Czech Senate fails to ratify Istanbul Convention

Czech Senate fails to ratify Istanbul Convention
Following the 2022 elections, the Senate shifted further to the right amid a low voter turnout. / Krokodyl
By Albin Sybera January 25, 2024

The Czech Senate has failed to ratify the Istanbul Convention against violence against women and domestic violence.

Only 34 of the 71 present senators backed the ratification of the convention, which Czechia had already signed in 2016. Most senators from the Christian Democrat KDU-CSL in the current ruling coalition were against the ratification, as were many from the right-wing government parties, the ODS and TOP 09. From the opposition, there was opposition from the populist ANO party.

The result confirms Czechia as an outlier in Europe. Only four other EU member states have not ratified the Convention – namely Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia – while many EU candidate countries, including Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina, have already done so.

The vote also goes against the liberal social views held by many Czechs,  who have an easygoing attitude to sex, including homosexual relations, which can be legally registered.  

However, since the 2016 ratification, populists, conservatives and the radical right have tried to turn the Council of Europe convention into a subject of domestic cultural wars, aided by far-right manipulation and widespread disinformation narratives.

Jan Skopecek, a prominent MP of the ruling neoliberal ODS party, welcomed the outcome of the Senate vote. “It is an ideological text penned by the progressive left. A healthy reasoning won,” Skopecek posted on social media.

"The Istanbul Convention is a political and ideological document, which cannot have any influence on any court proceeding nor help a single victim," Skopecek's ODS party colleague, senator and former Minister of Justice Daniela Kovarova stated at her website [A normal Daniela].

"My 10-year-long fight against the ratification has just ended", Kovarova added on X/Twitter, referring to the convention as a "Trojan horse and money channel".

Czech Television reported that senator Jiri Cunek from the Christian democratic KDU-CSL and former chairman of the party lashed out against the ratification ahead of the vote, alleging it will remove largely atheist Czechia from  Christian European civilisation.

Minister of Justice Pavel Blazek (ODS) warned senators ahead of the vote about “men being automatically labelled as violators”.

“If all [men] end up behind bars, the human race will go extinct”, Blazek was quoted as saying by Czech Television.  

The outcome of the vote comes amid media reports exposing cases of systematic sexual violence against girls and minors where perpetrators were handed conditional sentences.

In one of the latest ones, a now 17-year-old girl was for two years repeatedly raped by her stepfather, who walked out of the court with a conditional sentence. The court ruled that the experience did not have “a major negative impact” on a girl who later attempted suicide.

The liberal voices in Czech politics and media slammed the outcome of the Senate vote.   

“The result of the Istanbul Convention in the Senate is a great challenge for liberal parties to do something about the increasingly more conservative second chamber,” commented Michal Berg, co-chair of the non-parliamentary Green party, who has also served on the European Green Party leadership.

“We want to remove stereotypes; nobody wants to break up the traditional family,” countered Vaclav Laska of the liberal SEN21 and Pirates senators group, pointing out the persistent economic balance of power in Czech households favouring men.   

Editor of leading liberal daily, DenikN, Jan Molacek, posted on X/Twitter, “How do we want to face disinformation when a Senate, which should be an elite selection of society, has succumbed to these?”  

The Czech Senate had been viewed as a democratic backstop during the era of populist rule of billionaire Andrej Babis, which ended in late 2021. But following the 2022 elections, the Senate shifted further to the right amid a low voter turnout. The ruling coalition leaders ODS increased their senators from 15 to 23. The bloc of right-wing pro-EU parties SPOLU, which ousted ANO in 2021, has held a 41-seat majority in the 81-member Senate since then.