The Istanbul Convention is an initiative of the Council of Europe (CoE) intended to combat violence against women and domestic violence. It has been ratified by 37 European countries, including Estonia, which ratified the Convention in 2017.
However, in Latvia the question of whether Latvia should ratify the Istanbul Convention has become a divisive issue. Supporters regard it as a national embarassment that Latvia is among nine countries that have not ratified it, alongside Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia and Slovakia, plus Turkey, which ratified then withdrew.
On the other hand, opponents say the convention undermines traditionally accepted definitions of gender and threatens family values. A signature collection drive was supported by 13,000 people and led to a collective application being lodged with the Saeima urging non-ratification, and it was this application that was considered by the Committee on Wednesday.
According to the application: "The Istanbul Convention includes instruments that pave the way for overly broad interpretations of the concept of "gender" or "social sex", endangering not only Latvia's traditional culture and family values, but also the long-term existence of a healthy society."
"We have listened to the views and arguments of both experts and civil society. Violence must be eradicated, and all possible means must be used for this, but we must not ignore the risks and obligations arising from ambiguously interpreted and debatable legal acts," said Rihards Kols (National Alliance), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Saeima.
At the meeting, Saeima deputies decided to conceptually support the citizens' initiative expressed in the submission – not to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention) and to withdraw Latvia's accession to the European Commission's call for the European Union to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention.
The Foreign Affairs Commission will prepare a draft decision of the Saeima with a call not to join the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, Kols said. It will then be up to the whole Saeima to decide on the matter.
If you would like to actually read the text of the convention and judge it for yourself, you can do so here: https://www.coe.int/en/web/istanbul-convention/text-of-the-convention