Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union: The “Contraversial” Istanbul Convention should not be Ratified

Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union issued a statement explaining why the Istanbul Convention on violence against women will not be ratified in the Lithuanian Parliament’s Spring Session. The widespread declaration states that the Istanbul Convention is being “assessed controversially” and should be addressed primarily to those members of the Council of Europe who have not yet created a legal protection towards violence against women.

In promoting the refusal to ratify the Istanbul Convention, “peasants” urge more attention to be paid to improving the legislation in Lithuania, improving the system of protection of women against violence and providing assistance to all women who have suffered from violence. Ramūnas Karbauskis, the head of the Lithuanian Peasant and Greens faction, said he believes that all different factions of the Parliament would unite, despite political differences.

According to R. Karbauskis, in the text of the declaration submitted by the “peasants”, 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 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. I have no doubt that, by rejecting all other political differences, it is possible to unite the people of different factions on the basis of common values. We have already talked about this immediately after the election, forming a possible broad coalition to solve individual issues,” says R. Karbauskis.

The declaration, after which the signatures of members of the Parliament began to be collected on 12th March, 2017 also attempts to change the translation of the concepts of “gender” into the Lithuanian language, which are monitored at the level of individual ministries and will not change the interpretation of this concept in the sense of international law, since the official text of the Istanbul Convention is in English and in French – this is very clearly referred to in Article 33 of the Vienna Convention, which defines the rules for the interpretation of international agreements.

The concept of “gender” used in the Convention is “controversial” in other Member States of the European Union as well. The debate has intensified especially recently. There are also increasing declarations by Member States that they will not ratify the Istanbul Convention in order to avoid ambiguity with the concept of gender. During the past month, 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.

On 10th March, 2017 the Speaker of the Parliament Viktoras Pranckietis, said that the Istanbul Convention on violence against women will not be ratified in the spring session, because, according to him, part of the convention’s principles are incompatible with the “peasant” program.

The picture that makes a shame for Pranckietis today

Before the election of the Speaker of Parliament, Viktoras Pranckietis voluntarily posed for a photograph with a poster expressing support for the Istanbul Convention. However, after he became the Speaker of Parliament, he claimed that the convention is incompatible with his party program.

On 10th March, 2017 V.Pranckietis stated that the Parliament would not be allowed to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women during the spring session. The official reason claimed by his office is the incompatibility of some parts of the convention with the peasant green program. This would not be noticeable if not for a picture taken in 2016 summer – V. Pranckietis then, with the candidates of the Parliament, Dovile Šakalienė and Saulius Skvernelis holding a poster bearing the words “Ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul convention.”

Daiva Baranauskė, Head of Charity and Support Fund “Frida”, explained the circumstances of the photo. Frida held meetings with various renowned people. In 2016 August, D. Baranauskė invited an old acquaintance from the activities of non-governmental organizations – D. Šakalienė – to the event.

“We were glad that she was going to the Parliament, we only doubted the party with whom she was going. We knew her position on this issue, she brought S. Skvernelis. By that time, we did not know V. Pranckietis, and we only learned afterwards that he came to take pictures. I asked to take pictures of Dovilė, S. Skvernelis also came, and I asked them whether they would have no problem – wondering about Ramūnas Karbauskis’ attitude towards the convention. Dovilė and S. Skvernelis responded that there would not be any problems, “- said D. Baranauskė.

According to her, the former General Commissioner S. Skvernelis participated in conferences on violence and knew what the convention theme was. Thus, D. Baranauskė says he was not worried about the awareness of S. Skvernelis. “How V. Pranckietis appeared there – as they say, was an opportunity before the election. (…) You should also look at what Vincentas Vobolevičius and the Free Society Institute were doing during this term of office, as their party strong advocates against the convention. The politicians who are not very well versed in this area and the Speaker of Parliament are not open to reconsider the idea of the Convention, facing it as the worst thing that can happen. The lack of means to tackle violence does not seem to be the main problem to them “, – Baranauskė on why V. Pranckietis changed his position radically.

D. Šakalienė: they wanted to take a picture themselves

The story of the emergence of the picture also reminds D. Šakalienė, who came to the Parliament with the peasant and green party, and left them to join the liberals, and later the social democrats.

“Indeed, there was no coercion in terms of both Saulius and Viktoras – both S. Skvernelis and V. Pranckietis wanted to take pictures with this poster themselves, both of whom said that women’s rights are important to them, as well as the fight against domestic violence and violence against women.

