Hungarian Parliament refuses to ratify the Istanbul Convention for its asylum provisions and inclusion of gender

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2020.05.05. 18:17

On Tuesday, within just 24 hours after its submission, the Hungarian Parliament accepted a political declaration rejecting the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, more commonly known as the Istanbul Convention. According to the declaration, the reason for this is that the Convention defines gender as a social construct.

The declaration titled "on the importance of the protection of the rights of women and children and on the rejection of acceding to the Istanbul Convention" was submitted on Monday night by three MPs of Fidesz's satellite and coalition partner the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) Lőrinc Nacsa, Hajnalka Juhász, and Imre Vejkey (who, from time to time, urges Hungary to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights as well) and within 24 hours, the government's supermajority in Parliament has already passed it.

The declaration states that Hungary already protects the rights of women, but the Parliament refuses to introduce the term "gender" in the legal system (a bill currently before Parliament seeks to remove it from the civil registry as well, making gender recognition for trans people impossible) and argues that recognizing gender-based violence as a form of persecution in asylum procedures (as per Article 60 of the Convention) endangers Hungarian culture, laws, traditions, and national values, therefore, calls on the Government to refuse the ratification of the Convention and to oppose it at all EU forums.

Full text of the declaration in English

"These days, Hungary pays special attention to the protection of families, children, and women. Their rights are declared by the Fundamental Law, the spirit of which guides the National Assembly's legislative work, and the state's obligation to act also supports their exceptional situation. In Hungary, the protection of women is ensured by laws and the application of these laws. Violence against women and violence within relationships are considered crimes.

We agree that we must answer the challenges set by the modern world and we must not underestimate the dangers outside our country's borders even if these dangers partially or completely avoid Hungary. We reiterate that the National Assembly, considered to represent the will of the people, holds the values of Christianity and its role in preserving the nation key during their legislative work in accordance with the will of the people.

We reject any attempted outside pressure aimed at forcing the National Assembly to make decisions that go against the interests of Hungary and the will of the majority of the Hungarian people. Being aware of this mandate and driven by our solidified convictions, we reject the enforceability of the Istanbul Convention with regards to Hungary and the European Union. 

We do not support the ratification of the Istanbul Convention firstly because it prescribes a gender-based approach in the adoption of its measures, but the National Assembly does not wish to make the term 'gender' or the Istanbul Convention's views on gender a part of our national body of law. The other reason we cannot support it is that the Convention is contrary to the political goals set forth by the 36/2015 Parliamentary Declaration titled "Message to the leaders of the European Union" and the Hungarian legal environment created to ensure effective action against illegal immigration.

We have a right to defend our country, our culture, our laws, our traditions, and our national values that we will not allow to be jeopardised by either a gender-ideology that goes against the majority consensus or unrestricted or softened gender-based immigration rules. The sections of the Istanbul Convention that we consider valuable - especially provisions concerning the protection of children and reducing violence against women - are already incorporated into the Hungarian legal system which ensures that the requisite legal guarantees are in place for all those who require protection.

The National Assembly calls on the Government not to take further steps towards the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

The National Assembly also calls on the Government to represent their position opposing the European Union acceding to the Istanbul Convention at all institutions of the European Union operating with governmental participation."

It must be added that the title itself is a bit of a misnomer as Hungary signed the convention in 2014 but has refused to ratify it ever since, but aversion towards the document is nothing new in the governing party;  At the end of last year, MEPs of Fidesz had already abstained during the vote in the European Parliament on urging EU member states to ratify the convention, but even earlier, two years ago, Fidesz's VP Szilárd Németh already told ATV that 

"as long as Fidesz has a majority in the Parliament, the Istanbul Convention will not go through."

Last April, parliamentary state secretary Pál Völner answered an MP's question claiming that the government is waiting for Brussels: "As the competences of the EU and the competences of member states are codependent, the EU has to become a party to the Convention in order for the EU and the member states to be able to fulfil the obligations contained in the convention in a coherent manner." A mere two months later, Völner walked back on his position, telling the Parliament that Hungary will not ratify the Convention because of its chapter on refugees and its definition of gender as a social construct.

Tímea Szabó: The government is waging a war on women

Following the vote in the Hungarian Parliament, several female MPs of the opposition protested the declaration, Tímea Szabó, the party whip of opposition party Párbeszéd said that "Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Speaker László Kövér, and the governing parties have started a war on women. This decision took away the possibility of effectively curbing violence against women and children." Szabó said they want to stand up for all women in Hungary as violence does not differentiate by parties, ancestry, or religious views.

What did Kövér say again?

Founding member of Fidesz and Speaker of the Parliament László Kövér is known for his rather abrasive comments such as calling constitutional checks and balances dumb, likening adoption by same-sex couples to paedophilia, or simply describing an opposition MP as a "primitive, moronic oaf" while on the pulpit. 

This time, in an interview on HírTV, the Speaker explained how he thinks that opposition lawmakers, especially female MPs are pathetic and "as a man, there is nothing more saddening to see than a female face distorted by hatred," adding that the behavior of Tímea Szabó is "unfit for a mother."

Opposition MPs reported the misogynistic comments heard on the program to the National Media and Infocommunications Authority.

Zita Gurmai of MSZP said that Fidesz's claim that the state protects all victims of violence is a lie, and found the declaration utterly distasteful as it sends the message that the victims do not matter. She suggested the government to create a separate fund to help victims, increase the number of school psychologists, include education on domestic violence in the national school curriculum, train law enforcement and justice system employees on the topic, strengthen the signaling system, increase the capacity of maternity homes, and launch more ex-officio investigations.

Ágnes Vadai of DK noted that physical violence is always preceded by verbal violence, adding that verbal violence against female MPs and voters has not only manifested itself in Parliament but also on the social media accounts of pro-government lawmakers, and she called on the opposition to once again submit their proposal to ratify the convention to the Parliament.

Krisztina Hohn of LMP called the Convention a symbol that the government swept off the table, taking hope away from many latent victims.

Fidesz later responded to opposition reactions in a press release not even mentioning the Convention but claiming that the opposition is twisting the words of László Kövér while they refused to support an amendment to the Criminal Code introducing more severe punishments for violence against women and children, and they also tried to hush the sexual harassment case of theatre director Péter Gothár. The statement adds that Kövér was specifically talking about lawmakers "whose faces were distorted by hatred." 

(Cover photo: Tamás Kovács / MTI)

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