Bulgaria: Ratify the Istanbul Convention!

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Elena was shot with six bullets by her husband Ventseslav, with whom she had been separated for two years. During that time, she was subjected to systematic stalking, scandals, and threats, although she sent multiple signals to the Interior Ministry and the prosecutor's office. Viola was murdered by her boyfriend Stefan in a particularly cruel way, after a few deadly blows to her head with a golf stick and multiple stab wounds. This happened despite knowledge of his aggressive behavior and despite complaints filed by his former wife.

The murders of Viola and Elena are just some of the cases behind the statistics: One in four women in Bulgaria experience domestic violence. They were part of a series of high-profile murders and assaults on women by their former or current partners that shook Bulgaria over the past year, shedding light on serious gaps in Bulgarian legislation and its implementation.

The Council of Europe's convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the 'Istanbul Convention') is an important international legal document that can change that. This document would make it possible to introduce wide-sweeping measures, addressing the shortcomings of the Bulgarian system. It promises to prevent violence against women, protect women who are experiencing violence and prosecute perpetrators of violence.

Bulgaria signed the Convention in April 2016, but since then has been persistently refusing to take the next step - to ratify it. We, at the Alliance for Protection against Gender-Based Violence, the largest network in Bulgaria, actively working for the protection and prevention of domestic violence and violence, are calling for the immediate ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

This would provide a comprehensive legal framework for the enhanced protection of women and girls from violence and limit domestic violence as a whole. Ratification is the only way for the Convention to enter into force for Bulgaria and introduce the necessary legislative changes. These changes could be life-saving. Sign the petition if you want to contribute to preventing violence against women and girls in Bulgaria and introducing adequate support measures.

The Convention is the most progressive and comprehensive existing international standard to combat violence against women and girls so far. Some of the important specific reasons for ratifying the Convention include the:

  • criminalization of domestic violence. Bulgarian criminal laws consider crimes of mild, moderate and some instances of serious bodily harm, committed by a spouse, brother, sister or other close relative, as “private”. This means that the perpetrators would not be persecuted by the authorities unless the victim/violence survivor initiates the proceedings;
  • criminalization of forced marriages and forced cohabitation on marital grounds as well as forced female circumcision and sterilization;
  • explicit criminalization of psychological abuse and stalking, expressed in deliberate and repeated waiting, observation, unwanted contacts or other acts in which the victim is afraid of her safety;
  • special protection for children and special guarantees for victims of violence when exercising their rights in criminal proceedings;
  • more efficient services for victims of violence, such as more crisis centers, consultative centers, a free telephone hotline, free legal and psychological help.

In the past year, the European Union (EU) also decided to join the Istanbul Convention, reaffirming its commitment to combating violence against women, within its territory and globally. At the beginning of 2018, Bulgaria took over the rotating EU Council Presidency and now, when the EU is watching, we have the opportunity to change the direction of our government policy. We can no longer close our eyes to what is happening with thousands of women in Bulgaria. Let us stand in support of the victims of violence and call on authorities to act now!

Link to the petition in Bulgarian: www.change.org/RatifyIstanbulConvention



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