Hungry refusing to ratify the Istanbul Convention that aims at combating violence against women arguing that it promotes “destructive gender ideologies” and “illegal migration”, was the Hungarian parliament’s latest hit to the human rights landscape in the country.

The Istanbul Convention, which Hungary signed in 2014, is the first legally binding instrument dedicated to combating violence against women and a milestone in the history of women’s rights protection. It provides a definition of gender and gender-based violence and foresees, among others, the criminalization of abuses such as the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), marital rape, and forced marriage.

Hungary’s national parliament adopted on May 5 a political declaration with 115 votes in favour, 35 against and 3 abstentions, that rejects the ratification of the convention, after the co-ruling Christian Democrats party (KDNP) submitted a policy statement arguing that certain parts of the convention go against the country’s migration policy. The outcome sparked an outcry from the few women lawmakers, who lifted placards citing sexists quotes mentioned earlier by male MPs.

It would pressure countries to “consider the aspect of gender identities when offering refugee status,” said KDNP’s spokesperson, Lorinc Nacsa, adding that the party opposes to any attempt of “simplifying” immigration to Europe. Lawmakers of the ruling Fidesz party also argued that protection of women from domestic violence is already enshrined in Hungary’s law.

Hungary’s move came in a rather symbolic moment. Amid the pandemic, several countries across Europe have reported a significant rise in domestic violence incidents, with women being the most frequent victims of partner abuse.

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Refusing to ratify the Istanbul convention is one among many of Hungary’s drawbacks in the field of human rights. Since it came into power in 2010, Viktor Orban’s ruling party Fidesz has changed the national constitution to “clarify” the country’s definition on marriage, limiting it to a union between a man and a woman.

In late April, Orban’s government also put forward a law, the so-called Omnibus Bill that would end legal recognition of trans and gender diverse people in the country, as the country seeks to define gender as the “biological sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes.”

The Bill on Coronavirus has already questioned the country’s commitment to rule of law and the fundamental principles of democracy, as well as to European values, as it foresees hefty fines and even imprisonment for journalists spreading “fake news” on Covid-19.

Despite acute criticism by the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, NGOs and human rights activists over Hungary’s “controversial” Coronavirus law, Vera Jourova, the Commission’s Values and Transparency chief said in late April that the country’s law has not yet breached EU rules and she is “not worried yet.”

In her previous post as Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Commissioner, Jourova signed on behalf of the EU the Istanbul Convention in June 2017.

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