Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence [Istanbul Convention]

Author (Person)
Publication Date March 2018
Content Type ,

Background information:

One of the primary concerns of the Council of Europe, representing 47 member states, is to safeguard and protect human rights. Violence against women, including domestic violence, undermines the core values on which the Council of Europe is based.

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence - also known as the 'Istanbul Convention' - sets for the first time in Europe a set of legally binding standards aimed at fighting violence against women and domestic violence, protecting its victims and punishing the perpetrators. It filled a gap in human rights protection for women and encourages Parties to extend protection to all victims of domestic violence.

This Convention frames the eradication of violence against women in the wider context of achieving substantive equality between women and men and thus significantly furthers recognition of violence against women as a form of discrimination.

The Istanbul Convention has a strong focus on prevention. The Convention calls on all members of society to help reach its goal of creating a Europe free from all forms of violence against women and domestic violence. Prevention means awareness-raising, education, training of professionals, involvement of the media. Another aim of the Convention, alongside prevention and prosecution, is protection, realised by different means such as shelters, general and specialist support services, telephone helplines, protection and support for victims of sexual violence or child witnesses and assistance in individual or collective complaints.

As far as prosecution is concerned, the Convention defines and criminalises the various forms of violence against women such as domestic violence, stalking, forced marriage, physical, psychological and sexual violence, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment. This is one of the many achievements of the convention. To give effect to the convention, Parties need to introduce a number of new offenses where they do not exist.

The Istanbul Convention has established two distinct, but interacting, bodies responsible for monitoring the implementation of the convention itself. One of those is the Group of experts on action against violence against women and domestic violence (GREVIO), the independent expert body; the other one is the Committee of the Parties, which is the political body and it is composed of representatives of the Parties to the Istanbul Convention.

Preparing the Convention and ratification:

Since the 1990s, the Council of Europe - and in particular its Steering Committee for Equality between Women and Men (CDEG) - has undertaken a series of initiatives to promote the protection of women against violence.

The Council decided at its Third Summit (2005) to carry out a largescale campaign on the issue. This was undertaken in order to give new impetus to the eradication of violence against women, and to reaffirm a clear commitment to this aim. The campaign was conducted at three levels: intergovernmental, parliamentary and local. Member states were asked to make significant progress in four main areas: legal and policy measures, support and protection for victims, data collection and awareness-raising.

National reports, studies and surveys revealed the magnitude of the problem in Europe, showing how many national responses to violence against women and domestic violence varied across Europe. The need for harmonised legal standards to ensure that victims benefit from the same level of protection everywhere in Europe became apparent. Assuming its leading role in human rights protection, the Council of Europe decided it was necessary to set comprehensive standards to prevent and combat those phenomena.

In December 2008, the Committee of Ministers set up an expert group mandated to prepare a draft convention in this field. Over the course of just over two years, this group, called the Ad Hoc Committee for preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CAHVIO), worked out a draft text. The CAHVIO met nine times and in December 2010, it finalised the draft text of the Convention, which was later adopted by the Committee of Ministers and opened for signature in Istanbul on 11 May 2011. It entered into force on 1 August 2014.

During the negotiation for the drafting of the Convention, the European Union participated, alongside Member States, as an observer in these meetings. In fact, the EU is committed to combating violence not only within its borders, but also as part of its international initiatives. For this reason, in March 2016 the Commission proposed EU accession to this international Convention to fight violence against women. In May 2017, the EU Council issued two decisions (2017/865 and 2017/866) which referred to different legal basis of the Istanbul Convention, but both regarded the signing of this Convention by the EU.

The European Union signed the Convention shortly afterwards, in June 2017. All EU Member States signed it, but not all of them have thus far ratified the Convention. Bulgaria, for example, has raised some issues on ratifying the document due to widespread resistance among the more socially conservative parties that see the Convention as a tool to legalize homosexual marriages, which are at odds with the constitutional definition of marriage as heterosexual union.

Related Links
Council of Europe: Text of the Istanbul Convention
Council of Europe: Explanatory Report on the Istanbul Convention
Istanbul Convention Website
FRA: Easy Read: Violence against women
Wikipedia: Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence
EurActiv: Topics: Instanbul Convention

Subject Categories ,
Countries / Regions