Back 10 Years of the Istanbul Convention – why ratification is important for Ukraine

As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Deputy Prime Minister,

Deputy Chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada,


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,


The Istanbul Convention was designed to prevent violence against women;

To protect those who do become victims;

And to ensure the prosecution of perpetrators.

It not only encourages integrated policy-making;

It also criminalises specific offences, such as stalking, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Since it was opened for signature, ten years ago to the day, 34 of the Council of Europe’s 47 member States have ratified this Convention.

And where it has been implemented, it has worked, with positive changes to national laws, creating safer environments in which more women can live and contribute without fear.

So, it is a pleasure to gather today for this roundtable and discuss the benefits to Ukraine from ratifying an international treaty that the United Nations describes as a “gold standard”.

Certainly, as in so many other countries, there is work to do in shifting perceptions and improving women’s safety. But together we can do it.

A 2019 OSCE survey in Ukraine found that 41% of women believed that if a husband is violent to his wife, the situation must be dealt with inside the family;

That 64% believed that violence against women is common;

And that a full 67% of all women had experienced physical, psychological or sexual violence since reaching the age of 15.

As mentioned by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Ukrainian National Police received nearly 209,000 reports and complaints related to domestic violence, last year.

The vast majority of victims were women, and we can be sure that many, many cases were never reported at all. This is the tragic experience of many European countries.

It is important to point out that in recent years Ukraine has undertaken several initiatives designed to address these challenges.

A notable example was last year’s Presidential Decree on “Urgent Measures to Prevent and Combat Domestic Violence, Gender-based Violence, and Protect the Rights of Victims of Such Violence”.

And I know that this subject is very important to the First Lady too. And I want to thank her for her leadership on this issue.

But while national efforts should always be welcome, there is no substitute for a multilateral approach to what remains an appalling and universal problem. We face it all over Europe.

At its core, violence against women is a fundamental human rights issue.

The case for ratifying the Istanbul Convention rests on three unique factors.

First, the standards that it sets out for the protection of women are higher than national laws in many countries, including Ukraine.

Second, it provides an independent and international monitoring mechanism to evaluate implementation at the national level and to advise and assist on how progress might be made.

And third, it provides a gateway to international co-operation on criminal matters, so that states parties can help one another to bring perpetrators to justice.

Certainly, intergovernmental co-operation provides an unrivalled opportunity to share experience and good practice in overcoming common obstacles.

As a multilateral initiative to safeguard women, there is simply nothing like the Istanbul Treaty.

And COVID-19 has only reinforced the need for action:

With national lockdowns exposing women to increased risk in their own homes, and a recorded spike in domestic abuse across Europe.

A terrible reality that the Council of Europe has sought to counter by helping member states take relevant initiatives, and to share innovative ideas and best practice.

I know that there are opponents of ratification both within and outside Ukrainian politics.

But I am heartened by the momentum that is building.

And I want to be clear that we are here to help you make the case and to dispel the wrong-headed narratives and the misunderstandings that are sometimes heard.

I am very pleased that various co-operation activities are ongoing between the Council of Europe and Ukrainian authorities and that these have sought to raise awareness and understanding of the Istanbul Convention, including the ongoing project, Combatting Violence against Women in Ukraine.

This event today is an important opportunity to reflect on the benefits that ratification would bring.

Certainly, it is our hope that Ukraine will be one of the next member states to join this landmark Convention, in the interests of all its citizens.

And the Council of Europe will be there to support you in taking and implementing this important step.

Let me at the end thank the Deputy Prime Minister and the Deputy Chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada for their very important and excellent opening speeches.

Thank you for your attention.

14 May 2021 (by videoconference)
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