Council of Europe 'alarmed' at Poland's plans to leave domestic violence treaty
The Council of Europe has said it is alarmed that Poland’s rightwing government is moving to withdraw from a landmark international treaty aimed at preventing violence against women.
Poland’s justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, said on Saturday that he would begin preparing the formal process to withdraw from the Istanbul convention on Monday. The treaty is the world’s first binding instrument to prevent and tackle violence against women, from marital rape to female genital mutilation.
A previous centrist Polish government signed the treaty in 2012 and it was ratified in 2015, when Ziobro called it “an invention, a feminist creation aimed at justifying gay ideology”.
The treaty was spearheaded by the Council of Europe, the continent’s oldest human rights organisation, and its secretary general, Marija Pejčinović Burić, condemned the rightwing Law and Justice party (PiS) government’s plan to withdraw.
“Leaving the Istanbul convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence in Europe,” she said in a statement on Sunday. “If there are any misconceptions or misunderstandings about the convention, we are ready to clarify them in a constructive dialogue.”
PiS and its coalition partners closely align themselves with the Catholic church and promote a conservative social agenda. Hostility to gay rights was one of the main issues promoted by the president, Andrzej Duda, during a successful re-election campaign this month.
About 2,000 people marched in Warsaw on Friday to protest against the government’s withdrawal plan. There was also outrage from several members of the European parliament, with Iratxe García Pérez, the Spanish leader of the Socialist group, calling the decision “disgraceful”.
“I stand with Polish citizens taking [to] the streets to demand respect for women’s rights,” she tweeted.
The leader of the EU parliament’s Renew Europe group, the former Romanian prime minister Dacian Cioloş, tweeted: “Using the fight against the Istanbul convention as an instrument to display its conservatism is a new pitiful and pathetic move by some within the PiS government.”
The Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt said the decision was “scandalous”, adding that “violence is not a traditional value”.
The Council of Europe emphasised that the Istanbul convention’s sole objective is to combat violence against women and domestic violence. The treaty does not explicitly mention same-sex marriage.
That has not stopped the backlash to it in Hungary and in Slovakia, where the parliament rejected the treaty, insisting, without proof, that it is at odds with the country’s constitutional definition of marriage as a heterosexual union.
The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, which is separate from the EU, has no binding powers but brings together 47 member states to make recommendations on rights and democracy.
European Union funding withheld from six Polish towns boasting abhorrently homophobic ‘LGBT-free zones’
Six towns in Poland that adopted ‘LGBT-free’ zones are facing financial consequences for their homophobic policies after the EU rejected their application for funding.
The towns, which all signed pledges opposing acts of tolerance towards the LGBT+ community, had applied to the EU’s town twinning programme.
Those included in the twinning network can seek to obtain grants of up to €150,000 through the partnership scheme, to be used on programs working towards equality and integration.
On Tuesday (July 28) the European Commission announced a list of beneficiaries who will receive the funds — and it won’t be the ‘LGBT-free’ zones.
“EU values and fundamental rights must be respected by member states and state authorities,” said EU Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli on Twitter.
“This is why six town twinning applications involving Polish authorities that adopted ‘LGBTI free zones’ or ‘family rights’ resolutions were rejected.”
While Dalli didn’t specify which towns had been rejected, it’s likely that they are to be found in the conservative southeast, where the majority of the LGBT-free zones are located.
In total these zones now cover around a third of Poland, although some are beginning to be annulled as the courts find them unconstitutional.
It’s possible that other areas could lose their funding too, as several towns across Europe have ended their twinning arrangements with their Polish counterparts.
The French town of Saint-Jean-de-Braye was the first to break its partnership with Tuchów in Poland, declaring that the relationship was now “tainted”.
“France is committed to combating human rights violations based on sexual orientation,” representatives said in a statement.
“We cannot accept that the ties that unite our two cities by a twinning oath be tainted. We condemn the position taken by our twin city of Tuchów.”
The EU has also threatened to cut pandemic recovery funds to the LGBT-free regions, with the commission pointedly asking anti-LGBT+ governors to confirm in writing exactly how the money would be used for “measures promoting equality and non-discrimination”.