Last week (22.10.20) the Home Office published their fourth annual report on the UK’s progress towards ratification of the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and girls, otherwise known as the Istanbul Convention. The Istanbul Convention is internationally seen as a the “gold standard” for responding to violence against women and girls (VAWG). The UK Government signed the Convention in 2012 but, eight years on, has so far failed to ratify it.
Sarah Green of the EVAW Coalition said:
“This is so disappointing. The UK made some fanfare of signing the Istanbul Convention in 2012, and it’s clearly a strong standard to aim for. It’s deeply concerning that the key block is the UK Government’s policy of separating out a huge group of women, in order that they can potentially be treated as immigration offenders before victims of crime who need protection and justice. This is a cost of the continuing hostile environment, it shames the UK and it should stop.”
Migrant Women and the Domestic Abuse Bill
It is clear from the progress report that the most significant area where the UK does not currently comply with the Istanbul Convention, and so acts as the biggest hurdle to ratification, is having provisions for migrant women that would comply with Articles 4(3) and 59 of the Convention. These articles outline obligations to ensure that survivors have access to protection and support without discrimination regardless of immigration or refugee status, and to give migrant women whose residence status is dependent on abusive partners the ability to independently apply for residence permits.
The Step Up Migrant Women Coalition has been campaigning for changes to the Domestic Abuse Bill for migrant women that would make the UK compliant with Istanbul Convention. The measures put forward by Step Up Migrant Women include extending the eligibility of the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) to all migrant women experiencing or at risk of abuse for at least six months; a non-discrimination principle in the Bill in line with Article 4(3); and ensuring migrant survivors are able to report abuse safely to the police without fear of their details being shared with immigration enforcement.
The status of progress on Articles 4(3) and 59 is designated as “Under Review” pending outcomes of Support for Migrant Victims pilot scheme. This pilot scheme was announced during the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill in the House of Commons.
During the Migrant Victims of Domestic Abuse Review and throughout the Bill’s passage, specialist services led “by and for” Black and minoritised women, that support migrant survivors of domestic abuse, have provided a wealth of evidence on the needs of migrant women survivors and the gaps in protection and support that the Domestic Abuse Bill should address. It is therefore incredibly disappointing that the Government feel they do not have enough evidence to identity the scale and scope of potential migrant victim needs.
It also remains unclear how a £1.5m pilot for a couple of months will provide such evidence and not simply add unnecessary delay to making legislative changes to the Domestic Abuse Bill which have earned widespread, cross-party support. A delay that will continue to make it difficult for migrant survivors to escape abuse and which will mean the UK will remain uncompliant with the Istanbul Convention.
The Government has previously stated its aim to ratify the Convention through the Domestic Abuse Bill which is currently awaiting its Second Reading in the House of Lords. The report states that extraterritorial jurisdiction measures, another area where the Government is not currently compliant with the Istanbul Convention, will be implemented as part of the Domestic Abuse Bill two months after it achieves Royal Assent. As the report states that the Bill is not expected to achieve Royal Assent until spring 2021, ratification is still likely to be, at the very least, many months away.
The report states that the Government will only ratify the Convention when they are satisfied that they have met all its obligations. However, until Government puts provisions in place to ensure migrant women survivors have equal access to protection and support, it is clear that the UK will not be fully compliant, and the Support for Migrant Victims pilot will only serve to delay compliance even further.
More information on key recommendations to ensure migrant women are protected by the Domestic Abuse Bill can be found here: The Domestic Abuse Bill: Migrant Women Left Behind