Accession to Istanbul Convention – a positive step in combatting domestic violence

What does the Istanbul Convention have to do with domestic violence? And what do women and children in the Caribbean islands gain from it? ‘A lot,’ according to Flora Goudappel, Professor of International Law and Public Law at the University of Curaçao and Dean of the Faculty of Law.

 She examined the extent to which Curaçao meets the requirements to accede to the Istanbul Convention. In the interview below, she clearly explains how this Convention forces countries to do more to combat domestic violence and what this can mean for our Caribbean region.

Criminalising domestic violence is not enough

The ‘Istanbul Convention’ is officially called the ‘Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence’. The latter includes domestic violence against children and men. Accession is not without obligation! In fact, countries acceding to the Convention need to adopt quite a few regulations and policy in the area of domestic violence.

Flora: ‘So violence against women and domestic violence should not only be punishable; there also needs to be structural underlying policy. Countries must ensure that victims are taken care of and that there are clear protocols for this. Victims must be able to report the crime safely and receive victim support. In short: there is much more to it than just a law on paper.’

Why are the Caribbean islands not covered by the ‘Istanbul Convention’ yet?

The ‘Istanbul Convention’, like the well-known European Convention on Human Rights, falls under the Council of Europe. This Council is an international organisation, of which the Kingdom of the Netherlands is a member. Currently, the ‘Istanbul Convention’ is only applicable to the Netherlands and not to the six Caribbean islands.

The choice for this political construction was made sometime in 1989. However, there is currently great international pressure to also have the Convention apply to the islands. Once acceded, each country must report annually to the Council of Europe. It assesses legislation and regulations and gives each country points for improvement, which it must have implemented before the next reporting round.

To what degree is Curaçao ready for accession?

Before Curaçao can accede, the Kingdom of the Netherlands must officially decide to what extent the Convention shall apply to the six islands. The reports of the Netherlands to the Council of Europe also express this intention. But there is still a lot of work to be done before that happens, because even the Netherlands does not yet meet all the strict requirements of the Council.

Flora: ‘Once you sign up as a country, it is quite a commitment to better regulate your legislation and policy in the area of domestic violence, where necessary.’ In Curaçao, research has already been done on the extent to which the island already meets the requirements of the Council. This research has been done partly by lawyers like Flora and partly by social scientists and has now been submitted to the Minister of SOAW (Social Development, Labour and Employment) for approval.

What challenges lie ahead for Curaçao before the island can accede to the Istanbul Convention?

`Basically, a country can always accede, provided there are no big gaps to bridge, but rather small points of discussion that you can resolve,’ says Flora. ‘In particular, it concerns the elaboration of the National Plan to Combat Domestic Violence and Child Abuse. Much of this plan is already in line with the Convention. That means it is now mainly about the broader perspective: not all planned measures have been implemented yet, partly due to lack of time and manpower. However, the foundation is there, except for some points of discussion. But these are similar to the Dutch situation and the Netherlands has also opted for accession. So in that, we are on par with the Netherlands.’

What are some specific examples of issues that remain to be settled in terms of legislation?

Flora: ‘One of the issues is that in Curaçao we do not yet structurally collect the right data concerning situations of domestic violence and child abuse. We also need campaigns to raise awareness of domestic violence. Furthermore, we currently do not yet have data assistance programmes, nor do we have legal notification codes.

What Curaçao also does not yet have is the ability to access and apply legal protective measures, e.g. non-molestation order and order prohibiting contact.’

‘Furthermore, here in Curaçao there is no legal assurance yet that domestic violence and child abuse are taken into account during guardianship and care,’ Flora continues. ‘In practice, this does happen, but a legal obligation is still lacking.’

Another issue is that, like the Netherlands, Curaçao has no legislation criminalising rape and other sexual violence without lack of consent of the victim.

Flora: ‘Again, in practice this is punishable under general regulations, but specific legislation in this area is still lacking. These are all points Curaçao must work on when acceding to the Istanbul Convention.’

What would accession to the Convention specifically mean for the shelter of victims of HGKM in Curaçao?

‘Of course, it is not the case that numerous shelter places and additional safehouses will be added immediately after accession to the Convention’, Flora points out. ‘However, accession does compel Curaçao to submit biennial reports to the Council of Europe. This is an excellent means of exerting pressure to, among other things, implement the aforementioned legislative amendments and arrange the matters required for accession.’

What do victims of domestic violence gain from the Istanbul Convention?

The accession of our Caribbean islands to the Convention certainly makes a difference, according to Flora:

‘It gives you international pressure to better manage your affairs in the area of domestic violence. This creates more coherence between legislation and policy and can help combat domestic violence more effectively. That is the great strength of the Convention.’

Flora: ‘As a country, you can say that victims can report domestic violence, but if you do not, then inform those victims how and where they can do so safely and what assistance and shelter they can count on, there is a little chance that they will actually report it.’

Policy on the islands sometimes offer more protection than policy in the Netherlands

While the Caribbean islands in general are still a bit more traditional in their views on gender relations, the Netherlands is increasingly developing gender-neutral policy. Flora: ‘That gender neutrality can unfortunately make it more difficult for women and children experiencing domestic violence.’

‘The Council of Europe even explicitly addressed the Netherlands on this issue in the last round of reporting on the ‘Istanbul Convention’. The Council indicated that women and children are relatively vulnerable groups that explicitly must be protected from domestic violence, where the principle of gender-neutral policy is not always helpful.’

More information about Flora Goudappel

Flora Goudappel is a full-time Professor of International Law and Public Law at the University of Curaçao (UoC) and works as Dean at the Faculty of Law. She holds the general chair there, the content of which she is free to decide. One of her specialisations is ‘Citizenship’ and from that focus she also deals with legal and illegal immigration in Europe and on the islands of the Caribbean Netherlands.

Flora works a lot with legal treaties and conventions and at the request of the Ministry of SOAW (Social Development, Labour and Employment), she researched the ‘Istanbul Convention’, investigating the extent to which Curaçao as a country meets the requirements of this Convention. This research has been completed for some time, but unfortunately has not formally been presented to the Minister as yet.

Flora Goudappel