The Istanbul Convention: strengthening the response to ending violence against women


During a side event at the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) on 4 March, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri praised the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (also known as the Istanbul Convention) as a “gold standard” and welcomed the legally binding instrument as an important addition to existing treaties and the evolving body of norms and standards around the world.

“We have been working closely with the Council of Europe to disseminate the value of the convention and to inspire accession, including by non-members of the Council of Europe,” said Ms. Puri, a keynote speaker at the event. “Beyond the legal basis that a convention provides, these documents also have a symbolic importance. Each new agreement among sovereign States that reaffirms women’s inviolable human rights tilts the balance toward positive change.”

Co-organized by the Council of Europe and the Permanent Mission of France to the UN, “Violence against women: our concern, our response” was a side event focused on the Istanbul Convention in the framework of international and regional legally binding treaties and its significance as an efficient and practical tool for Governments in Europe and beyond.

Webcast of the “Violence Against Women: Our Concern, Our Response” side event

Preventing violence, protecting survivors and prosecuting perpetrators are the cornerstones of the Convention – which opened for signature in May 2011. To date, it has been signed by 25 Member States of the Council of Europe. On 5 February 2013, Portugal became the third Member State of the Council of Europe to ratify it, joining Turkey and Albania.

The Convention will enter into force following its ratification by 10 countries, including eight members of the Council of Europe. Of the 45 Governments that have signed on to UN Women’s COMMIT initiative so far, 13 have specifically committed to ratify the Istanbul Convention (Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Serbia and Sweden) while others who have already ratified have committed to its implementation.

Upon ratification, Governments are obliged to change their laws, introduce practical measures coordinated through comprehensive policies and allocate resources to effectively prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence.

In terms of protection, the Convention focuses on removing obstacles that could prevent someone from reporting a crime, granting police power to remove perpetrators from the home, ensuring access to information for victims, and it requires the provision of services to survivors, including shelters, telephone hotlines, specialist support services, crisis centres, and legal assistance.

To ensure prosecution of perpetrators, the Convention defines and criminalizes various forms of violence against women. It also creates substantive law on aggravating factors, compensation, jurisdiction issues, custody issues, and civil remedies, as well as addressing immediate response guidelines, protective orders, evidence standards, statutes of limitations, and other aspects of judicial proceedings.

Regarding prevention, it obliges State Parties to train professionals who are in contact with survivors, run awareness campaigns, develop education materials, and create treatment programmes for perpetrators.

During the side event, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister for Women’s Rights and Spokesperson for the Government of France, highlighted the Convention’s identification of minority and vulnerable groups as another important element that is already being mirrored in other legislative amendments in her own country, such as laws to prevent forced marriages abroad from being recognized in France.

Ms. Puri also welcomed the Convention’s emphasis on reporting and monitoring. An independent group of experts will be set up to monitor its implementation.

In her concluding remarks, Ms Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said the Istanbul Convention makes it clear that violence against women and domestic violence can no longer be considered a private matter.

“It links the eradication of violence against women firmly with the achievement of equality between women and men,” she said. “This didn’t happen out of the blue. In Europe, we have been closely following what happens at the UN.”

Related links:

Remarks by Lakshmi Puri at CSW57 side event : “Violence against Women – Our Concern, Our Response” (4 March, 2013)

Pushing the frontiers on the elimination of violence against women: Lakshmi Puri discusses CSW and the importance of international cooperation (a speech by Ms. Puri at an event on the Istanbul Convention in Helsinki, 17 January 2013)