Polish government plays down moves to quit domestic violence treaty

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro speaks at a press conference on the Istanbul Convention in Warsaw, Poland, 25 July 2020. ´ [EPA-EFE/RAFAL GUZ]

Poland’s right-wing government on Monday (27 July) played down a bid by its justice minister to withdraw from a landmark international treaty combating violence against women.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said he had set in motion the process to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, saying it contains provisions that are “ideological in nature”.

His plan has triggered outcry both in Poland and abroad, with the EU and the Council of Europe voicing regret and alarm, while thousands of people have protested against it across Poland.

But Michal Dworczyk, head of the prime minister’s chancellery, told the private Polsat news channel: “There is no official, unequivocal decision regarding the Istanbul Convention.”

He was echoed by governing Law and Justice (PiS) party spokesman Radoslaw Fogiel, who also played down Ziobro’s moves, saying “the emotional reaction (to the planned withdrawal)… is definitely premature.”

The PiS has previously questioned the treaty’s provisions on introducing gender studies in schools but it was not immediately clear whether the government would ultimately back Ziobro.

The treaty is the world’s first binding instrument to prevent and combat violence against women, from marital rape to female genital mutilation.

‘Misleading arguments’

It was spearheaded by the Council of Europe, the continent’s oldest human rights organisation, and signed by a previous centrist Polish government in 2012, followed by ratification in 2015.

Ziobro, who is part of the government’s ultra-conservative wing, insists that certain provisions of the treaty undermine conservative family values and previously dismissed it as “an invention, a feminist creation aimed at justifying gay ideology”.

His mooting of a withdrawal comes ahead of a planned government reshuffle in which his United Poland grouping, a junior coalition partner to the dominant PiS, risks losing one of the two ministries it now controls.

Although the treaty does not explicitly mention gay marriage, that has not diminished the backlash in conservative Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.

A spokesman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, told AFP Sunday that it “regrets that such an important matter has been distorted by misleading arguments in some member states”.

He added that it would “continue its efforts to finalise the EU’s accession” to the convention by ratifying it, having signed the pact in 2017.

Warsaw has already clashed with the EU Commission over reforms to its judicial system, championed by recently re-elected President Andrzej Duda.

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