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S.T.I.C. What is the Istanbul Convention?

The Istanbul Convention required 10 ratifications by members of the Council of Europe in order to come into effect and on 22nd April 2014, Andorra provided the last remaining ratification. For member states which have already ratified the convention, it comes into force on 1 August 2014.

On date of posting, 14 member states have ratified and signed, with a 22 further states signed only. Along with 10 other member states Ireland has neither signed nor ratified the Convention, but it is the Minister of Justice' intention to do so as soon as possible. Signing, for any member state, will irreversibly give mandate for changes to a wide variety of laws and legislative procedures, none of which have been properly discussed or publicly debated.

Now, what, you may ask, is the problem with the Istanbul Convention? On the face of it, it appears to be a good thing. It has been put together by seemingly good and sincere people and it's full title is not something any sane could disagree with:

"Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence" (AKA "The Istanbul Convention" because it opened for signature in Istanbul, Turkey on May 11, 2011)

Sounds great and of course no one can disagree with the sentiment. Naturally, it didn't just pop into existence from nowhere. Here's a brief synopsis of how it came into being.

There has long been an intimate relation ship between the Council of Europe (CoE) and the United Nations (UN), officially starting with the “Agreement between the Secretariat General of the Council of Europe and the Secretariat of the United Nations”, signed on 15 December 1951. This agreement was updated on 19 November 1971 through the “Arrangement on Co-operation and Liaison between the Secretariats of the United Nations and the Council of Europe”. The CoE also concluded agreements and works closely with a number of UN bodies and specialised agencies. 

So, the CoE can be seen as a partner to, rather than a sub-set of, the UN and their policies are universally aligned.

Now, the UN created its Division for the Advancement of Women in 1946, now part of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs which works closely with the UN Commission on the Status of Women (with representatives from 45 countries on a four year rotation). They meet annually to discuss policy recommendations. 

In 1975, Mexico city was the venue for the first World Conference on Women. During it's "decade of women" (1976-1985), the UN established many institutions to improve women's status (eg, International research and Training Institute, UN Development Fund, etc.). The UN General Assembly adopted the "Convention on the elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women" in 1979.

Then, several world conferences later, in 1995, two major documents were drafted at the World Conference on Women in Beijing - the "Beijing Declaration" and the "Beijing Platform for Action", upon which the UN General Assembly, in 2000, adopted further actions to implement (read speed-up/enforce) the Declaration and Platform which served as an Annex to the resolution. 

These documents, ostensibly the dull and boring background noise of resolutions, proposals and strategies which we are always hearing about, are quite significant.

During the Beijing Conference, a good deal of the discussion revolved around an attack on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Universal Declaration), particularly mothers and children (article 25), freedoms of thought, conscience and religion (article 18), marriage (article 16), and the family (article 16). Delegates (particularly European) at the conference tried very hard to remove any reference to "human dignity" and "mother" from the draft. Also, with regard to development, education (which leads to the use of contraception and lower birthrates) was generally omitted from the discussion in favour of (womens) reproductive rights, and poverty was explained as the inevitable result of male power (without reference to any other possible cause of poverty for women (or men): economic, social , political, etc).

This new attitude towards "Rights" stood upon several suppositions:
 - Rights are entitlements, without any corresponding duties or responsibilities;
 - People are self contained and autonomous, and their rights exist apart from any references to state, society or family;
 - New rights should be added specifically for women (which, obviously, makes them something "other" than Human Rights);

And the shift can be understood in several ways:
 - That the Universal Declaration uses "sexist" language and can be considered passè;
 - Or the understanding of Human Rights was simply expanded by conferring new ones on women; 
 - Or it is a conscious desire to change human rights. 

Up until this point, human rights were a catch-all, and the UN/CoE  concerned itself with rectifying identifiable wrongs (or specific issues, if you will) to ensure that Human Rights (under the UN charter) were upheld, particularly in relation to issues which affected women.  

However, the Declaration, Platform and Annex subtly changed that understanding, so that women's rights, where previously they had been perceived as lacking, (when weighed against the Universal Declaration) were now specifically identified in parallel with the Universal Declaration. 

Human Rights are, self evidently, universal (they apply to everybody), while women's rights, by definition, apply only to women. Now it is easily conceivable that these subtly redefined rights may conflict with the rights of others within the Universal Declaration, but that discussion never took place. (More on that later)

In line with this thinking, the CoE identified women as a group in need of particular protection in the 1990s and subsequently undertook a series of initiatives. In 2002, the CoE Recommendation Rec(2002)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states was adopted and a Europe-wide campaign ran from 2006-2008. The Parliamentary Assembly has since adopted a number of resolutions and recommendations calling for legally-binding standards on preventing, protecting against and prosecuting the most severe and widespread forms of gender-based violence (against women)
      - known as the 4 Ps: prevention, protection, prosecution, policy (you're going to be hearing that a lot .... snappy, isn't it?)

During this period and later, national studies and surveys were carried out to observe the extent of violence against women. The reports produced recommended harmonised legal standards to ensure the same level of protection everywhere in Europe. As a result, the Ministers of Justice of the Council of Europe member states began discussing the need to step up protection from domestic violence (against women), in particular intimate partner violence (against women).

On the back of that, it was decided by the CoE to create comprehensive standards to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. In December 2008, an expert group was set up by and within the Committee of Ministers with a mandate to prepare a draft convention in this field. This group, called the CAHVIO (Ad Hoc: committee for preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence), worked out a draft text. It finalised the draft of the Convention in December 2010.

This was the document presented for signing in Istanbul in May 2011.

Since then, many, many studies have been carried out to reinforce the need for the legislation, and over time, it received the required 10 (of 46) ratifications for enforcement.

To date, there have been no objections (ie. cause for debate) and so Ireland has the opportunity to take that brave step.

The reason that Ireland should take that step is that the overwhelming majority of research, data and reports presented to the public, to government and to the CoE, which led to the Istanbul Convention, is utterly unscientific.

Let me be clear. There is violence in our society, and we should seek to remedy that. Hard as it may be, the first thing to do is look at it and try to understand it. Looking at only half the problem will never solve it (and may actually make it worse) and most people are more interested in solutions than in political or ideological point-scoring. This scare mongering has gone on too long, creating a divisive society, where women live in fear and men have stopped caring. Children are being offered a future of hostility.

Ideologues manufacture this fear only so that they can offer protection ("give me more power, I will protect you") - but who will protect us from them ?

The foundation upon which the Istanbul Convention stands has no substance, and it must be torn down.

for the next while I will be examining the Istanbul Convention and suggesting ways that you can help to stop it.
by "stop it",  I mean in it's current form - the noble intent is admirable, but the assumptions are as deeply flawed as it's naivety.
if you are a supporter of the Istanbul convention, and you have read this far, then you are either curious or incensed. Either way, I encourage you to please reconsider what you are doing, and, if you feel like it, read through other posts on the Istanbul Convention - please allow that it is possible, just possible, that you may be mistaken in your beliefs.

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