Credit: Senate CR.

Czech Senate Rejects Istanbul Convention Against Gender Violence

The Czech Senate last night narrowly rejected the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention, as only 34 of the 71 senators present voted in favour, two short of the votes required for adoption.

The approval was preceded by almost seven hours of debate, which saw clashes between supporters and opponents of the Convention.

The Czech Republic will thus be among the minority of countries that have signed but not ratified the Istanbul Convention.

Neither the afternoon appeal by President Petr Pavel nor an emotional closing speech from Senate President Milos Vystrcil (ODS) was enough to convince the upper house of parliament to back the convention, which has become the topic of much dispute between the liberal and conservative parts of society.

The Chamber of Deputies was also supposed to come to a decision, but in view of the Senate’s rejection, will probably no longer debate the document.

According to the voting record, the convention was supported primarily by members of the Mayors and Independents (STAN) and SEN21 and Pirates Senate groups, along with 11 members of the ODS and TOP 09 groups and individuals from other factions. The senators opposed were mostly Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) senators, members of the ANO and SOCDEM clubs, and 15 members of the ODS and TOP 09 clubs, as well as all three unaffiliated senators.

European Affairs Minister Martin Dvorak (STAN) described the Senate’s decision as an “international disgrace”. He added that the Istanbul Convention has become a bogeyman for “traditional” Czech families, and despite the best efforts of the Convention’s supporters, the rudder has not been turned back.


“I am really angry and sorry because we are sending a very bad signal to women and girls that we do not consider it necessary to protect victims of domestic violence,” he added.

Hana Stelzerova, director of the Czech Women’s Lobby, described the senators’ decision as a very sad day for human rights in the Czech Republic. She is the spokesperson for Voice Against Violence, a coalition of organisations that have long been working on human rights, violence against women and domestic violence.

“The politicians who voted against the Convention have fully demonstrated that they overlook the fate of victims, who do not receive timely and adequate support due to the shortcomings in our aid system. They have made it clear that the state is not going to improve in the area of ​​gender-based violence,” Stelzerova said in a statement. She added that the results of the vote revealed the dire state of gender equality in the Czech Republic.

Opponents of the convention were concerned about the convention’s impact on society and the alleged obfuscation of its true aims, said to include a departure from the standard concept of men and women, the imposition of gender ideology, and the efforts of NGOs to force the state to make financial contributions for the implementation of the Convention. Opponents also argued that the adoption of the Convention had not reduced the number of cases of violence in the countries that had ratified it.

The supporters of the Convention argued that domestic violence and violence against women were mostly overlooked, and that the courts had a poor record of mild sentences for perpetrators of sexual crimes. They accused critics of misinterpreting the Convention and using nonsensical arguments, and said that by adopting the Convention, the Czech Republic would join the club of the most progressive countries.

The Czech Republic signed the convention in 2016, but delayed its ratification. The current government agreed at the end of last June to continue the ratification process. The Convention has evoked strong emotions in the Czech Republic. It was strongly opposed by conservatives and seven Christian churches. Proponents, on the other hand, say it will help improve victim assistance and is a symbol that violence is unacceptable in the Czech Republic.

The convention condemns domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, forced marriage, honour crimes and genital mutilation. It points out that women are much more often victims of domestic and sexual violence than men, as well as victims of mass rape in armed conflicts.

The document defines violence against women as a violation of human rights and discrimination. In the convention, states commit themselves to enacting measures against violence, to prevention, and to allocating money for services, among other things. Training for health workers, police officers and judges is envisaged. There should be medical assistance centers for victims of sexual violence, legal and psychological support and shelters.

The text mentions that men and boys should also be involved in prevention, and that work should be carried out with violent offenders.

According to data from the National Plan for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the Czech Republic loses at least CZK 14.5 billion per year due to violent attacks in homes, for example, through incapacity for work and treatment. About 600 rapes are reported to the police each year. According to research, this is about 5% of cases.

Czech Senate Rejects Istanbul Convention Against Gender Violence
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