The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) was adopted by the Committee of Ministers and opened for signature in Istanbul on 11 May 2011. The Convention entered into force on 1 August 2014, and recognizes gender-based violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination.

It focuses on several areas, obliging States Parties to the Convention to take a number of measures to act against violence against women and domestic violence.

States should regularly run awareness-raising campaigns, train professionals in close contact with victims, include within teaching materials issues such as gender equality and non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, set up treatment programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and for sex offenders, work closely with NGOs, and involve the media and the private sector in eradicating gender stereotypes and promoting mutual respect.

This includes granting the police the power to remove a perpetrator of domestic violence from their home, ensuring people’s access to adequate information on available services in a language they understand, setting up easily accessible shelters in sufficient numbers and in an adequate geographical distribution, making available state-wide 24/7 telephone helplines free-of–charge, and setting up easily accessible rape crisis or sexual violence referral centres.

The Convention defines and criminalises the various forms of violence against women, including domestic violence. States that have signed and ratified the treaty must introduce a number of new offences where these do not already exist, for example, psychological and physical violence, sexual violence and rape, stalking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion and forced sterilisation. In addition, States Parties will need to ensure that culture, tradition or so-called “honour” are not regarded as a justification for any of the above-listed courses of conduct. States parties will have to take a range of measures to ensure the effective investigation of any allegation of violence against women, including cases of domestic violence. This means that law enforcement agencies will have to respond to calls for help, collect evidence, and assess the risk of further violence to adequately protect those at risk. In addition, judicial proceedings should be run in a manner that respects the rights of victims at all stages of the proceedings and that avoids secondary victimisation.

 Development of integrated policies
It is difficult for one institution alone to act against violence. For that reason, the Convention asks States Parties to implement comprehensive and co-ordinated policies involving government agencies, NGOs, and national, regional and local parliaments and authorities. The aim is for policies to prevent and combat violence against women, including domestic violence, to be carried out at all levels of government and by all relevant agencies and institutions.

The Convention sends a clear message to the whole of society, that violence is never the right way to solve difficulties and cannot lead to a state of peace – either in private or public life. It reinforces the importance of understanding that violence against women is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. While the focus of the Convention is on all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, it also recognises that there are other victims of domestic violence, such as boys and men. This may include gay men, transgender men or men that do not conform to what society considers to be appropriate behaviour. The Convention devotes an entire chapter to women migrants and asylum-seekers facing gender-based violence. It also recognises the work of NGOs, and seeks to ensure greater political and financial support for their work.

The Convention establishes a monitoring mechanism, consisting of two bodies:

GREVIO (Group of Experts on Action Against Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence), which is a body of independent and impartial experts known for their expertise in the fields of human rights, gender equality, violence against women, or assistance to and protection of victims; or having demonstrated relevant professional experience in any of these fields. GREVIO draws up and publishes reports on legislative and other measures taken by countries that have ratified the Convention, designed to give effect to its provisions (evaluation procedure). In specific circumstances, the group may initiate inquiries (inquiry procedure).

 The Committee of Parties is composed of representatives of the Parties to the Convention. The Committee may adopt recommendations on measures to be taken to implement conclusions contained in GREVIO’s reports. The Committee also supervises the implementation of its own recommendations, examines the findings of any inquiry conducted by GREVIO members, and considers any necessary measures pursuant to these findings.

The Istanbul Convention is in many ways an innovative document

  • It is the first international document that contains a definition of gender.
  • It calls for the involvement of all relevant state agencies and services, so that violence against women and domestic violence are tackled in a co-ordinated way. This means that agencies and NGOs are encouraged not to act alone, but to work out protocols for co-operation.
  • It criminalises offences, such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, stalking, forced abortion and forced sterilisation. This means that states will be obliged, for the first time, to legislate against these serious offences.
  • It recognises violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination. States are held responsible if they do not respond adequately to such violence.
  • It obliges states which have signed and ratified the Convention to invite their parliaments to participate in the monitoring process.

