June 27, 2022 - Ukraine

Against Violence: How the Signing of the Istanbul Convention will Affect Ukraine
  by Asters

On June 21, the President  signed a  law ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (hereinafter referred to as the Convention). The day before, the law was passed by the Verkhovna Rada, 259 people's deputies voted for ratification, and only eight opposed it. Mind  partner Asters  Talina Kravtsova  and the company's lawyer  Maryna Kornienko told Mind what the adoption of this document means and how it affects Ukraine's accession to the EU  .

The Convention was signed on May 11, 2011 in Istanbul, and the place of signing received its better known name - "Istanbul Convention". Ukraine signed the convention immediately after its adoption, but it took more than 10 years to ratify it.

Ratification of the convention means that it becomes part of the national legislation of our state. Ukraine recognizes and supports the purpose of the Convention, namely to protect women from all forms of violence, to prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence, which is also committed against men and children (boys and girls).

It is important that the ratification of this convention was among the conditions for granting Ukraine the status of a candidate for membership in the European Union. This was one of the reasons why the President submitted the issue to parliament so quickly and there was a prompt vote in the Rada.

In the Western world, the convention is a kind of "marker of civilization", and therefore there is every reason to consider this step more than necessary on Ukraine's path to full membership in the EU.

What are the volumes of such crimes in Ukraine?

The press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs  reports that in 2021, 326,000 cases of domestic violence were registered in Ukraine, which is twice as many as in 2020. Such rapid dynamics indicate that victims have become less silent about the facts of domestic violence. At the same time, it is clear that the lion's share of domestic violence against women and children remains in the shadows.

The statistics of crimes against sexual freedom and inviolability are disappointing. In recent years, there has been a steady growth of one third compared to each previous period. Most rapes (about 90%) are committed by close and familiar victims (men, family members, colleagues, etc.). At the same time, rape is one of those crimes, the commission of which is silenced - such a situation is observed not only in Ukraine, but all over the world. This is especially true of rape in the context of domestic violence.

The full-scale war, which has been going on in Ukraine since February 24, has not leveled off, and in some places has even exacerbated the problem of domestic violence. There are no official data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs yet, but NGOs working to combat domestic violence note that the war was a risk factor that not only increased the number of cases, but also increased violence in situations of domestic violence.

What is the legal significance of the convention?

To understand the practical significance of Ukraine's ratification of the convention, let us turn to the basic principles of this international treaty. Thus, the declared principles of the convention are:

  • criminal prosecution of offenders;
  • protection of victims;
  • prevention of violence;
  • coordinated government policy on combating violence.

The main thing to know about the content of the convention is that this international treaty legally obliges to create a legal basis for combating domestic violence and other forms of violence against women. Countries that have signed the convention must criminalize psychological violence, harassment, physical and sexual violence, forced marriage, forced abortion and sterilization. In addition, sexual harassment at home, at work, in transport, on the street or elsewhere is a criminal offense.

The Convention recognizes violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination, and establishes a clear link between the achievement of equality between women and men and the elimination of violence against women.

The main purpose of the convention is to ensure that women are protected from all forms of violence and discrimination, to fight for equality between women and men, and to develop policies and measures to protect and assist all victims of violence.

At the same time, the provisions of the convention do not only protect women. Despite the fact that its name includes women, the convention is a universal document. Thus, Article 4 states that the implementation of the provisions of the Convention provides for the protection of the rights of victims of violence of any sex, gender, age, sexual orientation, beliefs, origin and state of health.

How will national legislation change after the ratification of the convention?

Ratification of the convention, obviously, will not lead to significant changes in the legislation of Ukraine, because even before ratification we had a pretty good and even progressive legal framework.

Domestic violence was criminalized in 2017. In addition, Ukraine has a special law "On Prevention and Counteraction to Domestic Violence", which equally protects both women and men from domestic violence, and covers a fairly wide range of relationships. Domestic violence is also widely considered in Ukrainian law and provides for physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence. It can be said that the domestic legislation is already partially based on the norms of the Istanbul Convention, which is why it does not require radical changes in the fight against domestic violence. At the same time, the convention significantly raises standards and establishes guarantees for real protection against violence and discrimination.

It should be noted that compared to the current legislation of Ukraine, the convention further expands the understanding of sexual and domestic violence. Yes, the convention provides for liability for harassment and sexual harassment. Actions that have signs of sexual harassment are covered in part by the general article of the Criminal Code on sexual violence, but not in full.

