Blog by Francesca Fletcher Williams, SI Global Policy Coordinator.
The Special Event of the President of the General Assembly’s event, a CSW65 Side Event, “Political Leadership and Violence Against Women and Girls: Prevention First” was held on 23 March 2021. A highlight of the meeting was that the Representative from Liechtenstein announced that the country was putting a bill through parliament to ratify the Istanbul Convention. Liechtenstein, a small country sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, only 25 kilometres long and with a population of less than 40,000, may not often grab headlines but with this announcement coming only days after Turkey announced it’s intent to withdraw from the Convention, it was clearly a message to the international community.
During this event, which aimed to highlight the “urgency of action to prevent violence against women and girls, and promote women’s participation and leadership”, speakers highlighted the need to step-up actions during and following COVID-19 as there have been cuts made to crucial services including shelters for domestic violence. The Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone, Mr Alie Kabba, emphasised the need for good data, and this point was reiterated by Dr Dubravka Simonovic, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, who outlined how in many countries data on types of violence isn’t separated making it difficult to assess the full scale of the problem and develop appropriate responses.
Mr. Martin Chungong, Secretary General, Inter-Parliamentary Union said, “Parliamentarians hold the purse strings” – capturing people’s attention. His statement is particularly important because during CSW at the UN, in the midst of negotiations and events, it is easy to forget the important role of governments implementing these actions at the national level. International agreement will mean very little if action isn’t taken. This is why Liechtenstein’s announcement made this event truly newsworthy – by ratifying the Istanbul Convention they are taking clear and concrete steps not only to support victims but to prevent sexual and gender-based violence in the first place.
What is the Istanbul Convention?
The full title of the Istanbul Convention is “Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence” and while it is a Council of Europe Convention, states who are not members of the Council of Europe can still sign and ratify the Convention. At its core, The Convention aims to end gender-based violence by taking action across four pillars – prevention, protection, prosecution and co-ordinated policies.
The Istanbul Convention is one of the most comprehensive legal treaties addressing gender-based violence, and one of the few that explicitly refers to “domestic violence”. This CSW, lots of states are refusing to have the words ‘intimate partner violence’ or ‘domestic violence’ in the Agreed Outcomes – you have to wonder what the motivations states have for not wanting to address intimate partner violence especially as it is one of the most prevalent forms of gender-based violence worldwide.
With gender-based violence being a major global barrier to gender equality and women’s and girls’ ability to lead, make decisions and participate in public life making the commitment to ratify the Istanbul Convention, as Liechtenstein has done, is an important step towards progress. Liechtenstein had signed the Istanbul Convention but not ratified it – by ratifying it they have legally committed to abide by the Convention and take action.
To read more on the Istanbul Convention, please click HERE.
What is the Difference between Signing and Ratifying a Treaty?
It is possible for countries to sign a treaty but not ratify it – what exactly does this mean and why is it important? When a state signs a treaty, that state is expressing its intention to comply with the treaty. Importantly this expression of intent is not binding because states will have their own internal processes which must be followed before they can ratify it and it becomes binding. Ministers can choose to sign a treaty without consulting with their parliaments; it would be too much power to give just one person the ability to decide which international treaties their country will adhere to. So, once a parliament has voted to approve joining the treaty, then the government is empowered to ratify that treaty and the treaty can become binding.
It is important that parliaments are involved in this decision because it is not possible for a new government to simply change its mind saying, “well that was the old government, their decisions don’t apply any more”. If a country changes its mind then it needs to formally apply to remove itself from a treaty and this can involve internal parliamentary processes too. This is why Hülya Gülbahar from Women’s Platform for Equality, Turkey, a lawyer and activist, described the Turkish government’s current attempts to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention by decree as “null and void”. By not consulting with the parliament, Gülbahar says that the government is in violation of Turkey’s constitution, and in violation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which is the Convention which outlines a lot of the rules about how treaties work.
The Istanbul Convention was negotiated and ready for states to sign and ratify on 11 May 2011. Even when states originally signed and ratified the Convention, that does not mean it becomes legally binding. During negotiations, states will decide upon the number of states that need to ratify the Convention before it “enters into force”, that is when the Convention becomes legally binding, but only to the states that ratified it. So, even though the Istanbul Convention was agreed in 2011, it only became legal binding on 1 August 2014 after 10 states had ratified it.
You can find out whether your country has signed and/or ratified the Istanbul Convention here and read the text of the Istanbul Convention here. If you think your country should sign or ratify the Istanbul Convention then contact your parliamentary representative, and write to your country’s equalities and justice ministries. The more states sign the Istanbul Convention, the more it will be possible to hold states accountable for the commitments they have made to end gender-based violence – it’s possible to demand that governments take action!
(Lead image: Screenshot of Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly.)
Watch the video recording of the event HERE.
Read SI’s Statement with regard to the withdrawal by countries from the Istanbul Convention HERE.