Opinion: Review of the Full Text of the Istanbul Convention – Part 1

A full review of the Istanbul Convention will be performed in order to prove what is supported and what is not supported by its contents.

Even though the ratification of the Istanbul Convention has been refused by the Bulgarian government, the topic is still hot in the public space. Some people claim that the Convention offers back doors to the definition of third-gender and similar ideas which could be detrimental to the typical Bulgarian way of life. On the other hand, prominent politicians and public figures claim that such statements are a product of mythologizing or simple misunderstanding of the Convention’s text. According to them, the said convention works only in favour of the protection of women and children. In order to clear this matter, a full review of the Istanbul Convention will be performed.

Below you can find the introduction to this series:

Opinion: Introduction to Bulgaria’s Engineered Political Downfall through the Istanbul Convention

 For the purposes of the article, the English version of the text will be used, as it has been provided on the site of the Council of Europe. This is done in order to avoid any mistakes and improper translations which may have appeared in the Bulgarian version. Also, a few statements from the previous article dedicated to the Istanbul Convention will be added, in order to grant first-time readers a full scope on the progress of the topic. The review of the document is done in direct relation to Bulgaria’s Constitution and currently active laws, and it may partially apply to countries with a similar law.

The preamble of the Istanbul Convention holds a few notions, which should be brought to light, before the reviewing of the document’s body. As it was mentioned in the previous article, the document’s introduction may lead the reader to the notion that women, in the reader’s society, are a marginalized and oppressed group, which has been exposed to humiliating and hurtful practices solely based on their sex.

This excerpt is a good example of the said idea “Recognising that the realisation of de jure and de facto equality between women and men is a key element in the prevention of violence against women”. It is suggested, that the reason for the violence against women is a product of the inequality between the two sexes, on the other hand, if your country has a problem with violence against women, it also has a problem with inequality. This pre-disposition of the reader to the said notion has been debunked through a review of the Bulgarian constitution and current laws.

Another problem with the document’s preface is that it may lead the reader into believing that women are the prime target of domestic abuse. The excerpt “Recognising that domestic violence affects women disproportionately and that men may also be victims of domestic violence;” claims a disproportion based on sex, but in Bulgaria, women constitute 75 percent of the domestic abuse cases. This means that for every three women abused, there stands one man. Of course, the difference between the two points is staggering, but still, 25 percent is not a miniscule amount of abused men. This makes the “men may also be victims…” part redundant, as they factually are subjugated to domestic violence.

Besides that, the statistic covers primarily cases of physical abuse. Keeping statistics on psychological abuse is hard since there is no physical evidence of it. It is possible that in the case of psychological violence, the proportions of domestic abuse will be different. The biggest issue within the introductory part of the Convention is that it often refers to “gender-based violence”, where, a few lines later, the document gives a strict definition of “gender” and “sex” describing them as fundamentally different elements of society. Which contradicts one of the major points of the defenders of the Istanbul Convention who claim that the document does not make such a distinction and that any notion of such is just the product of failed translation, due to the lack of a Bulgarian equivalent of the word “gender” (as stated in the document).

Now, the body of the document will be reviewed and lines which may be deemed controversial will be examined. Article 1 Paragraph 1 B: “Contribute to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and promote substantive equality between women and men, including by empowering women”. As it was already stated, Bulgaria has functioning laws, which ensure the equality of all its citizens. In this case, by “empowering women”, the Convention will be in direct conflict with the Bulgarian constitution, as it will grant privileges to a group of citizens, based solely on their sex.

Article1, Paragraph 1 E: “Provide support and assistance to organisations and law enforcement agencies to effectively cooperate in order to adopt an integrated approach to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence.” This is another big problem with the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, something which was pointed out by Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev. This law will allow NGO’s to directly influence Bulgarian law, bypassing the citizenry. Such power cannot be given to any organization which is not under direct government control because the Constitution of Bulgaria states that “All power comes from the citizens of the country”. Giving the power to affect laws, to a small group of people with direct agenda, may compromise the security and well-being of all other citizens.

Article 2 defines the scope of the Convention, in other words, when it should be applied. Article 2 Paragraph 1: “This Convention shall apply to all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, which affects women disproportionately.” This paragraph is redundant, as the disproportion has already been mentioned and second, this statement has no place in an article defining the scope of the Convention. The statement that it applies to all forms of violence is more than enough, as it includes domestic, sexual, work-related and any other violence. The only result of mentioning the disproportionality is emotional affect, over empiric fact. Article 2 Paragraph 2 “Parties are encouraged to apply this Convention to all victims of domestic violence. Parties shall pay particular attention to women victims of gender ‐ based violence in implementing the provisions of this Convention.” Confers a mention of “gender-based” violence instead of “sex-based” violence, or just “violence against women”. This can be used as a backdoor in “gender” related cases. No further explanation of “gender-based” violence references will be made, as it will be just repetition of the same fact.

