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Germany: Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women Enters into Force

(Feb. 28, 2018) On February 1, 2018, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) entered into force in Germany. (Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), May 11, 2011, C.E.T.S. No. 210, Council of Europe website; Gesetz zu dem Übereinkommen des Europarats vom 11. Mai 2011 zur Verhütung und Bekämpfung von Gewalt gegen Frauen und häuslicher Gewalt, July 17, 2017, BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBl.] [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE] II at 1026).)

Background

Since the 1990s the Council of Europe has made many efforts to promote the protection of women against violence, such as the establishment of the Council of Europe Task Force to Combat Violence Against Women, Including Domestic Violence, and the adoption of several resolutions. These resolutions include resolutions in 2001 on female genital mutilation, 2002 on domestic violence, 2003 on “honor crimes,” 2005 on forced marriages and child marriages, 2007 on sexual assaults linked to “date-rape drugs,” and 2009 on feminicides and on the rape of women, including marital rape. (Council of Europe Explanatory Report, at 2–3 (May 11, 2011) Council of Europe website.)

In 2011, these efforts culminated in the drafting of a convention, prepared by the Ad Hoc Committee on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (CAHVIO), with the objective “to protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence.” (Istanbul Convention, supra, art. 1, para. 1(a); Council of Europe Explanatory Report, supra, at 3.) The Convention is the first comprehensive European legal framework on this issue. It was opened for signature on May 11, 2011, and entered into force on August 1, 2014. (Details of Treaty No. 210, COUNCIL OF EUROPE (last visited Feb. 23, 2018).)

As of February 2018, 45 out of the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe have signed the Convention and 28 states have ratified it. The European Union signed the Convention on June 13, 2017. (Chart of Signatures and Ratifications, COUNCIL OF EUROPE (status as of Feb. 26, 2018).)

The Provisions of the Convention

The Istanbul Convention contains 81 provisions which impose comprehensive obligations on the Member States with regard to preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, protecting victims, and prosecuting perpetrators. Moreover, gender equality and the right to live free from violence are promoted. (Press Release, Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend [BMFSFJ] [Federal Ministry for Families, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth], Konvention zum besseren Schutz von Frauen vor Gewalt in Kraft getreten [Convention on Better Preventing Violence Against Women Enters into Force] (Feb. 1, 2018), BMFSFJ website.)

The Convention also provides a monitoring mechanism obligating states to regularly report on legislative and other measures. An independent group of experts, the Group of Experts on Action Against Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), evaluates the compliance of the implementing measures with the provisions of the Convention. (Id.)

Signing and Ratification in Germany

Germany has played an important role in the negotiations of the Istanbul Convention and was among the first states to sign it. (Press Release, BMFSFJ, Gemeinsam in Europa den Schutz von Frauen vor Gewalt stärken [Working Together to Strengthen the Protection of Women from Violence in Europe] (July 7, 2017), BMFSFJ website.) However, it took several years for Germany to ratify the Istanbul Convention because not all of the Convention’s provisions had been implemented. The last of these efforts to implement the Convention was to amend the Criminal Code provisions on sex offenses in 2016 to include the principle that “no means no.” (Press Release, Konvention zum besseren Schutz von Frauen vor Gewalt in Kraft getreten, supra; Jenny Gesley, Germany: Overhaul of Criminal Law Relating to Sexual Offenses (Apr. 11, 2016), GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR; Felix Beulke & Jenny Gesley, Germany: Heavier Sanctions Against Sexual Offenders Adopted, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Oct. 3, 2016).)

The German legislature approved the law enabling the ratification of the Istanbul Convention in July 2017 and deposited the instrument of ratification on October 12, 2017. (Chart of Signatures and Ratifications, supra.) Together with the instrument of ratification, Germany also deposited three reservations to the Convention. The first two reservations concern article 59, paragraphs 2 and 3, which deal with residence status, while the third reservation concerns article 44, paragraph 1.e, which deals with jurisdiction. (Reservations and Declarations for Treaty No. 210, COUNCIL OF EUROPE (status as of Feb. 21, 2018).)

Reactions

Katja Grieger, managing director of the Federal Association of Women Against Violence (Bundesverband Frauen gegen Gewalt e. V. (bff)), a German NGO operating women’s counseling and rape crisis centers, said that there is still a long way to go, but that the Convention is the strongest instrument against violence against women at this time and a “real treasure chest” for those who want to fight this kind of violence. (Patricia Hecht, Konvention gegen Gewalt gegen Frauen. „Eine echte Schatzkiste“ [Convention on Violence Against Women. “A Real Treasure Chest”], TAZ (Feb. 1, 2018).)

Prepared by Felicia Stephan, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Jenny Gesley, Foreign Law Specialist.