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How has the Venice Commission responded to the Istanbul Convention?

The Venice Commission on October 11 issued an opinion on the impact of ratification of the Istanbul Convention from the point of view of the RA Constitution.

 

Let us remind that at the end of July of this year the Minister of Justice of Armenia Rustam Badasyan applied to the Venice Commission for an official opinion on the constitutional consequences of ratification of the Istanbul Convention. By doing so, the Government of Armenia has attempted to dispel concerns raised by the public about the Convention.

 

The Venice Commission has concluded that it is the task of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Armenia to determine whether the Istanbul Convention complies with the country’s constitution. But according to the Commission’s assessment, there is no provision in the Istanbul Convention that contradicts the Constitution of Armenia. The Convention’s main obligation is to prevent and combat violence against women, domestic violence stemming from the RA Constitution and other human rights treaties to which Armenia has acceded.

 

Contrary to claims that the Istanbul Convention is not needed, the Venice Commission has emphasized that domestic violence is widespread in all European countries, including Armenia, and that ratification of the Convention will be of great benefit to those affected. The Convention pays special attention to the issue of violence against women and provides a special monitoring mechanism, something that the existing tools do not have. By ratifying this international instrument, the authorities are sending a strong signal that they are serious about resolving this issue.

 

The Constitution of Armenia guarantees the equality of men and women and provides for its promotion. The abolition of violence against women and its measures are fully in line with this constitutional regulation.

 

In its opinion, the Committee referred to the terms “gender”, “gender identity”, “sexual orientation”, “family” and “marriage”.

 

In particular, responding to concerns that the Istanbul Convention is a “Trojan horse” for so-called gender ideology, which seeks to completely change the national culture of states and force them to deny biological differences between men and women, the Venice Commission the difference between sex ‘as a biological reality and’ gender ‘as a social reality. “Social” is by no means a substitute for biological, “says the Venice Commission.

 

It is stated that the Istanbul Convention does not require States Parties to take steps to recognize persons of different categories or to grant special status on the basis of their gender identity.

 

It simply confirms that gender identity is one of the prohibited grounds for discrimination. This means that one should not be deprived of protection or the status of a victim because of their gender identity. “This approach seems to be fully compatible with the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia concerning general equality before the law and the prohibition of discrimination. The same goes for sexual orientation. The Istanbul Convention only addresses this issue in the light of excluding discriminatory attitudes.

 

As for the claims that the Istanbul Convention will create new obligations in terms of shelters legislation, the Venice Commission explains that ratification of the Istanbul Convention does not mean that all women are automatically entitled to refugee status. The Convention simply recognizes that women may be subject to certain forms of persecution that endanger their lives.

 

In addition, the Istanbul Convention does not interfere with the right of parents to raise their children; it simply encourages states to include in school curricula materials to combat domestic violence, while leaving it up to them to decide how to do so.

 

Referring to concerns that expert reports would lead to breach of confidentiality, the commission notes that the Istanbul Convention does not imply professional secrecy. The Convention does not provide for mandatory reporting.

 

The Venice Commission hopes that this legal analysis can assist the Constitutional Court of Armenia in its task of deciding whether the Istanbul Convention is constitutional and to facilitate public debate on the ratification of the Convention.

 

“Constitutional review of the Convention is ultimately a matter for the RA Constitutional Court”

 

Secretary General of the Council of Europe Maria Pecinovic Buric spoke about the ratification of the Convention by Armenia at the Venice Commission sitting. She recalled that while serving as Croatian Foreign Minister and then Deputy Prime Minister, she sought to ensure that his country’s parliament ratified the Convention.

 

The process in Armenia is not over yet and the constitutionality of the treaty is ultimately a matter for the Constitutional Court. So I do not want to comment on the opinion of the Venice Commission. However, from my experience I know the importance of impartial legal understanding on this subject, ”she said, expressing confidence that the Venice Commission had made a wise decision.

 

Maria Buric said that as the number of member states increased, the authority of the structure also increased, detailing that over 30 years the number of member states rose from 18 to 62, including all 47 Council of Europe member states and 15 from around the world.

 

It should be reminded that the Venice Commission, officially the European Commission for Democracy through Law, is a consultative body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law. Because the plenary sessions of the commission are held in Venice (Italy), it is often referred to as the Venice Commission.

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