If national and local authorities are doing their bit to tackle the problem of domestic violence, a sweeping supra-national convention is also in the works. It is the Council of Europe (COE) Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
It is, according to a COE spokesperson, the “most advanced” international treaty to tackle domestic violence ever. Johanna Nelles, Head of the Violence Against Women unit at the Directorate General on Human Rights and Rule of Law, concurs. ““This is the most comprehensive treaty and the only legally binding instrument in this area.”
The treaty has also been described as a future “gold standard” by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri. The treaty’s articles contain a wide range of policies and measures ranging from education to shelters, phone help lines and increased pressure to criminalise physical as well as psychological violence, including stalking.
The treaty almost had fewer teeth. Several amendments proposed by countries such as the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom or the Holy See aimed at limiting the scope and language of the measures. These amendments, including one excluding violence against lesbian, bisexual and transgender women from the treaty, were denounced by NGO Amnesty International.
Only three ratifications yet
Twenty six countries have signed the convention has been open for signature on May 11th, 2011 in Istanbul. However, among those, only three have had their national parliaments ratify the treaty: Turkey was the first to sign it and ratify it. Albania and Portugal ratified it in February 2013.
It takes ten ratifications, including eight Member States’, for the treaty to come into force. It will then be legally binding for the signatories.
Despite a mere three ratifications in almost 24 months, the COE is confident to see the convention come to life soon. “By our standards, it is not a delay. We know that some countries, 8 or 9, are officially planning to ratify it in the coming months,” Nelles says.
The treaty to come into force in early 2014
According to Nelles, France, Austria, Finland, Germany and Greece are committed to submit a ratification bill to their national parliament in 2013. More countries, like Belgium, Norway, Georgia or Sweden, are also working on it but have yet to commit to a time table. “Switzerland will sign it in the next 6 months” the Head of the Violence Against Women unit adds.
Ratification is a long and complex process, she argues. “The treaty has over 80 articles of technical legislation” that requires expert translations and intra-governmental discussions between several ministries assessing legal implications. Then, each government has to draft a ratification bill to submit to parliament and to get resources for policies planned in the treaty such as introducing a help line.
“For instance, in Switzerland, ratifying an international treaty is a process with 8 to 10 steps, involving both the federal and provincial level and can take up to four years, Nelles explains. Fluctuating political will, changes in ruling majorities, as well as elections, the ongoing economic crisis and the sheer scope of this convention can also lengthen the process.
There is a 3 month buffer period, a standard procedure, planned in the law between the moment the required number of signatories is reached and the moment the treaty comes into force. But the COE looks forward, not back. “Soon, a good two thirds of our Member States wil have signed the convention,” Nelles says, who expects it to come into force as early as the beginning of 2014. Early 2014, she says, would show “a smooth process” overall.