Unofficial summary - QUICK BROWSING

Chapter I – Purposes, definitions, equality and non-discrimination, general obligations

Article 1 - Purpose of the Convention
The Convention aims to protect women against all forms of violence; to prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence; to promote real equality between women and men; to provide assistance to organisations and law enforcement agencies to cooperate effectively, in order to adopt an integrated approach.

Article 2 - Scope of the Convention
The Convention is applicable in times of peace and conflict. It applies to all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, but particular attention should be paid to women.

Article 3 - Definitions
Violence against women is a human rights violation and a form of discrimination against women. “Violence against women” refers to all acts of violence that result in, or are likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private spaces. “
Domestic violence refers to all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim.
Gender is defined as the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.
Gender-based violence against women refers to all violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately,
Victim is defined as any person subjected to behaviour which constitutes “violence against women” or “domestic violence”.
The Convention states that the term “women” also includes girls under the age of 18.

Article 4 - Fundamental rights, equality and non-discrimination
Everyone is entitled to live free from violence in both the public and private sphere, and states must implement the necessary measures, including legislative to ensure this. States must condemn all forms of discrimination against women. This Convention should be applied without discrimination on any grounds. Special measures taken by states to prevent and protect women from gender-based violence do not constitute discrimination.

Article 5 - State obligations and due diligence
States and their authorities, officials, agents and other actors must refrain from engaging in gender-based violence against women and must take measures necessary to prevent, investigate, punish and provide reparation for acts of violence perpetrated by non-state actors.

Article 6 - Gender sensitive policies
States must include a gender perspective in monitoring the application of this Convention, promote and implement policies of equality between women and men and the empowerment of women.

Chapter II – Integrated policies and data collection

Article 7 - Comprehensive and co-ordinated policies
States must take measures at State-wide level to adopt and implement policies to prevent and combat all forms of violence against women. The rights of the victim must be placed at the centre of these measures. All relevant actors, including civil society, must be involved in design and implementation.

Article 8 - Financial resources
States must allocate appropriate financial and human resources to effectively implement policies and programmes to prevent and combat all forms of violence covered by the scope of the Convention. Resources should be available as well for NGOs and civil society.

Article 9 - Non-governmental organisations and civil society
The work of NGOs and civil society should be recognised, encouraged and supported by the State.

Article 10 - Co-ordinating body
States must establish one or more official bodies to ensure coordination, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and measures.

Article 11 - Data collection and research
Disaggregated statistical data on all forms of violence, and should be collected at regular intervals. States should support research in the field of gender-based violence. Data collected should be made public.

Chapter III – Prevention

Article 12 - General obligations
States should aim to eradicate prejudice, customs, traditions and practices which are based on stereotypical roles for men and women; they should implement the necessary legislative measures to prevent violence against women, taking into account the specific needs of persons made vulnerable by certain circumstances; States should engage men and boys in prevention work, and adopt a human rights and victim centred approach.

Article 13 - Awareness raising
Awareness raising campaigns or programmes should be conducted on a regular basis with relevant partners and at all levels of society.

Article 14 - Education
States should include, where necessary, teaching material on: equality between men and women, non-stereotyped gender roles, respect, non-violent conflict resolution, gender-based violence against women, and the right to personal integrity - in all forms of education and at all levels.

Article 15 - Training of professionals
States should provide training for professionals on dealing with victims or perpetrators of gender-based violence.

Article 16 - Preventive intervention and treatment programmes
Support and treatment programmes should be established, aimed at preventing perpetrators from re-offending and supporting them to adopt non-violent behaviours. Such programmes should be developed with specialist support services for victims.

Article 17 - Participation of the private sector and the media
States should encourage the private sector and media to participate in the elaboration and implementation of policies to prevent violence against women, including in the development of programmes aimed at children, parents and educators on how to deal with the information and communication environment that provides access to degrading and harmful content.

Chapter IV – Protection and support

Article 18 - General obligations for protection and support
All measures taken by the State should be: based on a gendered understanding of violence against women and domestic violence; have a human rights and victim centred approach; have an integrated approach that takes into account the relationship between victims, perpetrators, children and their environment; avoids secondary victimisation; aims at empowerment and the economic independence of women; allows for a range of support services on the same premises; addresses the needs of vulnerable persons, including child victims. Support services shall not be dependent on pressing charges or testifying against a perpetrator.

