After weeks of intense debate, Croatian Parliament voted to ratify the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women on Friday. The ratification bill posed the most serious challenge to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković's control of his ruling centre-right party Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) since taking office October
The ratification passed with 110 MPs in favour and 30 voting against it, with 2 MPs abstaining, in a 151-seat parliament. Out of 55 HDZ MPs, 14 voted against and 1 abstained, defying their party leader's recommendation.
The convention, which was signed by Croatia in 2013 by then centre-left government, but never ratified in parliament, was a hotly debated topic in recent weeks, with conservative groups, the Catholic Church, and even some senior members of the HDZ party vocally opposing it.
The government led by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, which supported the ratification bill unanimously before sending it to parliament, issued a statement on Friday before the vote, reminding critics that the main point of the convention is to prevent violence against women and domestic violence. According to police data, from 2013 to 2017 out of a total of 195 murders committed in Croatia, in 91 cases victims were women.
Ratifying the document, the government said, would strengthen the legal, institutional and financial frameworks for combating unacceptable and criminal violence against women, as well as domestic violence.
They also added that, in spite of what some conservative groups claimed, the convention would not require national legislation to recognise a third gender or redefine marriage.
Plenković also dismissed claims made by some right wing activists that the ratification would burden the country with financial obligations worth 1 billion kuna (€135 million). Croatia already has its own national violence prevention programme, the government said, with a 70 million kuna (€9.4 million) budget in 2018, which includes funding for the implementation of the convention.
Another criticism levelled at the government concerned GREVIO, Council of Europe's expert group charged with monitoring the signatory countries' legislation on violence against women. Although some critics said this meant reducing Croatia's sovereignty, Plenković dismissed these as well in his speech before the vote, saying that this kind of expert body was common, comparing them to GREKO and GRRTA, Council of Europe's bodies monitoring conventions on fight against corruption and human trafficking.
In order to dissuade critics, the government had attached an interpretative statement to the document, once again clarifying all the points of contention, which was passed as well, in spite of opposition Social Democrat MPs requesting its removal.