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European Parliament ratifies Istanbul Convention on combatting domestic violence

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Members of the European Parliament (EP) on Wednesday voted to approve the European Union’s accession to the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, according to a press statement from the EP.

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, better known as the Istanbul Convention, is the first international text that legally defines violence against women and establishes a comprehensive framework of legal and policy measures for preventing such violence, supporting victims and punishing perpetrators. It was opened for signature on May 11, 2011 in Istanbul.

The European Commission proposed the EU’s adoption of the treaty in 2016, but ratification had stalled due to some EU countries’ reticence such as Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia.

However, the EU Court of Justice’s opinion dated Oct. 6, 2021 confirmed that the European Union can ratify the Istanbul Convention without having the agreement of all member states.

The court found that the appropriate scope for the EU’s accession is asylum, judicial cooperation in criminal matters and obligations of the EU institutions and public administration. In line with this on Wednesday EP members voted to give their consent in two separate votes: on institutions and public administration of the union with 472 in favor, 62 against and 73 abstentions, on judicial cooperation in criminal matters, asylum and non-refoulement with 464 in favor, 81 against, and 45 abstentions.

The EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention does not exempt member states from ratifying it themselves, EP members have repeatedly said, urging the remaining six countries to ratify the convention without delay so that it can protect women to the full extent of the convention’s intended scope.

Łukasz Kohut, a Polish member of the EP from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, described gender-based violence as the biggest unsolved daily problem in Europe.

He said one in three women in the EU, around 62 million women, has experienced physical and/or sexual violence.

“Enough is enough. The Istanbul Convention is recognized as the most effective tool for combating gender-based violence, as it imposes concrete obligations. A European law anti-violence umbrella will protect women and girls in Europe, through the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention,” he said.

Arba Kokalari, a Swedish EP member from the European People’s Party (EPP) who leads the EP’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, said: “It’s 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. I am very glad that the EU is finally taking the necessary steps for the safety and fundamental freedoms of women in Europe.”

Koklari said after almost 10 years of pushing from the European Parliament, the ratification of the Istanbul Convention will raise standards in combatting and preventing gender-based violence.

The EP’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention comes at a time when there are calls from women’s rights groups and some opposition parties for Turkey to re-adopt the treaty.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a decree in March 2021 that pulled the country out of the international treaty, sparking an outrage among women’s groups in the country, where femicides and violence against women are serious problems.

Turkey officially withdrew from the convention on July 1, 2021.

Erdoğan and conservative circles in Turkey claimed the treaty had been “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality” which it said was “incompatible” with Turkey’s “social and family values.”

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