In The Times last week, it was revealed that the UK Government has taken worrying steps to water-down the Council of Europe’s Draft Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
The Coalition has two main objections. Firstly, it has proposed to remove the reference to violence against women as a violation of human rights, replacing it with: ‘violence against women constitutes a serious obstacle for women’s enjoyment of human rights.’ The Government has offered no explanation for this proposed change. However it is clearly ludicrous. Violence against women is a structural phenomenon which both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women. It has been recognised as a violation of human rights in international law for nearly two decades.
Secondly, the Government wants to amend the document so that it applies only in times of peace and not in times of conflict.
Article 2 as currently drafted reads as follows:
Scope of the Convention
1. This Convention shall apply to all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, which affects women disproportionately.
2. Parties are encouraged to apply this Convention to all victims of domestic violence. Parties shall pay particular attention to women victims of gender-based violence in implementing the provisions of this Convention.
3. This Convention shall apply in times of peace and in situations of armed conflicts
Under the Tories, Britain has proposed to delete the reference to armed conflict in Article 2(3).
This amendment is also totally nonsensical. Studies show that violence against women tends to rise during and after armed conflict. Rape is internationally-recognised as a tool of war, carried out to terrorise the population and destroy communities. In the DRC, rape has been practiced as a means of warfare by all groups in the conflict. In Rwanda, during the 1994 genocide, an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 women were raped. This Convention will be seriously undermined if it only applies in peacetime.
The Coalition has publically stated its commitment to tackling violence against women. Yet behind closed doors it is sabotaging a document intended to ensure robust action to prevent, investigate and prosecute violence against women. We must do all we can to protest against the Coalition’s ill-thought out and damaging proposals.