IBAHRI condemns Poland’s planned withdrawal from treaty protecting women from violence

Thursday 6 August 2020


The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the Polish government’s planned withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention – a landmark European treaty that is the world’s first binding legal instrument to prevent and address violence against women and girls, including rape. The treaty explicitly covers: all engagement in non-consensual acts of a sexual nature with a person; psychological and physical violence; female genital mutilation; forced marriage; forced abortion; and forced sterilisation.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996 – 2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG stated: ‘We condemn Poland’s planned withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. Governments must always do more to protect women by law – never less – especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic with statistics showing a dramatic and disturbing surge in domestic violence across Europe. Retreating from the Convention represents a major step backwards in the protection of violence against women in Poland. The IBAHRI joins the Council of Europe (CoE) in urging the Polish government to reconsider withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention.’

When the previous Polish government ratified the Convention in 2015, the current Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobrio dismissed it as: ‘an invention, a feminist creation justifying gay ideology.’ In explaining the present government’s decision to withdraw, Mr Ziobrio stated the Convention is ‘harmful’ in that it violates the rights of parents and ‘contains elements of an ideological nature’ by requiring schools to teach children about gender.

The Convention includes the notion of gender – socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men – and so covers violence against transgender persons.

There has been a similar backlash to the Convention in several other European Union Member States as well, including Hungary and Slovakia, where the respective parliaments rejected the treaty insisting, that the Convention is at odds with constitutional definitions of marriage as a heterosexual union. The Convention makes no mention of same-sex marriages or partnerships. Instead it calls for schools to teach ‘equality between women and men, non-stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, gender-based violence against women and the right to personal integrity’. Furthermore, a number of countries have not ratified the Convention, including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Liechtentein, Lithuania and the United Kingdom.

The IBAHRI is concerned that the Convention has been a frequent target of homophobic ideologues within Poland, with one government minister branding it ‘neo-Marxist propaganda that turns our value system upside down’ and stating ‘the way to fight violence is not to teach young boys that they can wear dresses and play with dolls.’

Homophobia has become a national issue in Poland, with many local regions comprising almost a third of the country declaring themselves LGBTQI+ free zones. Frequent fabrications about the Convention led the EU to produce a fact-checking booklet that states: ‘Recognition of same-sex marriages is not in the Convention. The Convention does not affect national civil law rules on marriage in any way.’ It further states, ‘culture, custom, religion, tradition, or so-called “honour” shall not be regarded as justification for acts of violence against women.’

IBAHRI Co-Chair, and immediate past Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc commented: ‘Poland’s intended withdrawal from a treaty in place to protect females from violence is incomprehensible. The move sends a worrying message that the Polish government is not willing to ensure protection for the women of its country at the regional level, regardless of whatever domestic protections may be in place. It is a sad indictment of society that we live in a world where such a treaty is necessary, but it is worse still that a government seeks to strip some of its citizens of the safeguard. This is an issue that needs addressing by all of Europe.’

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, IBAHRI Director added: ‘The Istanbul Convention is a landmark international treaty to prevent violence against women. It was brought into being in recognition that gender based violence in all its forms blights women’s lives and their hopes of equality. For Poland to withdraw from this binding instrument is a disgrace and a shameful step back into darker times.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. Click here to view related material on Poland
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

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