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Istanbul Convention a major step towards protecting women in Ireland

02 Jul 2019 / HUMAN RIGHTS Print

Istanbul Convention a major step towards protecting women in Ireland

The Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence entered into force on 1 July. 

The Government signed the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (known as the Istanbul Convention) in November 2015, but it has taken over three years to put the legislative framework in place to enable ratification.

The convention is a significant, international, legal instrument in combatting domestic and sexual violence. Its purposes are to protect women from all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence. 

It also aims to ensure the design of a comprehensive framework, policies and measures for the protection of and assistance to all victims of such violence.

Key commitment

Commenting on the milestone, the Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said: “Protecting and supporting victims has been a key priority for this Government. Domestic and sexual violence are pernicious and widespread evils, affecting all social classes and genders. The entry into force of the Istanbul Convention sends an important message that Ireland will not tolerate violence against women and domestic violence. It is further proof of our commitment to protecting and supporting victims of this violence.”

The convention was ratified by Ireland on International Women’s Day (8 March) this year. In line with article 76 of the convention, the convention comes into force for Ireland on the first day of the month after a three-month expiry date once the instrument of ratification has been deposited. 

Obligations

The convention includes 72 actions that oblige signatory states to: 

  • Protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence, 
  • Ensure the design of a comprehensive framework, policies and measures for the protection of and assistance to all victims of violence against women and domestic violence, 
  • Promote international co-operation with a view to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence, 
  • Provide support and assistance to organisations and law enforcement agencies to effectively co-operate in order to adopt an integrated approach to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence, and
  • Contribute to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and promote substantive equality between women and men, including by empowering women. 

Monitoring

Ratifying the convention means that Ireland will be subject to international monitoring. 

The Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) is the independent expert body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Istanbul Convention.

It will draw up and publish reports evaluating legislative and other measures taken by Ireland to give effect to the provisions of the convention. 

In cases where action is required to prevent a serious, massive or persistent pattern of any acts of violence covered by the convention, GREVIO may initiate a special inquiry procedure. It may also adopt, where appropriate, general recommendations on themes and concepts of the convention. 

What it means

What this means in practice is that the Gardaí will have to respond to calls for help, collect evidence, and assess the risk of further violence to adequately protect victims. 

Judicial proceedings will have to be carried out in a manner that respects the rights of victims at all stages of the proceedings, and that avoid secondary victimisation.

In addition, the State will have to account for how it progresses and implements the convention by setting up a monitoring system. 

Recommendations

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has set out its recommendations for key priority actions from the State in relation to the convention. 

It says that it will actively participate in monitoring the implementation of the convention in Ireland. In addition, it will independently report to GREVIO on Ireland’s progress in meeting the aims of the convention.

IHREC has set out its priority areas for policy and legislative action so that Ireland can meet its obligations under the Istanbul Convention, stating that:

  • Data collection and reporting mechanisms on violence against women are currently lacking and must be made more robust if the State is to understand the nature and scale of the issue.
  • Focus is required on combatting violence against specific groups of women, including those with disabilities, those from Traveller and Roma communities, in institutional settings, and LGBTI+.
  • The State is required to develop gender-sensitive asylum and reception procedures and support services for asylum seekers – overall the protection of women from violence should be central to immigration reform. 
  • Access to specialist support services must be improved. Recent reports indicate that Ireland has less than one-third of the number of domestic violence refuges required under EU standards -- nine counties have no refuges. Services for victims must receive sustainable funding to meet diverse needs, including for those with disabilities, and those who need interpretation.
  • Access to justice for victims must be prioritised through training for Gardaí and prosecutors. Changes are required in the courts to ensure victims and children’s rights are protected during proceedings.
  • Promotion of gender equality – while the recent State awareness campaign on sexual violence and harassment is welcome, specific groups should be targeted for information, including women and girls with disabilities. 
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