Article 3 holds definitions, which are used for a clearer understanding of the document and its purposes. Article 3 C presents the full definition of “gender”: “gender” shall mean the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men” which defines gender as a social construct and not a biological fact. Thus all “gender-based” crimes may be read as crimes against people who identify as such, instead of people who biologically are men or women.

Article 4 covers part of the actions which a country should take in order to protect people under the authority of the Istanbul Convention and gives a list of the people, which fall under the document’s jurisdiction. Article 4 Paragraph 2: “Parties condemn all forms of discrimination against women and take, without delay, the necessary legislative and other measures to prevent it, in particular by: ”Embodying in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation the principle of equality between women and men and ensuring the practical realisation of this principle; prohibiting discrimination against women, including through the use of sanctions, where appropriate; abolishing laws and practices which discriminate against women.” The Bulgarian constitution and all functioning laws do not differentiate between a man and a woman, the same laws, rules, and freedoms are granted to all citizens regardless of their sex.

An exclusion from this statement is the law for Protection from Domestic Violence, as it excludes men as possible victims in its text. Article 4 Paragraph 3 “The implementation of the provisions of this Convention by the Parties, in particular measures to protect the rights of victims, shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, gender… gender identity… refugee status, or other status.”. This paragraph contains both “gender” and “gender identity”, thus admitting them as fact and possibilities. Especially the “gender identity” part, which misses a direct definition in Article 3 and can be freely interpreted and misused.

Another big problem with this paragraph is the addition of “other status”. Many opponents of the ratification of the Convention have stated that this gives an open door for adding an infinite amount of “statutes” under the jurisdiction of the document, which practically gives it an infinite scope and directly separates the document from its purpose of protecting one exact group of people – women and children. Article 4 Paragraph 4 states: “Special measures that are necessary to prevent and protect women from gender-based violence shall not be considered discrimination under the terms of this Convention.”. In other words, it says that special rules will apply to a certain group of people. They will not apply to another group of people who have suffered the same crime, based solely on their sex, but this will not be regarded as a form of discrimination, even though constitutionally, women in Bulgaria have the exact same rights as men. In shorter form, the people protected under the Istanbul Convention will be granted privileges at the expense of the excluded citizenry.

Article 5 covers the state obligations, actions and preventative measures which must be taken. Article 5 Paragraph 2: “Parties shall take the necessary legislative and other measures to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish and provide reparation for acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention that is perpetrated by non ‐ State actors.”. This part excludes the “violence against women” part and replaces it with “all acts covered by the convention”. This includes “gender-based” crimes, which means that the state must punish people for acts such as using wrong pronouns to refer to a person, or claiming that empiric proof holds higher ground in the manner of gender identification to personal preference. Such events are already taking place in countries, which are actively working towards the ratification of the document. More information on the matter can be found at LINK 1 and LINK2.

Article 6 is named “Gender Sensitive Policies”. It contains a single, unnumbered paragraph: “Parties shall undertake to include a gender perspective in the implementation and evaluation of the impact of the provisions of this Convention and to promote and effectively implement policies of equality between women and men and the empowerment of women.” This prolonged sentence shares a few notions. First, “gender” should be taken into consideration while enforcing the Convention’s policies. The implementation of these policies will create equality between men and women, a social state which already exists in Bulgaria. As a note – “gender” should be considered by the definition of the Convention, which is the sole reason definitions are added to any legal document.

This concludes the first part of the review of the Istanbul Convention. The article will be separated into different parts, as to provide ease in the reading of such a prolonged work. Through the current analysis of the Istanbul Convention, certain facts can be stated. First is that the Convention does offer a definition of “gender” and it does promote the “gender movement” as a legitimate lifestyle in member countries, by explicitly adding it to its scope. Based on “gender”, the document offers mechanisms to supply privileges to certain groups of people, without it being considered a form of discrimination. The Constitution of Bulgaria, Article 5 Paragraph 4 states that all international conventions signed will hold power in conflicts between local law and the convention’s text.

This means that through ratifying the Convention, sex-based discrimination will be made not only possible but completely legal. And the “other status” part of the document means that these special rights could be granted to a near-infinite amount of groups, while still excluding certain parts of society. To add insult to injury, NGO’s will be granted direct influence over the forging of new laws related to the scope of the Convention, which will severely endanger the country’s political independence.

None of the statements in this article should be considered a “clean truth”. Readers are encouraged to check all facts and opinions supplied within this article, compared them with other related materials, with the source material and most importantly, with their own system of moral values.

(Picture taken from: coe.int)

Bozhidar Lazarov

Bozhidar Lazarov is a freelance writer, hobbyist programmer and an aspired novelist. Feel free to follow him on https://www.minds.com/seriousways for his latest articles and personal projects.

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