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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

Domestic Violence, Lithuania, and the Istanbul Convention

Article by: Eugenijus Krikščiūnas

This article was published as part of a collaboration with the Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science.

What is the Istanbul Convention?

The Istanbul Convention (in full: The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence) states that signatory states must prevent violence, protect victims, and punish perpetrators. In particular, the convention unambiguously states that violence against women, especially domestic violence, shall no longer be considered a private matter. It is not only a legal obligation but also a signal to society that violence against women and domestic violence are unacceptable.

The Convention applies mainly to women because it deals with female-specific violence or violence that women experience more frequently than men. However, countries are encouraged to apply the provisions to all victims of domestic violence, including men, children, and older persons.

Signing the Convention

Lithuania signed the Istanbul Convention on 7th June 2013. However, concerns about its compliance with the country’s constitution, its approach to gender, and the requirement to amend Lithuania’s educational curriculum were raised by the government, the clergy, and parts of society. Consequently, ratification did not come to fruition at the time. During the second (November 2016) and third (January 2022) cycles of the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Lithuania received a recommendation to ratify the Istanbul Convention. The country has accepted it, yet the document has still not been ratified as of the beginning of 2024.

Contradicting Polls

Throughout the decade of delayed ratification, the Istanbul Convention is has been a widely politicized topic in Lithuania. Policymakers and public figures alike have put forward contrasting arguments, making it challenging to understand the actual views of the population. For example, an April 2021 public poll revealed that 22.1% favored ratifying the Convention, while 48.8% said they were “against it” or “rather against it”. Meanwhile, a survey conducted in May of the same year showed that 56.2% of respondents would “favor” or “likely favor” ratification, whereas 26.4% would be “more likely” or “strongly” against it. A key difference between the surveys was that in the latter the Convention was referred to by its full name rather than the Istanbul Convention.

Interest Groups

The main groups within Lithuania in support of ratifying the Istanbul Convention are NGOs concerned on social and human rights issues. For example, Juratė Juškaitė, director of the Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights, has repeatedly attempted to inform the public about the Istanbul Convention. In one of her articles, she reflected on what she considers the true meaning and idea of this document. Periodically, there have also been petitions and protests in favor of ratification. Meanwhile, resistance to ratification comes mainly from the conservative and religious side of the public and politics. This is visible not only in the debates of policymakers but also in the statements of the leaders of Lithuania’s six traditional Christian communities – Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Old Believers, Lutheran, Reformed, and Greek Catholic – who signed a joint appeal expressing their opposition to the Convention.

Unfavorable Political Environment

Between 2016 and 2020, the country was led by a ruling coalition of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU) and the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party. In 2018, then Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė submitted the Istanbul Convention to Parliament (the Seimas) for ratification. Viktoras Pranckietis, a member of the LFGU and the Speaker of the Seimas at the time, stated that the Istanbul Convention will not be ratified because some of its principles are incompatible with the Party’s program. An identical position has been repeatedly expressed by Ramūnas Karbauskis, chairman of LFGU. Thus, the political climate for the ratification of the Convention at the time too hostile for ratification.

A New Election, A Prospect for Ratification?

The 2020 elections raised expectations for ratification when Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the Liberals’ Movement, and the Freedom Party formed a coalition. The Freedom Party’s program stated: “Lithuania must be at the forefront of the EU member states (…) and commit to the implementation of important international conventions launched by the EU (such as the Istanbul Convention on Violence against Women).” However, according to Ieva Pakarklytė, a member of the Freedom Party, the Convention had never been at the top of the Party’s to-do list. At the same time, the parties making up the ruling coalition had diverging views on its ratification.

Legal Alternatives

Despite debates over the Istanbul Convention, some changes have been made to the legal framework reflecting the issues raised by the Convention. In 2022, a Protection Order was adopted to ensure an increase in practical assistance to victims. In addition to higher sentences for abusers, one of the main provisions of the law was that within 12 hours of reporting domestic violence, a police officer can impose an ‘Order’ on a violent person. The initiator of this law, Monika Navickienė, Minister of Social Security and Labor, admitted that the Order does not replace the Istanbul Convention since the Convention is a political decision that will depend on the members of the Seimas.

The Domestic Violence Protection Order can be seen as a middle ground. There was an attempt to include gender-based violence in the law during the draft, but this proposal was rejected. This new legislative revision has been criticized by interest groups aiming for ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Notably, Jūratė Juškaitė stressed that the Istanbul Convention includes not only the notion of gender-based violence and the protection of victims of violence but also public education about violence.

Future Prospects

2024 marks the eleventh year since Lithuania signed the Istanbul Convention but did not ratify it. Until now, Ukraine had waited the longest for ratification – they signed the Convention in 2011 and ratified it in 2022. In the middle of March 2024, Lithuania’s Constitutional Court declared the Istanbul Convention does not contradict the country’s constitution. In October 2024, the country will hold several elections, including a new parliament which could place the issue back on the table.

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