place in Berlin on 11 May. This conference has been organised by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and by the Council of Europe. Minister of State Michael Roth will make the closing statement.