Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence

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Istanbul convention
Signed11 May 2011
Effective1 August 2014
Condition10 ratifications of which 8 from Council of Europe members
Signatories46 + EU
DepositarySecretary General of the Council of Europe
CitationsCETS No. 210
LanguagesEnglish and French

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (also known as the Istanbul Convention) is a Council of Europe convention against violence against women and domestic violence which was opened for signature on 11 May 2011, in Istanbul, Turkey. The convention aims at prevention of violence, victim protection and "to end with the impunity of perpetrators".[1] As of March 2019, it has been signed by 46 countries and the European Union.[1] On 12 March 2012, Turkey became the first country to ratify the Convention, followed by 33 other countries from 2013 to 2019 (Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece,[2] Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland).[1] The Convention came into force on 1 August 2014.[1]


The Council of Europe has undertaken a series of initiatives to promote the protection of women against violence since the 1990s. In particular, these initiatives have resulted in the adoption, in 2002, of the Council of Europe Recommendation Rec(2002)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of women against violence,[3] and the running of a Europe-wide campaign, from 2006-2008, to combat violence against women, including domestic violence.[4] The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has also taken a firm political stance against all forms of violence against women. It has 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.

National reports, studies and surveys revealed the magnitude of the problem in Europe.[citation needed] The campaign in particular showed a large variation in Europe of national responses to violence against women and domestic violence. Thus the need for harmonised legal standards to ensure that victims benefit from the same level of protection everywhere in Europe became apparent. The Ministers of Justice of Council of Europe member states began discussing the need to step up protection from domestic violence, in particular intimate partner violence.

The Council of Europe decided it was necessary to set comprehensive standards to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. In December 2008, the Committee of Ministers set up an expert group mandated to prepare a draft convention in this field. Over the course of just over two years, this group, called the CAHVIO (Ad Hoc Committee for preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence),[5] worked out a draft text. During the later stage of drafting of the convention, UK, Italy, Russia, and the Holy See proposed several amendments to limit the requirements provided by the Convention. These amendments were criticized by Amnesty International.[6] The final draft of the convention was produced in December 2010.

Adoption, signature and ratification[edit]

The convention was adopted by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on 7 April 2011. It opened for signature on 11 May 2011 on the occasion of the 121st Session of the Committee of Ministers in Istanbul. It entered into force following 10 ratifications, eight of which were required to be member states of the Council of Europe. As of December 2015, the convention was signed by 39 states, followed by ratification of the minimum eight Council of Europe states: Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, and Turkey. Later that year it was ratified by Andorra, Denmark, France, Malta, Monaco, Spain, and Sweden. In 2015 it was ratified also by Slovenia, Finland, Poland and the Netherlands, and in 2016 by San Marino, Belgium and Romania; in 2017 by Georgia, Norway, Germany, Estonia, Cyprus and Switzerland, in 2018 by Croatia, Macedonia, Iceland, Greece and Luxembourg, and in 2019 by Republic of Ireland.[2] On 13 June 2017, European Commissioner Věra Jourová (Gender Equality) signed the Istanbul Convention on behalf of the European Union.[7] States that have ratified the Convention are legally bound by its provisions once it enters into force.

Bulgarian opposition to ratification[edit]

Protest Against the Istanbul Convention in Sofia.

In January 2018, the Council of Ministers of Bulgaria adopted a proposal to the Parliament to ratify the convention. The decision was quickly condemned by some government ministers, members of parliament, media groups and civic organisations, who suggested that the convention would eventually lead to a formal recognition of a third gender and same-sex marriage.[8] After widespread backlash, the third Borisov Government postponed the ratification and transferred the decision to the Constitutional Court, which would rule whether it would be legal.[9] President Rumen Radev, an opponent of the ratification, hailed the postponement as a "triumph of common sense", stating that the convention is ambiguous and that domestic violence can only be addressed by adequate Bulgarian laws and improved law enforcement.[10]

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov cited the isolation of his GERB party, which was not supported even by its coalition partner, the far-right United Patriots. Borisov expressed surprise that the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) was firmly against the convention as well, and suggested that the Socialists are opposing the European Union altogether.[11] The BSP declared itself firmly against the convention, causing a rift between the Party of European Socialists and the BSP's new political line under Korneliya Ninova.[12] According to the Socialists' "Vision for Bulgaria" programme, the convention is "not meant to protect women. The convention is against fundamental values of European civilisation".[13]

On 27 July 2018 the Constitutional Court pronounced Resolution No 13 on Constitutional Case No. 3/2018 stating that "the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, does not comply with the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria". In its decision, the Court identified a relation between previous Council of Europe documents against domestic violence and the expansion of transgender rights. According to the Constitutional Court, the convention offers a binary interpretation of gender as both a biological and social category, which contradicts the constitution of Bulgaria, where humans are irrevocably defined as biologically male or female, with equal standing as citizens. The convention therefore lays formal ground to promote non-biological definitions of gender, which are deemed unconstitutional.[14]

Main provisions[edit]

The Istanbul Convention is the first legally-binding instrument which "creates a comprehensive legal framework and approach to combat violence against women" and is focussed on preventing domestic violence, protecting victims and prosecuting accused offenders.[15]

