The Istanbul Convention: Combating Violence against Women

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence aspires to have a Europe free from any form of violence against women. The Convention was initiated by the Council of Europe in 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey and consists of 81 articles and 11 chapters.

The main objective of the Istanbul Convention is to eliminate domestic violence and protect women against all forms of gender-based violence. Another ambition is to reduce gender inequality and contribute to women empowerment. Lastly, the Convention promotes international cooperation to combat and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence.

The Convention defines gender as a set of ‘socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men’. Gender-based violence is defined as all forms of violence and/or discrimination targeting women due to their gender.

According to the Convention, violence against women involves ‘all acts of gender‐based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life’. Domestic violence is defined as all forms of physical, psychological, economic or sexual violence within the family, between partners or spouses, regardless of whether they live together.

On 11 May 2011, the Convention was opened for signature by the Council of Europe member states, the non-member states that had participated in its elaboration and the European Union, as well as for accession by other non-member states. The Convention entered into force on 1 August 2014, when 10 states had ratified the act.

Turkey, Sweden, Spain, Slovakia, Portugal, Montenegro, Greece, Germany, France, Finland and Austria were the first countries to sign the treaty. In March 2012, Turkey became the first country to ratify the convention.

As of 2 December 2016, 43 countries have signed and 22 have ratified the Istanbul Convention. It has entered into force in all countries in which it has been ratified.

Monitoring Procedures

The monitoring procedures for the Istanbul Convention were established to oversee its implementation, ensure efficiency and improve possible shortcomings. The Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), which is an independent body of experts, and the Committee of the Parties, a political body, are the two bodies in charge of the monitoring procedures.

GREVIO has 10-15 members, according to Article 66 of the Istanbul Convention, and the members are well-balanced by gender, expertise and geographical distinction. GREVIO members are elected by the Committee of the Parties by secret ballots. The first meeting of the GREVIO members took place on 4 May 2015.

The Committee of the Parties is formed by the representatives of the Parties to the Convention. Currently, Mr Erdoğan Işcan, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Turkey to the Council of Europe, acts as Committee Chair; Mr Rudolf Lennkh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Austria to the Council of Europe, is first Vice-Chair; and Ms Jocelyne Caballero, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of France to the Council of Europe, as its second Vice-Chair. The Committee held its first meeting on 4 May 2015.

The Istanbul Convention is subject to a two-pillar monitoring mechanism: a country-by-country evaluation procedure and a special inquiry procedure.

In the first step, GREVO sends a questionnaire to the State Parties, the countries that have ratified or agreed to abide by the Convention.

In the second step, GREVO drafts a report for which it takes into account opinions of NGOs, CoE bodies, and national human rights institutions. Depending on the information gathered, GREVO may arrange evaluation visits before drafting the report. GREVO’s draft report is then sent to the respective governments for comments. The report, along with comments from the national governments and the concerning bodies, will then be published. The published report is sent to the Committee of the Parties, State Party and parliaments of the concerning states.

The Committee of the Parties reviews the GREVIO report and may give recommendations to enhance the implementation process.

Austria, Monaco, Albania and Denmark were the first four countries to be evaluated using this procedure in 2016. Questionnaires were sent to Austria and Monaco in March 2016 and the report will be published in July 2017. Evaluation process for Albania and Denmark was started in September 2016 and the report will be published in November 2017.

Montenegro, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Portugal and Sweden are scheduled to be evaluated in 2017.

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