A human rights expert body has hopefully put to rest harmful myths circulating in Armenia about a European treaty on combatting violence against women. Domestic violence is a persistent problem in Armenia, where at least 10 women were reportedly killed by family members or partners in the first six months of 2019.
Last week the European Commission on Democracy through Law (known as the Venice Commission), an advisory body of the Council of Europe, issued an expert opinion that Armenia’s ratification of the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) would not contradict Armenia’s Constitution.
The opinion sends an important message not just to Armenia but also other states where efforts to undermine the Istanbul Convention, by misinformation and fear-mongering around women’s and LGBT rights, are rife.
Armenia took the first steps towards joining the Istanbul Convention in 2018 and in 2019 began the full ratification process, which soon stalled amidst a hate-filled campaign by some public officials. So the Justice Ministry decided to ask the Venice Commission to “assess the constitutional implications” of Armenia’s ratification.
Similar campaigns led to the suspension of ratification in Bulgaria and Slovakia in 2018, while Poland’s ruling PiS party threatened to withdraw from the Convention altogether.
The Venice Commission affirmed the Istanbul Convention’s value as the sole treaty that focuses exclusively on violence against women and domestic violence. Additionally, the Venice Commission stated, the existence of national law related to violence against women is no excuse for not ratifying the Convention, as the two would be complementary.
The Commission dismissed opponents’ scare-mongering claims that ratification would mean Armenia has to legalize same-sex marriage, saying the convention “in no way contradicts national constitutions that define marriage as a union between a woman and a man.” However, the commission also notes that sexual orientation and gender identity rank among the prohibited grounds of discrimination. Therefore, both the Istanbul Convention and Armenia’s constitution are in agreement that basic rights such as non-discrimination and protection from violence apply regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Women in Armenia have already lost too much to domestic violence. Hopefully, the government will now move past the toxic lies about the Istanbul Convention and help women by spending its time and energy ratifying and implementing the convention instead.