Subsequently, it turned out that none of them had read this convention or at least read it to the end. The main problem stances from a very active resistance to any other form of guardians aside from the so-called traditional guardians and the gender roles expected from it. Even though we should have a normal healthy debate based on science, law and rational arguments, they just choose to see non-traditional guardians as a great threat to the survival of our society in general”, explains D. Šakalienė.

According to her, after exposing the photograph, even before the election, the peasant and green party’s representatives Rima Baškienė and Povilas Urbšys expressed “to put it mildly, great indignation.” “I was told that the convention will not be approved and even before the election, I realized that, apparently, a radically conservative block in the peasant party began to rise. I was very concerned about it by that time already, but I still hoped that we would have a more rational discussion about the importance of real facts, scientific and legal arguments, rather than a medieval attitude, “said the Member of the Parliament.

V. Pranckietis is trying to justify it

Today, V. Pranckietis is not able to explain properly why he photographed with the posters supporting the convention. “The Istanbul Convention is made up of two very striking parts. I have always expressed and I still do support women rights and pay close attention to their protection against violence. I think legal regulation in Lithuania is really advanced in this area, but we must always ensure that women will have all rights and opportunities protected.

The other part of the convention deals with the disputed ambiguity of language – gender. We are not the only country raising questions on this part, therefore, I do not think we should rush to ratify the Istanbul Convention, “- The Parilieament chairman said in a statement sent to the press by the spokesperson.

Through a spokesperson, Prime Minister S. Skvernelis communicated to the press that he did not change his personal opinion on the Istanbul Convention. “The issue of the Istanbul Convention is currently open. The Prime Minister is waiting for suggestions from responsible ministries. It is already known that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advocates ratifying this Convention, and the Ministry of Social Security and Labor takes a somewhat different position.

In any case, a joint Government decision will be adopted, and then the Parliament will have to decide. The Prime Minister’s personal opinion remains unchanged – we must ensure women’s protection from violence, we must follow international standards that guarantee it, “said Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Tomas Beržinskas, to the press.

L. Linkevičius: It is time to become a civilized state

Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius signed the Council of Europe Convention on the prevention of violence against women and domestic violence five years ago. The Parliament has not ratified it yet.

“I spoke with the Speaker of the Parliament yesterday, and in my opinion, what is written in the peasant and green party’s program actually refers to the Istanbul Convention, but they object because they do not want some concepts, regarding the interpretation of gender, to be transposed into the legal framework. And we have said on many occasions that we do not intend to adjust the legal framework in this regard “, – said L. Linkevičius to Lithuanian news portal DELFI. According to him, the legal framework does not intend to transfer not only these but also other concepts. There is also no intention to change the established training programs.

L. Linkevičius states that, if necessary, he is ready to go to the peasant faction. He promises to remain active and continue to consistently defend this position. “From my point of view, the time limit for it is gone. For whom it was unclear, within five years it was possible to sort it out and all the concerns raised are, in my opinion, unsupported. We are talking about domestic violence and it is precisely in this perspective that we need some adjustments regarding the legislation, which would help with the fight against violence.

In a state where almost 50% 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”, said L. Linkevičius emphasizing that the convention was ratified by many European Union countries, including Catholic such as Spain, Italy, Malta and Poland.

The current situation reminds L. Linkevičius of a debate about the protection of children rights, when it has long been argued that it should be possible to beat a child. “I think it’s time to become a civilized state and to do what we should,” said the Foreign Minister.

 The Ministry’s behaviour is a pity

However, V. Pranckietis statements gather laughter from professionals in the field. According to D. Baranauskė, the issue of gender is a simple question of terminology, whose fears have been denied and answered a long time ago.

She explains that at a conference in the Parliament, this topic has already been discussed. The parties have spoken, but the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference and Catholic organizations are again stirring the pot and spreading fears.

The director of “Frida” is particularly saddened by the Ministry of Social Security and Labor which should aim for equality and equal opportunities. Instead, the Ministry is holding back initiatives, and it recently proposed postponing the ratification of the convention.

“The convention does not offer new things to our society. The only thing – it refers to the abandonment of stereotypes – for example, a woman should be humble, obedient and she has, as some members of the Parliament have said, to know their place, while decisions should be made by men “, – says D. Šakalienė.