VILNIUS, Apr 19, BNS - Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Lithuania on Wednesday to ratify the so-called Istanbul Convention against violence against women.
According to the commissioner, Lithuania could work with experts monitoring the implementation of the convention and use good practices of other nations to improve its system for combating domestic violence.
Critics say that convention offers an unacceptable definition of social gender. The government promises to initiate discussions, but says nothing about what decisions could be made.
Muiznieks: don't be the last
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius signed the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence back in 2013, but the Seimas has not yet ratified it.
What causes discussion in Lithuania is that the convention defines gender as a social construct and obliges signatories to include teaching material on non-stereotyped gender roles in the curriculum.
Muiznieks rejected criticism of these concepts posing a threat to traditional family values.
"This is not the convention about LGBTI rights, it's not about transgender people, it's about violence in the family that particularly targets women. So please send a political signal that you take this seriously, that you consider this a human rights violation, ratify the convention and work with the experts monitoring body to improve your system for dealing with it," he said.
Muiznieks, who presented a report on Lithuania on Wednesday, said that the "convention makes it clear that violence against women and domestic violence cannot solely be considered as private matters, and that states have an obligation to prevent violence, protect victims and punish the perpetrators".
In the commissioner's words, Lithuania "sets up a comprehensive monitoring mechanism, which covers all member states, and facilitates the exchange of expertise and good practices across Europe."
Inequality between women and men, which is still a reality, promotes violence against women and, therefore, attention must be paid to the portrayal of the sexes in the media and to the education system, he said.
The concept of social gender
The Lithuanian Bishops' Conference and other critics say that if Lithuania ratifies the Istanbul Convention, it may have change its gender concept and introduce unacceptable provisions on homosexuality.
"Of particular concern are provisions placing the signatory countries under the obligation to include teaching material on 'non-stereotyped gender roles', which may mean, inter alia, homosexuality and transsexuality, in formal curricula at all levels of education," the bishops said in their comment on the convention several years ago.
"The attempt to link the noble goal of preventing violence with the introduction of provisions, which are alien both to the Lithuanian education system and to the moral values of many parents, sets a precedent that raises legitimate concerns," they said.
Rimantas Jonas Dagys of the conservative Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats says that the ratification of the convention "would throw the entire legal system into disarray and would make us scrap any family policy".
"Why adopt follies? Why should we legalize lots of genders? How many sexes are there in nature? Do we have common sense?" the lawmaker said.
Lithuanian Social Security and Labor Minister Linas Kukuraitis promises to initiate discussions and to invite non-governmental organizations and the Church to join them, but he is not making any concrete proposals yet.
"The main task for the near future is discuss the Istanbul Convention in all possible contexts -- how to ensure that the provisions regarding violence against women are ratified and what to do with the dilemma notion of social gender that would be introduced along with the convention," the minister told BNS.
"Actually, the Seimas will decide whether or not to ratify, (...) but discussion is necessary as we move toward the ratification," he added.
Judges are the weak link
The Council of Europe's commissioner also called on Lithuania's authorities to deinstitutionalize the child care system and change judges' attitude toward the separation of perpetrators of domestic violence from their families.
According to Muiznieks, "there is a lack of clarity in the law as to whether it is a police officer or a prosecutor who should address the court with a request to issue a protection measure".
"This leads to a lack of coherence between the practice in different courts, because certain judges refrain from applying a protection measure when requested to do so by a police officer," the report reads.
The commission said that his impression was that more attention should be paid to training judges.
"More consistent practice is needed for judges to regard domestic violence as a serious human rights violation. It seems to me that police and prosecutors are rather well prepared, but additional training for judges may be required. Judges appear to the weak link," he said.
Muiznieks also underlined the need for providing adequate shelters for women subjected to violence.
The commissioner called on the authorities to show ore ambition to ensure that ensure that orphans and children deprived of parental care grow up in a family environment.
"The existing system of placement in socialization centers should be reviewed and the deinstitutionalization process should also apply to those institutions. Children experiencing behavioral problems should not be placed in closed-type institutions, but instead sufficient support should be provided to their rehabilitation in their families or a family-like environment," the report reads.
By Vaidotas Beniusis, Donata Motuzaite, Milena Andrukaityte