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HRW Warns Of 'Unprecedented Backlash' Against Istanbul Convention Protecting Women

A rally protesting violence against women after a deadly bride-snatching case in Bishkek on April 8

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Council of Europe member states should reinforce efforts to combat violence against women by quickly ratifying and implementing a regional treaty on women’s rights that the group said has faced “unprecedented backlash” in a number of countries.

HRW made the call in a statement on May 10, the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention.

The convention has been ratified by 33 countries in the 47-member grouping since taking force in 2014.

Twelve others have signed but not yet ratified the convention, including Ukraine, which signed it in 2011.

Azerbaijan and Russia are the only two Council of Europe member states that have not signed the treaty.

HRW warned that some governments have withdrawn or threatened to withdraw from the treaty while others have refused to ratify it despite “soaring reports of domestic violence” during lockdowns aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed violence against women as one of the most far-reaching and persistent rights abuses, and a daily threat to the lives and health of women and girls around the world,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at the New York-based human rights watchdog.

“At this decisive moment, Council of Europe members should demonstrate they are serious about prioritizing the safety and well-being of all women and girls by committing to and carrying out the Istanbul Convention.”

The Istanbul Convention “establishes robust, legally binding standards for governments to prevent violence against all women and girls, support survivors, and hold abusers to account,” according to HRW.

It noted that the treaty mandates protections from forms of violence that are often not incorporated into national legislation, such as sexual harassment or forced marriage, and requires protections for all victims of violence -- regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and immigration status.

But Turkey earlier this year decided to withdraw from the convention. HRW said the move "poses dangerous risks for the region" and called it “a setback for women’s rights in the country.”

In 2020, Poland’s justice minister announced he would pursue withdrawal from the convention, while parliaments in Hungary and Slovakia blocked its ratification.

Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court ruled in 2018 that the convention’s use of “gender” makes it unconstitutional.

“Conservative politicians and groups have erroneously claimed the convention threatens 'traditional' families, promotes homosexuality and so-called 'gender ideology,' and corrodes ‘national values,’” HRW said.

Some governments “claim that national legislation provides adequate protection from and accountability for violence against women,” while “many survivors continue to face stigma, dismissive attitudes from authorities, and social pressure to remain silent,” according to the group.

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