Defenders of the Convention ignore the practice
Defenders of the Convention deny these accusations. For example, the Women’s Rights Protection Center “Marta” emphasizes that “The task and sole purpose of the Istanbul Convention is to eradicate violence against women and domestic violence by promoting gender equality, therefore all myths related to its ratification are spread in order to polarize society and promote misinformation.” The Istanbul Convention does not regulate or define marriage or cohabitation in any way, nor does it require laws to establish legal recognition of same-sex couples.”
It should be noted here that the “Marta” center actively cooperates with the LGBT+ support center “LGBT House Riga”, so the center’s employees should know the impact of the Istanbul Convention on the protection of the interests of LGBT+ organizations and the required rights.
Therefore, it is surprising that the non-governmental organization ignores the prevailing practice in the European Union of using the Istanbul Convention to advance LGBT+ demands in its argumentation. Focusing on a comprehensive and inclusive approach to combating violence and discrimination, the term “violence against women” in the Convention refers to all acts of gender-based violence that cause or may cause physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, as well as acts of such violence threats, regardless of whether such violence occurs in public or private life. Considering such a broad interpretation of the concept of violence and the convention’s ban on discriminating against persons based on such characteristics as gender identity and sexual orientation, in the future it is expected that the ratification of the convention will give representatives of LGBT+ organizations the opportunity to claim that the non-recognition of same-sex marriages is emotional and economic violence. In order to prevent this violence, the legalization of same-sex marriage will be demanded.
A step towards legal recognition of same-sex unions
In the bulletin issued by the Council of Europe “Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention): Questions and answers” you can read: “Article 4, paragraph 3 of the Istanbul Convention prohibits discrimination on various grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity (gender identity). It is designed to provide protection and support to all victims of violence, regardless of their characteristics. Applying the provisions of the Convention without any discrimination regarding gender identity means ensuring that transgender people’s gender identity does not deny them support and protection in relation to domestic violence, sexual violence, rape or forced marriage. The same applies to women in same-sex relationships, so that all women, including lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, have access to state-sponsored violence support measures. The lawsuit also includes gay men facing domestic violence.”
In Latvia, the prohibition of discrimination in connection with sexual orientation or gender identity also follows from the Treaty on the European Union (Article 19), the Victims’ Directive (introduced in 2015), the UN Special Rapporteur against torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, 2016 of the annual report, the Asylum Law (the third part of Article 28) and the Criminal Law (the first part of Article 150). Thus, the Istanbul Convention apparently only repeats the norms of the aforementioned treaties and laws. However, on the way to legal recognition of same-sex unions, the Istanbul Convention can be seen as another step closer to this goal. The convention emphasizes protection not only against, in their opinion, discrimination existing in the public environment in connection with a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, but also against violence within the framework of sexual relations between such persons, treating it disproportionately widely and calling for the creation of institutions that would provide assistance to LGBT+ representatives in the same way as couples in heterosexual relationships. This will create a situation that, under the name of “elimination of discrimination”, will pave the way for further legal recognition of same-sex unions, achieving completely identical rights for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.
More attention will be paid to the protection of LGBT+ rights
For example, Transgender Europe (TGEU), an NGO for the protection of transgender rights, clearly states in its article “Protection of transgender persons under the Istanbul Convention” that the specific mention of sexual orientation and gender identity among unacceptable grounds for discrimination has been one of the stumbling blocks in the ratification of the convention in various countries. It is about Article 4, Paragraph 3 of the Convention, which obliges member states to implement all measures of the Istanbul Convention without any discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Explanatory Report to the Convention emphasizes that the Istanbul Convention protects transgender people, transvestites and other groups of persons who do not conform to what society has “stereotypically” recognized as belonging to the categories of “male” or “female”. TGEU calls on GREVIO, the expert group of the Council of Europe monitoring the Istanbul Convention, to pay more attention to the protection of LGBT+ rights and to create a monitoring mechanism to control its implementation.
Defines rights in the family area
GREVIO does not only care about women, or rather, women are not only women in the biological sense. The report of the expert group “CoE GREVIO Report on Georgia’s Implementation of Istanbul Convention” on the implementation of the principles of the Convention in Georgia indicates that more efforts should be devoted to women who face “intersectional discrimination”, namely women with disabilities, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, by promoting awareness of these groups about their rights and available services, as well as providing financial support for research on these groups.
A 2020 correspondence from Norway’s Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombudsman with the expert group GREVIO recommends allowing transgender people to be placed in prisons according to their “gender identity”. Apparently, this is one of the measures intended to promote the changes proposed in the convention in the “stereotypical” patterns of behavior of women and men determined by the social environment and culture.
