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Council of Europe: Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women

(June 1, 2011) On May 11, 2011, a new Council of Europe convention on protecting women against violence opened for signature in Istanbul, Turkey. The chief purpose of the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence is to protect women against all forms of violence and to prevent, prosecute, and eliminate violence targeting women, including domestic violence. The scope of the Convention could also be extended to apply to men and children as well, if the States Parties agreed to do so. (Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (CETS No. 210) (May 11, 2011), Council of Europe Treaty Office official website.)

The Convention stresses that violence against women is a violation of human rights and is a form of discrimination. It contains an all-encompassing definition of violence against women that includes all acts based on gender if they result or are likely to result in sexual, physical, psychological, or economic harm or suffering to women. The term gender-based violence, which is used throughout the Convention, refers to violence that targets women because of the mere fact that they are women. (Id.)

The Convention contains both negative and positive duties of States Parties. They are obliged to respect the provisions of the Convention and ensure that their officials, agents, and authorities refrain from violent acts against women. In regard to violent acts committed by non-state actors (i.e., private persons), States Parties must exercise due diligence, to prevent, investigate, and punish perpetrators. (Id.)

Other duties of the States Parties include the following:

· adoption of legislative measures to protect women from further violence;

· provision of access to services for assisting women and facilitating their rehabilitation from acts of violence, including legal and psychological counseling, financial assistance, health care, and shelter and, for victims of rape, access to hotlines and to sexual trauma services;

· provision of assistance in lodging individual or collective complaints, including protection of child witnesses and judicial access to civil remedies;

· provision of access to compensation from perpetrators of violence;

· adoption of legislative measures to ensure that forced marriages are voidable, annulled, or dissolved;

· criminalization of stalking and of intentional genital mutilation of women and children;

· criminalization of performing abortions on women without their prior and informed consent;

· criminalization of sexual harassment; and

· adoption of measures to ensure that justification of committing violence against women on the basis of honor is not acceptable. (Id.)

Implementation of the Convention is assigned to a group of experts on the subject of violence against women, referred to by the acronym GREVIO. States Parties are required to submit reports to the General Secretariat on the basis of a questionnaire prepared by GREVIO. (Id.)

The Convention is open to accession by non-European countries that participated in the drafting of the Convention and by the European Union. It will enter into force at the end of the three-month period following signature by ten states, eight of which must be members of the Council of Europe. (Id.)