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Lithuania procrastinates ratification of Istanbul Convention

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Seimas

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

The superstitions and the stereotypes in Lithuania are stronger than the good will to tackle domestic violence and women abuse.

The ratification of the Istanbul Convention has stalled in the Seimas, Lithuanian legislature – the question has been rubbed out from the Seimas’ Spring Session agenda and is unlikely it will end up being there in the foreseen future.

The bone of contention is the definition of gender and its Lithuanian translation, approved by the government chancellery, as «social gender». 

«I believe that being Conservative Lithuania is not up to it,» Kęstutis Girnius, a political analyst of US descent, commented to BNN.

Meanwhile, Vygaudas Ušackas, one of the plausible presidential election candidates, sited to BNN «complexity» of the issue and declined to comment on it.

«I feel my knowledge on the issues contains quite some gaps,» he admitted.

«I am not surprised that the Seimas voted against the inclusion of the ratification of the Convention in the parliamentary session. When many of the MPs live in the medieval ages, it has become the real bugaboo to scare all,» Dovilė Šakalienė, a progressive MP, told BNN.

The ruling Farmers and Greens (LVŽS), the opposition Conservatives, the Electoral Action of Poles, the Order and Justice Party and the Labour partly are staunchly against it. Only the Social Democrats and the beleaguered Liberals exhort to vote for the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention, in its entirety.

The LVŽS has refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention the Lithuanian Parliament’s Spring Session, arguing that it is being «assessed controversially».

In justifying the decision, the «farmers» call on all to pay more attention improving Lithuanian legislation on protection of women against violence and providing assistance to all women who have suffered from abuse.

According to Ramūnas Karbauskis, the head of the LVŽS parliamentary faction, in the text of the declaration submitted by the «farmers», attention is drawn to the fact that the Istanbul Convention is by its nature a legislative convention, primarily aimed at those members of the Council of Europe who have not yet established woman’s legal protection against violence.

At present, the leader of LVŽS notes, the Lithuanian legal system has already reached the original objective of the Istanbul Convention: it applies all the main provisions of the fight against violence against women, which the Istanbul Convention seeks to implement, and these provisions can be improved without ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

«The only innovation that this convention would bring to us is the concept of «gender», which can be ambiguously interpreted as a concept that does not recognize the human sex as a human nature. Such an interpretation in the legal system of Lithuania would endanger family policy consistently based on marriage of a man and a woman, and relations between kinship, paternity and maternity. The Parliament supported such a family policy by adopting the law on the enhancement of the family in autumn session. I think that, with the renewed debate on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, it is important for us in the Parliament to form a broad-based coalition based on values,» Karbauskis emphasised.

Yet, with the Law on Protection against Domestic Violence passed in Lithuania in 2011, violence against women remains an acute problem to this day. Since the passage of the law, reports of violence have increased almost fourfold, with almost 70,000 cases recorded in 2016.

Once again, at the cusp of disagreements is the translation of the concepts of «gender» into the Lithuanian language as «social gender».

The Speaker of the Parliament Viktoras Pranckietis says meanwhile that part of the convention’s principles is incompatible with the «peasant» program, although before the 2016 parliamentary election he voluntarily posed for a photograph with a poster expressing support for the Istanbul Convention.

«We are not the only country raising questions on this part (the definition of gender), therefore, I do not think we should rush to ratify the Istanbul Convention,» Pranckietis has said.

Most recently, he hinted that Lithuania may ratify the Convention with «certain exceptions», i.e. those regarding the subject of gender.

Among the Cabinet members, only Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius have spoken out for the full embrace of the document.

«…In a state where almost 50 per cent of citizens believe that the victims of violence, usually women, are guilty, we must take our own conclusions. To delve into other arguments, whether it is interpretations of the gender concept, or other things, it’s simply disgraceful,» has said Linkevičius, pointing out that the legislation has been ratified by many European Union countries, including those with the strong Catholic traditions, like Spain, Italy, Malta and Poland.

As the Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevičius signed the Convention along with the other EU Member States’ high officials in 2013.

The Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference, the ruling body of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, has said that the Convention would make Lithuania change its gender concept and introduce unacceptable notions about homosexuality. Some conservative MPs believe the Convention would bring confusion to the legal system and undermine the implementation of the family policy.

In early March, the Lithuanian Social Security and Labour Ministry proposed to postpone the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women until a compromise is reached on the concept of gender.

«… we believe that in order to prepare responsibly for the ratification of the convention, it would be appropriate to postpone the ratification,» Deputy Social Security and Labour Minister Vilma Augienė said in a letter to the Foreign Ministry in March.

Only the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the scandal-engulfed Liberals are calling for the ratification of the Convention in Lithuania.

Gintautas Paluckas, the SDP leader, says that there’s only one important issue when discussing the Convention, i.e. the prevention of violence against women and other person or not.

«It’s the principle of world-view as often a conservative and inert minority monopolizes the right to decide on behalf of the society… the Istanbul Convention does not pose any threat,» Paluckas said this week.

Meanwhile his deputy MEP Vilija Blinkevičiūtė says Lithuania looks strange, to say the least, procrastinating the ratification of his convention.

«It’s a shame that Lithuania is dragging this process. We often compare ourselves to Estonia, but the Estonian already ratified the Istanbul Convention during the EU presidency. Who are we matching? Bulgaria, Russia, Azerbaijan who have not even signed the Convention? Violence cannot be justified in any way,» she said.

Lithuania is not alone in bristling against the Istanbul Convention. During the couple of the last months the Bulgarian and Slovak premiers have made declarations of refusal to ratify the Convention; in Croatia and Hungary ratification has been postponed; hot debate is taking place in Latvia. The Istanbul Convention has not yet been ratified by 18 signatories of the Council of Europe, including the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Ireland, Iceland, Greece and the Czech Republic.


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