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Poland Contemplates Bowing out of the Istanbul Convention

— August 6, 2020

Poland will decide whether it will continue to be part of an anti-abuse treaty.

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known more widely as the Istanbul Convention, is a human rights treaty of the Council of Europe against domestic violence which came into existence on August 1, 2014.  As of March 2019, the treaty had been signed by multiple countries including Turkey, Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.  On in June 2017, European Commissioner Věra Jourová signed on behalf of the European Union.

The Convention is the first legally binding instrument which “creates a comprehensive legal framework and approach to combat violence against women: and is focused on preventing DV, protecting victims and prosecuting offenders.  Now, however, Poland’s conservative ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) has distanced itself from a proposal by the justice minister to withdraw from the treaty, saying “not all in the coalition were in favor.”  The PiS and its coalition partners closely associate with the Catholic Church and previously stated that the Istanbul Convention is too liberal for their liking.

Poland Contemplates Bowing out of the Istanbul Convention
Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who represents a right-wing party within the ruling coalition, said his ministry “would submit a request to the labor and families’ ministry…to begin the process of withdrawing from the treaty.”  He added, “Poland has sufficient legal tools to protect victims of domestic violence and that the treaty violates parents’ rights by requiring schools to teach children about gender.”

PiS had previously criticized the treaty, ratified in 2015 under a centrist government, saying it “is disrespectful towards religion and requires teaching liberal and social policies” in the country’s school system.

Following Ziobro’s statements, PiS official Anita Czerwinska stated carefully, “Decisions have not been taken.  This is not our common stance.  The minister has some idea.  If he submits (his proposal) we will analyze it.”  Government Piotr Muller echoed, “The cabinet has not decided over the treaty.”

Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric said Poland should not withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, stating, “Leaving the Istanbul convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence in Europe.  If there are any misconceptions or misunderstandings about the convention, we are ready to clarify them in a constructive dialogue.”

Iratxe García Pérez, the Spanish leader of the Socialist group, calling the decision to pull out of the Istanbul Convention “disgraceful” and tweeted, “I stand with Polish citizens taking [to] the streets to demand respect for women’s rights.”

The parliament will have to adopt new legislation to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, which will be signed by the president, Andrzej Duda.  It is unclear whether Poland will proceed with withdrawing its support.


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