Czech Senate committee rejects ratification of Istanbul Convention

Opponents slammed the treaty for being 'an ideological document' offering no practical help for victims of domestic violence. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 22.08.2023 15:23:00 (updated on 22.08.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

The Czech Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, part of the government's upper house, has withheld its support for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention – a multifaceted accord that addresses domestic gender-based and domestic violence. 

The Istanbul Convention – officially titled the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence – condemns various forms of violence including domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, forced marriages, honor crimes, and genital mutilation. It underscores the disproportionate impact of domestic and sexual violence on women.

No need for convention, some say

Conservative politicians argue that domestic violence penalties are already enshrined in Czech law. Among the 11 committee members present, only four voiced their approval of its ratification.

The Senate's constitutional-legal committee upheld the view that the convention is "an ideological document that will not help victims of domestic violence on a practical level." Critics of the convention also expressed concerns about the funding of non-profit organizations. The committee supported the Ministry of Justice's efforts to bolster protections for victims of domestic violence and criminal activities domestically.

Earlier in July, the constitutional-legal committee of the Senate labeled the convention as an ideological document, leading to its rejection. The Senate is expected to deliberate on the matter during one of its upcoming autumn sessions. 

The convention was signed by the Czech Republic in 2016. However, successive postponements by prior governments have delayed its ratification. 

This has left the Czech Republic among the few EU countries yet to adopt the convention. While a majority of member states in the bloc supported the convention in June this year, Bulgaria and Hungary rejected its ratification, and Slovakia has not yet started the process. Turkey, on the other hand, withdrew from the convention back in 2021.

A divide in public discourse

The convention has elicited strong emotions within Czech society, eliciting opposition from conservative groups and seven Christian church organizations. Women's rights groups assert that disinformation campaigns from certain associations and individuals are attempting to tarnish the convention's reputation. 

Advocates believe that the convention could enhance victim assistance and symbolize the Czech Republic's stance against violence. Detractors, however, criticize its perceived favoritism towards women, and the convention’s potential to change international and social relations. They also say that the treaty would unnecessarily make Czechia act beyond its legal scope by intervening in other countries’ affairs.

Signatory states to the convention commit to enacting measures to counter violence, prevent it, and allocate resources for services. These include training for health workers, police officers, and judges, as well as the establishment of centers for victims of sexual violence. The convention also emphasizes involving men and boys in prevention efforts via education and reformation-based programs.

Two months ago, the Czech Chamber of Deputies greenlighted the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. This must now be approved by a simple majority in the Senate, which President Petr Pavel must sign thereafter. According to a recent poll by iRozhlas, 10 out of 18 members of the Senate would vote for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

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