Committee on Istanbul Convention presents withdrawal bill to parliament

A citizens' initiative committee aimed at withdrawing Poland from the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention on domestic violence has formally announced its existence to the Sejm (lower house).

A Legislative Initiative Civil Committee called 'Yes to family, no to gender' submitted a bill on a withdrawal from the convention, to parliamentary authorities with 3,500 supporting signatures.

Organisations grouped in the committee, including the Ordo Iuris Institute and Christian Social Congress, also demand that the Polish government present a convention on family rights in the international forum.

A committee representative, Karolina Pawlawska, told a press conference outside the Sejm on Monday that the 3,500 supporting signatures exceeded the number required by law and, as a result, she expected rapid registration of the civil initiative.

"Its goal is to empower the Polish government, through parliament, to withdraw from the flawed Istanbul Convention and start work on a new convention on family rights, free from ideology, based on scientific knowledge," Pawlawska said.

In the view of the bill's authors, the Istanbul Convention assumes that "violence is a structural phenomenon that does not result from the pathology of social life and, thus, it incorrectly identifies the causes of domestic violence." Pawlawska added that, "that document stands in opposition to numerous laws of the Polish Constitution."

The committee's plenipotentiary, former Sejm Speaker Marek Jurek, said the bill's initiators wanted a serious debate.

He said the convention was flawed due to its use of the word 'gender' instead of 'sex,' the concept of which he said was absent. He pointed out that international agreements have priority over legal statutes and said that introducing into Polish law "such a bizarre concept questioning the role of gender as a fundamental element of human identity, in contravention of the Polish constitution" demanded a serious response.

The 2011 Istanbul Convention, which Poland ratified in 2015, obliges governments to increase the protection of victims of violence and to punish perpetrators. Violence against women - including psychological, physical and sexual violence, rape, stalking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, abortion and sterilisation - is recognised in the convention as a crime. The convention assumes a relationship between violence and unequal treatment, and that the fight against stereotypes and discrimination makes countering violence more effective.

In July, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro requested the minister of family, labour and social policy to start procedures to withdraw from the convention, due to what he called "ideological" differences with Polish law.

PM Mateusz Morawiecki sent a request to the Constitutional Tribunal in July asking it to rule whether the convention breached the constitution, also requesting clarification of the interpretation of the word 'gender,' which was translated into Polish as "socio-cultural sex."