It characterizes violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination (Art.3(a)). Countries should exercise due diligence when preventing violence, protecting victims and prosecuting perpetrators (Art. 5). The Convention also contains a definition of gender: for the purpose of the Convention gender is defined in Article 3(c) as "the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men". Moreover, the treaty establishes a series of offences characterized as violence against women. States which ratify the Convention must criminalize several offences, including: psychological violence (Art.33); stalking (Art.34); physical violence (Art.35); sexual violence, including rape, explicitly covering all engagement in non-consensual acts of a sexual nature with a person (Art.36), forced marriage (Art.37); female genital mutilation (Art.38), forced abortion and forced sterilisation (Art.39). The Convention states that sexual harassment must be subject to "criminal or other legal sanction" (Art. 40). The Convention also includes an article targeting crimes committed in the name of so-called "honour" (Art. 42).[1]

Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence[edit]

The convention mandates an independent expert body, the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), with monitoring the implementation of the convention. Its members are elected by the state parties; depending on the number of state parties the body consists of between ten and fifteen members.[16]

The first ten members were elected in 2014: President Feride Acar (Turkey), First Vice-President Marceline Naudi (Malta), Second Vice-President Simona Lanzoni (Italy), and members Biljana Brankovic (Serbia), Françoise Brie (France), Gemma Gallego (Spain), Helena Leitao (Portugal), Rosa Logar (Austria), Iris Luarasi (Albania) and Vesna Ratkovic (Montenegro).[17]

Five additional members were elected in 2018: Per Arne Håkansson (Sweden), Sabine Kräuter-Stockton (Germany), Vladimer Mkervalishvili (Georgia), Rachel Eapen Paul (Norway) and Aleid van den Brink (Netherlands).[18]


The convention contains 81 articles separated into 12 chapters. Its structure follows the structure of the Council of Europe’s most recent conventions.[citation needed] The structure of the instrument is based on the “four Ps”: Prevention, Protection and support of victims, Prosecution of offenders and Integrated Policies. Each area foresees a series of specific measures.[19] The Convention also establishes obligations in relation to the collection of data and supporting research in the field of violence against women (Art. 11).

At the Preamble, European Convention on Human Rights, European Social Charter and Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings as well as international human rights treaties by United Nations and Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court are recalled. In Article 2, this Convention indicates that the provisions shall apply in time of peace and also in situations of armed conflicts in violence against women and domestic violence. Article 3 provides defines key terms:

  • "violence against women" is "violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women and shall mean all acts of gender-based violation that result in, or are likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological, or economic harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life",
  • "domestic violence": "all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur with 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": means "the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men."
  • "gender-based violence against women": means "violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately."

Article 4 prohibits several types of discrimination stating: The implementation of the provisions of this Convention by the Parties, in particular measure to protect the rights of victims, shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, gender, race, colour, language political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, state of health, disability, marital status, migrant or refugee status, or other status.

Accusations of public manipulation against the Convention[edit]

Supporters of the Convention have accused its (often socially conservative) opponents of misrepresenting the scope of the Convention in order to manipulate public opinion against the Convention. In a press release in November 2018, the Council of Europe stated that "Despite its clearly stated aims, several religious and ultra conservative groups have been spreading false narratives about the Istanbul Convention". The release stated that the convention does not seek to impose a certain lifestyle or interfere with personal organization of private life; instead it only seeks to prevent violence against women and domestic violence. The release states that "the convention is certainly not about ending sexual differences between women and men. Nowhere does the convention ever imply that women and men are or should be “the same”" and that "the convention does not seek to regulate family life and/or family structures: it neither contains a definition of “family” nor does it promote a particular type of family setting."[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Full list: Chart of signatures and ratifications of Treaty 210". Council of Europe.
  2. ^ a b "Publication to the Government Gazette of the ratification, by Greece, of the CoE Convention on violence against women and domestic violence (Original: Δημοσίευση σε ΦΕΚ του Ν.4531/2018 για την κύρωση από την Ελλάδα της Σύμβασης του Σ.τ.Ε. περί έμφυλης και ενδοοικογενειακής βίας)". 16 April 2018. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  3. ^ "Recommendation Rec(2002)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of women against violence". Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  4. ^ "Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including domestic violence (2006-2008)". Council of Europe. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  5. ^ "Ad Hoc Committee on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CAHVIO)". Council of Europe. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  6. ^ "Time to take a stand to oppose violence against women in Europe". Amnesty International. 2011. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  7. ^ "EU signs the Istanbul Convention". European Institute for Gender Equality. 16 June 2017. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  8. ^ "Is the Istanbul Convention harmful for Bulgarian society?". Bulgarian National Radio. 11 January 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  9. ^ "Constitutional Court formulates legal case regarding Istanbul convention". OffNews. 20 March 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  10. ^ "Rumen Radev opposes the Istanbul convention". 1 February 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  11. ^ "GERB withdraws Istanbul convention, will not "take the negatives alone"". Dnevnik. 14 February 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  12. ^ "Following BSP's action against Istanbul convention, PES will examine domestic violence in Bulgaria". Dnevnik. 17 July 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  13. ^ "BSP at the eurovote - "No" to Istanbul convention, migration pact and sanctions against Russia"". Kapital Daily. 12 January 2019. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  14. ^ "The complete decision of the Constitutional Court on the Istanbul convention". 24 Chasa. 27 July 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  15. ^ "Malta signs convention on domestic violence". Malta Star. 21 May 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  16. ^ About GREVIO – Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Council of Europe.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Five additional members joining GREVIO. Council of Europe.
  19. ^ "Ad Hoc Committee on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CAHVIO) interim report" (PDF). Council of Europe. 27 May 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  20. ^ "Ending misconceptions about the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence" (Press release). Council of Europe. 22 November 2018. Retrieved February 21, 2019.

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