Human rights groups have raised the alarm after the Polish parliament moved a step closer to withdrawing the country from the Istanbul Convention.
The 2011 treaty, signed by 45 countries and the European Union, requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and other forms of abuse against women.
The Polish parliament voted earlier this week to send a bill called “Yes to Family, No to Gender” to parliamentary committees for examination.
The text calls on the eastern European country to withdraw from the Istanbul Treaty.
It comes after Turkey withdrew from the treaty earlier this month, sparking international condemnation and nationwide protests.
The right-wing Polish government had announced its intention to withdraw from the treaty last summer, claiming it did not respect religion and promoted controversial ideologies about gender.
“Parliament can and should still reject the dangerous bill, ensure protection from violence for all women and girl,” said Hillary Margolis, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Irene Donadio, Senior Lead, Strategy and Partnership at International Planned Parenthood Federation-European Network (IPPF-EN), told Euronews the move was “very worrying”.
“We are extremely, extremely concerned about the developments in Poland. We think that is a serious threat, that the protection from domestic violence and violence against women will be dismantled,” Donadio said.
“We also watch with apprehension the attempt to replace the Istanbul Convention with another convention on family rights.”
According to government documents leaked to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), authorities will seek to replace the convention with a new treaty that would ban same-sex marriage and abortions.
“So altogether, I can only say that we are outraged at the latest steps taken by the Polish parliament and we fear for the destiny of women in Poland,” Donadio said.
Euronews reached out to the Polish Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Polish Parliament for comment but did not receive an answer at the time of publication.
Escalating death threats
The vote in Parliament comes as IPPF-EN, Human Rights Watch and CIVICUS released a new report warning of escalating death threats against women’s rights defenders in Poland.
“Bomb and death threats targeting at least seven groups in Poland for supporting women’s rights and the right to abortion are disturbing reminders of escalating risks to women’s human rights defenders,” the NGOs said in a statement.
“Police should thoroughly investigate threats of violence against women’s rights and other human rights defenders and punish those responsible,” the NGOs said.
Activists say that not only do Polish authorities fail to systematically investigate the threats, but they also contribute to their sense of insecurity by discrediting their work.
“Instead of stoking anger against those trying to uphold basic rights, Polish officials should focus on doing everything in their power to protect women and women’s rights,” said Aarti Narsee, civic space researcher at CIVICUS.
“Several women’s rights defenders have been detained or face what they claim are politically motivated criminal charges,” the rights groups noted, including for causing an “epidemiological threat” for protests held during the pandemic.
The protests erupted in October last year when the constitutional court ruled to ban abortions in the case of fetal defects.
They became the largest anti-government mass movement in Poland since the fall of communism three decades ago. The abortion ban ruling entered into force in late January.
‘EU must react’
“It will set a dramatic precedent in the European Union if we watch and we do nothing,” Donadio told Euronews.
“The EU must press ahead with accession to the Istanbul Convention and protect women with ways that are legally binding across the EU,” MEP Guy Verhofstadt tweeted after the vote in the Polish parliament.
Tensions between Warsaw and Brussels have escalated in recent years over moves seen as undermining the independence of the judiciary, media freedom and the rights of LGBTQ people.
On Wednesday, the European Commission announced it was referring Poland to the EU’s top court over long-standing concerns about respect for the rule of law and the independence of the country’s Supreme Court judges.
The bloc’s executive commission said it will ask the European Court of Justice to order interim measures until a final judgment is given in the case “to prevent the aggravation of serious and irreparable harm inflicted to judicial independence and the EU legal order.”
The EU also adopted at the end of last year a new rule of law mechanism that ties respect for the EU’s core democratic values with EU funding.
But for Donadio, the bloc should go even further and consider using article 7 against Poland over its failure to uphold women’s rights.
Article 7 is a procedure to suspend certain rights from an EU member state when there is “a clear risk” of breaching the bloc’s fundamental values.
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