Poland might uphold a treaty against domestic violence after all, its ruling party has said, amid an outcry by the EU and Council of Europe.
“Decisions have not been taken. This is not our common stance,” a spokeswoman for the Law and Justice (PiS) party, Anita Czerwińska, said on Sunday (26 July), according to the Reuters news agency.
“The minister has some idea. If he submits [his proposal] we will analyse it,” Czerwińska added, referring to Poland’s justice minister and prosecutor general, Zbigniew Ziobro.
Another PiS spokesman, Piotr Muller, also said no decision had been made.
The ruling party spoke after Ziobro, who comes from a minor coalition partner, the right-wing United Poland party, said on Saturday he would initiate proceedings on Monday for Poland to exit the Istanbul Convention.
The international treaty mandates signatories to tighten up laws on violence by men against women, including marital rape, to provide legal aid to victims, and to roll out educational programmes on the subject.
But for Ziobro, speaking on Saturday: “It contains elements of an ideological nature, which we consider harmful”.
He said it promulgated the idea of “so-called socio-cultural gender in opposition to biological sex”.
Ziobro also said, back in 2015 when Poland ratified the treaty, that it was “a feminist creation aimed at justifying gay ideology”.
His proposal would have to see PiS push new laws through parliament and Polish president Andrzej Duda sign off on the legislation.
But Ziobro’s idea prompted a backlash by the European Commission, centrist MEPs, and by the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog in Strasbourg.
The EU commission “regrets that such an important matter has been distorted by misleading arguments in some member states”, it told the AFP news agency over the weekend.
Ziobro’s proposal was “disgraceful”, Iratxe García Pérez, the Spanish leader of the left-wing Socialist and Democrats group in the European Parliament, said.
The EU must ensure “that no woman is left unprotected and vulnerable to violence”, Irish centre-right MEP Frances Fitzgerald, noted.
“Using the fight against the Istanbul Convention as an instrument to display its conservatism is a new pitiful and pathetic move by some within the PiS government”, Dacian Cioloș, the Romanian leader of the liberal Renew group, said.
“Violence is not a traditional value”, Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian liberal MEP, added.
“Leaving the Istanbul Convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence in Europe,” Marija Pejčinović Burić, the Council of Europe’s secretary general, also said.
Ziobro’s proposal is just the latest in a series of controversial moves and statements by Poland’s PiS-led nationalist-populist government.
Duda, the president, recently won re-election after a homophobic campaign backed by loyalist governors who called for the creation of “LGBTI-free zones” in their regions.
Poland is facing an EU sanctions procedure over PiS’ attempts to exert political control over courts and judges.
It has clashed with EU institutions over its boycotts of migrant-sharing projects and PiS’ xenophobic rhetoric.
And the European Court of Human Rights, last week, ruled that it should pay €34,000 each to a group of Muslim asylum-seekers from the Chechnya province in Russia due to illegal push-backs on its eastern border.
The Istanbul Convention on gender-based violence has been signed by all 27 EU countries.
But Ziobro is not alone in his turn against the treaty after Bulgaria and Slovakia rejected its ratification in 2018 and 2019.
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania have also dragged their heels on ratification so far.
Meanwhile, violence against women jumped by 60 percent in several European countries in April due to the anti-coronavirus lockdowns, the World Health Organisation (WHO), warned earlier this month.
Even “before the pandemic, in the European region, one in four women … had experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime,” it said on 5 July.
“Interpersonal violence tends to increase during every type of emergency … with job losses, rising alcohol-based harm and drug use, stress and fear, the legacy of this pandemic could haunt us for years,” the WHO said.