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Istanbul Convention in Ukraine: new perspectives of the old case

The president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi has still not introduced a bill on its ratification to the parliament, although the Ministry of Social Policy stated that had prepared the document.

The adoption of the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, has been well known in political agenda and Ukrainian media for recent years.

The president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi has still not introduced a bill on its ratification to the parliament, although the Ministry of Social Policy stated that had prepared the document.

While the document’s draft is unavailable to the public, let’s recall the history of the Istanbul Convention in Ukraine. Why is its adoption so important? What do parliamentarians and government officials think about the prospects of its ratification by this parliament?

The history of the Istanbul Convention in Ukraine

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2011. It is the first international agreement that establishes legal obligations to ensure a comprehensive response to all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence.

The bill on ratification of the Istanbul Convention was submitted in November 2016 by the fifth President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko.

He also called for the people’s deputies of Ukraine to vote for ratification of the Convention during his speech at the2nd Ukrainian Women’s Congress in 2018.

The same year Petro Poroshenko mentioned:«I regret to state that there are still manipulations on “gender issues” in our society. Therefore, I would like to call for all possible efforts to complete all procedures and ratify the convention».

But since the bill was not adopted in the first reading as a basis, and by the reason of termination of the President of Ukraine, who introduced the bill, in accordance to article 105, part 3 of the Regulations of the Verkhovna Rada, it was withdrawn on May 20, 2019, in the day of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration.

The new statements of the Laws of Ukraine “On Prevention and Counteraction to Domestic Violence” and “On Ensuring Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men” came into force in 2018. All of them are aimed to strengthen the protection of victims of domestic violence and gender-based violence. The Criminal Code of Ukraine was fulfilled with an issue about criminal liability for domestic violence. Nevertheless, international and national NGOs insist that these laws are not enough.

What about the ratification of the Convention of Council of Europe now?

40 NGOs initiated a petition to the President of Ukraine demanding ratification of the Istanbul Convention in February 2020. There was an extensive media campaign to sign the petition, which involved opinion leaders, and the required 25,000 votes were collected.

According to Ukrainian laws, the President must submit the bill on ratification of the Istanbul convention and introduce it to the Parliament.

At the same time, religious organizations oppose the adoption of the convention. Thus, in early June this year, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations initiated a meeting with the President of Ukraine to discuss issues of combating domestic violence and the issue of commercial surrogacy. Religious organizations called for the development of Ukraine’s national legislation to combat domestic violence and violence against women instead of ratifying the Istanbul Convention, which they believe is “engaged in gender ideology.”

The Ministry of Social Policy has drafted new ratification of the Istanbul Convention with some restrictions, which state that Ukraine reserves the right not to apply certain provisions of the Convention and not to change its legislation on marriage and adoption institutions. This fact was claimed by the Minister of Social Policy Maryna Lazebna in her interview for the informational agency “Interfax-Ukraine”.

What do women parliamentarians and the government commissioner think of the ratification prospects?

Olena Kondratyuk, Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and Co-Chair of the Inter-fractional association “Equal Opportunities”, points out that ratification of the Istanbul Convention is necessary to complete Ukraine’s European integration process and gain membership in the European Union.

She mentioned: “This is our direct commitment to the Council of Europe. Ukraine has been actively involved in the development of this Convention. Therefore, this is not the document brought for us by someone from anywhere, but it is the product of our work. By ratifying the Convention, we will protect Ukrainian women from various forms of violence and establish severe liability for it”.

According to her, the Istanbul convention is about human rights, equality, and relativity of Ukrainian laws to European standards. It is about a possibility and the right to feel safe.

“The Convention states that violence against women and domestic violence cannot be considered a personal matter, and states must prevent violence, protect victims and administer criminal justice to offenders”, – thinks Maria Ionova, People’s Deputy of Ukraine and Co-Chair of the Inter-fractional association “Equal Opportunities”.

According to the deputy, the Istanbul Convention emphasizes that fighting against violence in all its forms, as well as establishing a system of violence prevention and offenders punishment are the duties of all democratic European countries.

The Government commissioner on gender policy Kateryna Levchenko also supports the ratification of the Convention, because it is the way of creating better opportunities for defending those who suffer, and also including Ukraine in a wide community of most European countries (35 of 47 members of the Council of Europe), which already ratified the document.

She mentions: “Taking into account the seriousness of the problem of violence against people with disabilities, the devastating impact of domestic violence both on family life and health and the ability to work, I consider it necessary and important to coordinate this bill with the National Assembly of People with Disabilities of Ukraine, as well as with the Government Commissioner for the Rights of people with disabilities”.

Why is the ratification of the Istanbul convention in Ukraine so important?

The coordinator of OSCE projects in Ukraine represented the results of the survey «Well-being and safety of women» in 2019. According to the survey, two thirds (67%) of women in Ukraine have experienced psychological, physical or sexual violence since the age of 15, and only 17% of them know what to do and where they could find help. 15 000 women were interviewed in Southern-Eastern European countries, including Ukraine, in 2018.

The new statements of the laws of Ukraine “On Prevention and Counteraction to Domestic Violence” and “On Ensuring Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men” are in force since 2018. They are aimed at strengthening the protection of victims of domestic violence and gender-based violence.

Currently, there are many instruments from the Istanbul Convention that have already been implemented in national legislation. They provide new opportunities for a prompt response to domestic violence and violence against women by police and other institutions. At the same time, international and national NGOs insist that these changes are insufficient and there is a need for a better complex solution.

The Convention has 2 important parts:

  • protection of victims of violence and liability for offenders;
  • the responsibility of the state to implement an effective policy of preventing and combating violence.

Here are some basic initiatives of the Istanbul convention:

  • The Convention recognizes violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination. This means that states must take appropriate measures to combat this type of violence.
  • The Convention is the first international agreement to define gender. It is a recognition that women and men are not only biologically female or male but also there is a social category of gender-based on which women and men are assigned certain roles and behaviors.
  • The Convention criminalizes such offenses as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, harassment, forced abortion, and forced sterilization, etc. This is the first time when states claim these actions as criminal acts in their laws.
  • The Convention calls on all responsible government agencies and services to unite their efforts in combating violence against women and domestic violence.

The Convention also provides a detailed explanation of the types of violence, which is: psychological, physical, sexual, including rape, forced marriage, forced abortion, forced sterilization, female genital mutilation, crimes in the name of so-called “honor”, harassment, sexual harassment.

It is important to mention that the ratification of the Istanbul Convention in Ukraine will establish new rules where violence against women and domestic violence won’t just be a personal problem, but a violation of human rights with the defined severe liability. In this case, preventing violence will not be a matter of goodwill, but a legal obligation.

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