8 March 2011
AI Index: IOR 61/001/2011
Proposed changes will undermine new European treaty on violence against women
Amnesty International is profoundly concerned that last minute efforts are being made to unravel key provisions in the Council of Europe’s Draft Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (1). Such moves are particularly shocking, given that these proposals come very shortly before final adoption of the treaty, and after two years of detailed negotiation.
On International Women’s Day 2011, Amnesty International calls on all states in the Council of Europe to oppose any amendments that would undermine the treaty, and take steps to adopt it promptly.
Amnesty International’s research on violence against women across Europe shows that in many countries laws on rape and sexual violence are not enforced and that impunity for violence against women is deeply entrenched (2). In too many countries domestic violence is still considered a social problem, rather than a crime (3).
The recent amendments, which would undermine the effectiveness of the draft treaty, include the following:
– A United Kingdom proposal to exclude violence against women in armed conflict from the scope of the treaty. There have been many conflicts in Europe in recent years where serious acts of violence against women have been committed, most notably in the former Yugoslavia. Amnesty International believes that it would be unconscionable if this new treaty failed to address violence against women in conflict situations. The current text of the draft treaty would support existing provisions of international humanitarian law by recognizing explicitly the right of women and girls affected by armed conflict to reparation and services.
– The Russian Federation has proposed excluding violence against lesbian, bisexual and transgender women from the scope of this treaty, as it seeks to delete sexual orientation and gender identity as impermissible grounds of discrimination
Amnesty International joins the European Region of the International, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association in condemning this attempt to remove sexual orientation and gender identity as impermissible grounds of discrimination in the text of the treaty: there is overwhelming evidence that lesbian, bisexual and transgender women are particularly targeted for violence.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe itself has stated that “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons have been for centuries and are still subjected to homophobia, transphobia and other forms of intolerance and discrimination even within their family”.
Amnesty International considers that it is vitally important to maintain sexual orientation
and gender identity as impermissible grounds of discrimination in the text of the treaty, to ensure that effective action taken to prevent violence against lesbian and transgender women and provide them with effective remedies where they are subjected to violence.
– In respect of the criminal definition of sexual harassment, the UK has proposed that in order to be criminalized, conduct has both the purpose and effect of harassing, rather than the purpose or effect as currently stated in the draft Convention.
The relevant article in the draft treaty was carefully written to address the fact that many perpetrators of sexual harassment seek to justify their actions by claiming that their behaviour was “harmless fun” or “just a normal part of life” and not intended to harass. By suggesting that conduct must have both the purpose and the effect of harassing, the change that the UK proposes could render an important provision on sexual harassment almost worthless.
A number of other amendments have also been proposed – the majority of which, if implemented, would undermine existing international law. Amnesty International believes that it is unconscionable to seek to undermine this treaty at the very final stages.
The current draft of the treaty, if adopted and ratified by states, would establish an effective framework for governments to ensure robust action to prevent, investigate and prosecute violence against women. It would also facilitate the sharing of good practice, providing a solid basis for making recommendations to states for improvement. It contains up-to-date models for legislation on the definitions of rape and sexual violence, domestic violence, stalking, risk assessment, protection measures and services for women and girls who are survivors of violence. It, therefore, has the potential to make a vital contribution to the eradication of violence against women in Europe. Proposed amendments significantly undermine this potential.
Amnesty International is urging all states in the Council of Europe to oppose any attempts to re-open and undermine the existing draft treaty. The organization calls on those states that have proposed such amendments to withdraw them immediately.
Following its campaign to end violence against women the Council of Europe decided to draft a treaty to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. Amnesty International campaigned intensively for such a treaty by the Council of Europe and participated as observer in the drafting group that negotiated the current draft. Together with other women’s rights organizations Amnesty International worked to ensure that existing international legal standards on violence against women were adequately reflected in the draft Convention and that the treaty would set high standards.
See for example:
Amnesty International, Council of Europe Don't Waste this Opportunity: Make the Right Decisions on the Convention on Violence Against Women, IOR 61/014/2010, 3 August 2010.
Council of Europe: Women should be free of all gender-based violence. Summary of Amnesty International’s initial recommendations on the scope and content of a future Council of Europe Convention on action to combat violence against women, IOR 61/007/2008, 29 May 2008.
(1) Draft Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – CAHVIO (2011) 5 available at http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/violence/CAHVIO%20_2011_%205_en.pdf
(2) “Case closed: Rape and human rights in the Nordic countries” Summary report, AI Index Number: ACT 77/001/2010, 8 March 2010.
(3) For a list of all Amnesty International’s work since 2004 on violence against women in Europe, see Amnesty International, Council of Europe Don't Waste this Opportunity: Make the Right Decisions on the Convention on Violence Against Women, IOR 61/014/2010, 3 August 2010.