Opening of the Conference "European experience with the Istanbul Convention "

Prague, Chamber of Deputies , 

As delivered

Government Commissioner for Human Rights,


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,


I begin by thanking Ms Horska and Ms Valkova for organising this important and timely initiative.

And by thanking all the experts and panellists who are here to take part today.

This is testament both to the serious interest within the Czech Republic about the Istanbul Convention and the range of expertise on how to make the best out of this most important,
legally-binding international treaty in this subject area.

It is a sign of democracy in action when there is public debate on the implications of ratifying a legal instrument like this one.

But for that debate to be healthy and productive, it must be based on accurate information.

Facts must be known, misunderstandings dispelled.

So, let’s be clear.

The Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence is designed to achieve what is spelled out in its title and is based on the premise that violence against women cannot be eradicated without investing in equality among women and men.

That is its only objective.

Yes, this involves reconceptualising such violence: understanding that it is not a private or family matter, but criminal behaviour that politicians are obliged to tackle by law – and for which there should therefore never be impunity.

And yes, this holistic approach requires measures for the prevention of crime, the protection of victims and the prosecution of perpetrators.

The measures taken to achieve this should be specific and coordinated, and I have no doubt that we will hear from people in this room about what has worked well – and perhaps even not so well – in the implementation of the Istanbul Convention in their own countries.

But let me give you just a few examples of the kind of measures that we are talking about.

Countries that have implemented the treaty have:

Adopted legislation that defines stalking and sexual harassment;

Ensured that rape is defined by lack of consent, rather than proof of force;

Set up “coordinated community responses” so that victims are referred to multidisciplinary teams;

Created 24/7 helplines that can refer women to the counselling services that they need;

Opened publicly-funded shelters where none existed before;

Introduced violence against women into the curricula of a range of relevant university degrees;

And provided specific training for judges, prosecutors and other lawyers to improve women’s access to protection and remedies.

These are practical measures that contribute to an overall push for better policies, services and discourse around the violence that women and girls experience, so that awareness is raised, mentalities changed and the women themselves are supported and empowered.

Implementation of the Convention is also supported by our expert monitoring group, GREVIO.

GREVIO is composed of a diverse range of experts whose constructive approach is born out by both the balanced tone of its reports and its track record in helping national governments make progress.

I have no doubt that this afternoon its former president, Ms Feride Acar, will tell you much more about the good work that it does.

But I can say that in working with states parties, they are together achieving the ends we all seek:

Greater trust of the authorities among women, increased reporting rates, and increased conviction rates, too.

This is real progress on a stubbornly persistent problem in our societies.

But if this is what the Istanbul Convention is, let’s be equally clear about what it is not.

It is sometimes said that there is a hidden agenda behind the treaty:

That traditions, values and family relations will in some way be damaged.

This is untrue.

The Istanbul Convention does not contain any definition of the family, does not require national governments to change national family law and as a result does not collide with national constitutions’ definition of the family.

It does not ask them to change legislation relating to marriage and mentions marriage only and exclusively in the context of forced marriage.

And it does not pose a threat to traditions and family relations in our member states.

It simply asks governments and civil society to work together and dismantle the stereotypes that too often confine women, erode their
self-esteem and pave the way to discrimination and violence.

Another important and related step on the route to breaking down stereotypes and ensuring equality is  our Committee of Ministers’ March 2019 recommendation on preventing and combating sexism, fully in line with Article 12-1 of the Istanbul Conventon, which  provides inter alia the first international definition of that term.

Equally the Istanbul Convention does not interfere with the rights of parents to educate their children according to their own preferences but simply encourages States to include, in school curricula, teaching materials on the issues of equality between women and men and violence against women.

Where national governments have implemented the Istanbul Convention, the concerns that have been raised have come to nothing, while women have benefitted a great deal.

When this is understood, there is no good reason for either politicians or members of the public to fear the Istanbul Convention.

So far, 34 states have ratified it.

Of these, the three most recent were Croatia – where the public debate was tense, but the right thing was done – and Luxembourg, and Ireland, where the Convention came into force on 1st July.

I hope that in the near future other states will follow the same path – including, of course, the Czech Republic.

And we know that when the representatives of governments, experts, and civil societies share information, experience, and good practice, the confidence to act is increased – and the application of the Convention is made easier.

So, this is an opportunity to facilitate that exchange, to discuss all the issues, and to see what further progress we can make together, and on behalf of the women who need it most.

I wish you all a successful Conference.