In addition to changing approaches to understanding certain concepts, the convention provides for the introduction of fundamentally new measures for Ukraine and the creation of specialized institutions aimed at combating violence and operational protection of victims.

In particular, much attention is paid to preventive measures: awareness-raising, funding of state programs, compensation to victims of violence, creation and financing of special shelters for victims, specialized services to support victims of sexual violence (so-called Rape crisis center), which will provide social and medical assistance to victims of violence, and will cooperate with law enforcement agencies. These are just some of the measures envisaged by the convention to prevent and combat violence.

What commitments has Ukraine made?

It is important for the effective implementation of all the mechanisms provided for in the Convention that, once ratified, Ukraine will be forced to report regularly to the international community on the implementation of its commitments.

At the same time, Ukraine stated that it does not consider any of the provisions of the Convention as obliging it to amend the Constitution, the Family Code and other legal acts regarding the institutions of marriage, family, adoption and the rights of parents to raise children in accordance with own beliefs. Ukraine has explicitly stated that it will apply the Convention in accordance with the values, principles and norms set out in the Constitution of Ukraine, according to an official statement of the state posted on the Verkhovna Rada's website.

Interestingly, ratification of the convention with such reservations is quite rare. Prior to Ukraine, the only country to ratify the Convention with reservations was Croatia, which has a strong Christian tradition.

The reservations became a kind of compromise between supporters and opponents of ratification. At that time, the Council of Europe accepted Croatia's decision quite normally, and therefore we see no reason for Ukraine to be concerned about this.

Another caveat is that Ukraine will not pay victims of violence compensation provided for in the Convention until national legislation is fully in line with the provisions of the Convention.

Who opposes the convention and why?

The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations strongly opposed the ratification of the convention, and on June 16 issued a statement calling on the Verkhovna Rada to withdraw from the ratification of the convention. The statement is motivated by the fact that ratification will lead to "escalation of tensions and division of Ukrainian society." The PCU also opposed ratification, calling for the document not to be submitted to parliament without a deep discussion of this issue in Ukrainian society and politics.

From the content of the above-mentioned statements it can be seen that the clergy misinterpret certain provisions of the convention and its main objectives. In particular, opponents of ratification view the convention as a document that infringes on fundamental values and traditions, endorses same-sex marriage, and distorts the notion of the role of man and woman, thereby deepening conflicts.

The issue of ratification of the convention has been and remains difficult not only for Ukraine. The Convention has been signed by 47 countries and ratified by only 36 countries, including Ukraine.

How did other European countries sign the convention?

On March 12, 2012, Turkey became the first country in the world to ratify the convention. However, in March 2021, Turkey denounced the convention, stating that it was used to "normalize homosexuality." Poland, a country famous for its conservative approaches to religion, family and marriage, has also announced its withdrawal from the convention in 2020. Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Zobro said the convention treaty was "an invention, a feminist creation aimed at justifying gay ideology." In response to the Polish government's position, mass protests against the withdrawal took place in Warsaw.

At a recent briefing, Kateryna Levchenko, Ukraine's commissioner for gender policy, said that Russia had made considerable efforts to prevent Ukraine from ratifying the convention for many years. Ms. Levchenko notes that the convention is very important for democratic transformations in our country, and our enemy is attacking this international treaty, considering it as a threat to the authoritarian and totalitarian order.

To date, there are still six EU states that have not completed ratification of the convention. These are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia. Experts note that pro-Russian political forces and Russian propaganda based on so-called spiritual staples play not the least role in slowing down the ratification process of the convention in these countries.

In an official press release, the Council of Europe stated that, despite clearly stated goals, several religious and ultra-conservative groups were spreading false information about the convention. Unfortunately, instead of trying to understand the provisions of the convention on their own or turn to the opinion of qualified experts, a certain part of society, including the Ukrainian one, continues to believe in fakes.

What is the benefit of the convention for Ukraine?

Opponents of the convention should read its provisions more carefully and analyze the positive experiences of other countries. It is important to understand that ratification of the convention does not require radical legislative changes from Ukraine, but only creates a foundation for effective counteraction and prevention of violence. The Istanbul Convention does not legalize same-sex marriage and does not contradict the values enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine and family law, but establishes the principles of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

For our part, we welcome the ratification of the convention and are proud that Ukraine has reaffirmed its European choice. For full ratification of the Convention, in accordance with the established procedure, credentials must be handed over to the Secretariat of the Council of Europe after signing by the President.