From the examples mentioned, it is clear that GREVIO’s activities are not limited to the protection of women. They are also aimed at meeting the demands of LGBT+ organizations, interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states and undemocratically ignoring the people’s right to self-determination to freely determine their country’s laws in the family sphere.
After the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, it is possible to predict the next claims to the Constitutional Court by LGBT+ organizations. The judgment of the Constitutional Court, that Article 110 of the Constitution also protects same-sex couples, shows that after the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, “legal innovation” of a similar nature will have even greater opportunities for reinterpretation of laws.
Other levers of influence will also work. If Latvia directly violates the provisions of the Istanbul Convention, GREVIO’s recommendations may be mandatory.
Another undesirable consequence of the ratification of the Istanbul Convention is its possible indirect effect on the increase of migration from third countries. Here it is important to take into account the wider context in which the Istanbul Convention operates. Migration may involve persons seeking safety and protection from various forms of violence, both related to biological sex and “gender identity”. Such persons are recognized as a vulnerable group, and various ‘positive discrimination’ measures are taken to protect them.
First of all, it is necessary to mention the eased possibilities of obtaining refugee status. Article 60 of the Istanbul Convention provides that if a fear of persecution is established for one or more reasons, the applicant shall be granted refugee status in accordance with the relevant legislation in force. Such a vague criterion, granting asylum in good faith only on the basis of concerns, can be assessed as a dangerous facilitation that stimulates migration, since no evidence of violence that has occurred is required.
Obtaining asylum by pretending to be an LGBT+ representative is also facilitated by the judgment of the European Court of Justice of January 25, 2018 that asylum seekers in European Union countries will no longer be subjected to psychological tests to prove their homosexuality. The European Court of Justice declared that it is illegal to conduct psychological tests using projective personality tests to determine the sexual orientation of asylum seekers.
Secondly, Article 61 of the Istanbul Convention provides relief for asylum seekers who have suffered from violence and establishes the principle of non-refoulement of these persons (the non-refoulement principle). Persons protected by the Convention, regardless of their status or length of stay, shall not be expelled under any circumstances to a country where there is a fear that their lives would be in danger, where they could be tortured, treated inhumanly or degradingly or punished.
The issue of migrants is of fundamental importance to Israel, which refused to join the Istanbul Convention in 2022, citing the dangers of Article 60 and Article 61 asylum rules. It was pointed out that these provisions would require Israel to process asylum claims not only from foreigners fleeing political or ethnic persecution, but also from all those who claim to have suffered sexual or gender-identity-related violence.
The partnership package will facilitate obtaining residence permits
Additional regulations that make it easier to request asylum may also be unfavorable for Latvia, taking into account the increase in the flow of migrants and the related hybrid threat on the border between Latvia and Belarus. The Istanbul Convention is also likely to be used as an argument with which pro-migration NGOs will present the demands of economic migrants to enter the territory of Latvia as human rights demands.
There is another risk in this regard, possibly opened up by the upcoming package of Partnership Laws, which will allow partnerships to be registered, effectively legalizing same-sex unions and making them equivalent to marriage in essential respects. In the context of the hybrid threat, it will enable citizens of Russia and Belarus to conclude partnership agreements with Latvian nationals in a simplified manner and thus obtain a legal basis for obtaining a residence permit on the territory of Latvia.
The Istanbul Convention is a dividing line
So far, six European Union countries – Latvia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia – have not ratified the Istanbul Convention. In March 2021, Turkey, the first country to sign and ratify the convention, announced its withdrawal, arguing that it was being used to normalize a homosexual lifestyle that was incompatible with Turkish social and family values.
The wording of the Istanbul Convention is fundamentally inconsistent. It proclaims the goal of eradicating violence against “women” while subordinating the concepts of “man” and “woman” to the “social construct” of gender, thereby paving the way for a broader interpretation of gender identity. This is facilitated by the fact that the concept of “gender identity” (gender identity) is used to describe both biological women and transgender people. Such a phenomenon is rooted in the fact that the Istanbul Convention was created by left-oriented politicians, placing in it their ideological ideas about the necessary social experiments and using the terminology of intersectional feminists and LGBT+ organizations in the explanatory materials. Judging from the point of view of conservatism, the ratification of a convention formulated in this way will only strengthen the positions of the leftist ideology in Latvia. It would be more useful to abandon it, instead creating an alternative local legislation for solving family problems, which would not use vague and widely interpreted concepts.
When evaluating the ratification process of the Istanbul Convention, it should be concluded that the right-wing, socially conservative governments usually refrain from ratifying the convention, while the left-wing, socially progressive ones support it. Political disputes over ratification are also a struggle for the values that each side would like to see reign in their country. In this sense, the Istanbul Convention can be considered an important dividing line between the right and the left, which reveals the true political orientation of the parties.