Article 19 – Information
Victims should receive adequate and timely information on support services available.

Article 20 - General support services
The states should make sure that victims have access to services to facilitate their recovery from violence, including access to health care and social services.

Article 21 - Assistance in individual/collective complaints
Victims should have information and access to regional and international individual or collective complaints mechanisms. They should also be assisted in presenting any such complaints.

Article 22 - Specialist support services
These support services for victims should be provided, in an adequate geographical distribution, including immediate, short- and long-term services.

Article 23 - Shelters
States should take measures to make shelters for women and children available.

Article 24 - Telephone helplines
States must set up state-wide, round-the-clock, and free of charge telephone helplines.

Article 25 - Support for victims of sexual violence
States must set up rape crisis and sexual violence referral centres for victims to provide medical and counselling services.

Article 26 - Protection and support for child witnesses
The rights of child witnesses must be taken into account in designing support measures for victims, and due regard must be given to the best interests of the child.

Article 27 - Reporting
States should encourage any person to report acts of violence that they might witness or might believe is likely to occur to the relevant authorities.

Article 28 - Reporting by professionals
Confidentiality rules should not stop professionals from reporting acts of grave violence where they suspect that such acts might reoccur.

Chapter V – Substantive law

Article 29 - Civil lawsuits and remedies
Victims must have available adequate civil remedies against the perpetrator or against the State, if the State has failed to take preventive and protective measures.

Article 30 - Compensation
Victims have the right to claim compensation from both the perpetrator and from the State, in cases of sustained serious bodily injury or impairment of health, and if the damage is not covered by other sources. The compensation must be granted within the reasonable time.

Article 31 - Custody, visitation rights and safety
Incidents of violence should be taken into account in the determination of custody and visitation rights of children, and that the exercise of such rights does not endanger the victim or the children.

Article 32 - Civil consequences of forced marriages
Forced marriages concluded under force should be voided, annulled or dissolved without financial or administrative burden.

Article 33 – 40 Criminalisation of gender-based violence
The following types of violence should be criminalised: psychological violence, stalking; physical violence; sexual violence, including rape and causing another person to engage in non-consensual acts of a sexual nature with a third person, forced marriage of an adult or child, including luring an adult or child to enter the territory of another state with the aim of forcing them into marriage, female genital mutilation; forced abortion and forced sterilisation, when lacking the informed consent of the women and her understanding of the procedure; sexual harassment, whether it be verbal, nonverbal, or physical.

Article 41 - Aiding or abetting and attempt
Intentional aiding or abetting the commission of gender-based violence should be considered an offence. The same applies to attempts to commit it.

Article 42 - Unacceptable justifications for crimes, including crimes committed in the name of so-called “honour”
Culture, custom, tradition, religion, or so-called “honour” should not be regarded in criminal proceedings as justifications for acts of gender-based violence mentioned by the Convention.

Article 43 - Application of criminal offences
All offences established in accordance with the Convention should apply irrespective of the nature of the relationship between victim and perpetrator.

Article 44 - Jurisdiction
States must take measures to established jurisdiction over any offence mentioned in the Convention when the offence is committed on their territory, on board a ship flying their flag, on board of a plane registered under their laws, committed by one of their nationals or by a person who is a resident on their territory.

Article 45 - Sanctions and measures
The crimes established by this Convention should be punished by effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions. In addition, States may establish measures such as monitoring or supervision of convicted persons and withdrawal of parental rights, if this is in the best interests of the child.

Article 46 - Aggravating circumstances
Among many, the following circumstances should be considered aggravating in the determination of a sentence for the offence established in the Convention: offence against current or former spouse or partner as recognised by internal law, by a member of the family or a person cohabitating with the victim; when the offence was committed repeatedly; the offence was committed in a presence of a child; when extreme violence was involved; when the offence resulted in severe physical or psychological harm for the victim.

Article 47 - Sentences passed by another Party
Final sentences passed by another state should be taken into account when determining the sentence for perpetrators.

Article 48 - Prohibition of mandatory alternative dispute resolution processes and sentencing
States should prohibit mandatory alternative resolution processes, including mediation and conciliation, in relation to all forms of violence covered by the Convention.

Chapter VI – Investigation, prosecution, procedural law and protective measures

This chapter (Articles 49 – 58) contains a variety of provisions that cover a broad range of issues related to investigation, prosecution, procedural law and protection against all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention, in order to reinforce the rights and duties laid out in the previous chapters of the Convention. For example:

  • Investigations and judicial proceeding in relation to all forms of violence covered by the Convention should proceed without delay, and should take into account the rights of the victim. (art. 49)
  • In cases where there is an immediate danger, competent authorities can order a perpetrator to leave a residence and prohibit contact with the victim for a period of time. (art. 52)
  • In criminal or civil trials, evidence relating to a victim’s sexual history and conduct is permitted only when relevant and necessary. (art. 54)
  • States can continue investigating and prosecuting a crime under the Convention, even if the victim withdraws her or his statement/complaint. (art. 55)
  • Victims have the right to free legal aid. (art.57)

Chapter VII – Migration and asylum

Article 59 – Residence status
In cases of asylum and migration, victims of domestic or gender-based violence whose residence status is dependent on that of a spouse or partner can be granted an autonomous residence permit, irrespective of the duration of the marriage or partnership. States should take measures to support victims of forced marriages to regain residence status in the original state, where this has been lost as a result of the forced marriage.

Article 60 - Gender-based asylum claims
Gender-based violence against women should be recognised as a form of persecution and ground for granting asylum. Additionally, states must ensure a gender sensitive interpretation of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Article 61 - Non-refoulment
The principle of non-refoulment should respected in the case of victims of violence against women. Victims of gender-based violence shall not be returned to any country where their life might be at risk or where they may be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

Chapter VIII – International co-operation

This Chapter sets out the provisions on international co-operation between Parties to the Convention. The provisions are not confined to judicial co-operation in criminal and civil matters but are also concerned with co-operation in preventing all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention and assisting victims of that violence.

Chapter IX – Monitoring mechanism

Chapter IX of the Convention contains provisions which aim at ensuring the effective implementation of the Convention by the Parties. The monitoring mechanism is designed to cover the scope of this Convention. The Convention sets up a Group of experts on action against violence against women and domestic violence (hereafter “GREVIO”) which is an expert body, composed of independent and highly qualified experts in the fields of human rights, gender equality, violence against women and domestic violence, criminal law and in assistance to and protection of victims of violence against women and domestic violence, with the task of “monitoring the implementation of this Convention by the Parties”.
The Convention also establishes a Committee of the Parties, composed of the representatives of the Parties to the Convention.

Chapter X – relationship with other international instruments

This Chapter seeks to ensure that the Convention harmoniously coexists with other treaties – whether multilateral or bilateral – or instruments dealing with matters which the Convention also covers. It also states positively that Parties may conclude bilateral or multilateral agreements – or any other legal instrument – relating to the matters which the Convention governs.

Chapter XI – Amendments to the Convention

This Chapter states that the states may propose amendments to the provisions of the Convention. They must be communicated to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and to all Council of Europe member states, to any signatory, to any Party, to the European Union and to any state invited to sign or accede to the Convention. As a next step, the Committee of Ministers examines and adopts the amendment. Before deciding on the amendment, the Committee of Ministers shall consult and obtain the unanimous consent of all Parties to the Convention. Such a requirement recognises that all Parties to the Convention should be able to participate in the decision-making process concerning amendments and are on an equal footing.

Chapter XII – Final clauses

This Chapter includes final closing provisions such as related to effects of the Convention, dispute settlement, signature and entry into force, accession to the convention, territorial application, reservations, validity and review of reservations, denunciation and notification.


 Chart of signatures and ratifications of the Istambul Convention (CETS 210)