Engelse toespraak Ton Elias bij conferentie “Geen geweld tegen vrouwen”

Opening to conference of Parliamentary Network “Women Free from Violence”, Council of Europe, by the First Deputy Speaker of the Dutch House of Representatives, replacing the Speaker.

13[th] April 2016

Honored guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me wish you a warm welcome to the assembly hall of the Senate, with a special welcome to Mrs Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2014 and 2015. Standing here in this historic and monumental assembly hall is just as extraordinary for me as it is for you. Unfortunately, both my colleagues – the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives – are unable to be here today, but I consider it an honour to serve as their replacement at this conference on the Istanbul Convention.

Let me start by telling you a little more about this plenary hall. It dates back to the seventeenth century – The Golden Age of the Dutch Republic. In those days, our country was made up of seven provinces, of which the province of Holland was by far the wealthiest and most influential. Which explains why “Holland” to this day is used as a synonym for “The Netherlands” in the English language.

It were representatives of these province – who had become rich through their trade with countless countries overseas – who wished to see their wealth and influence literally reflected in a monumental building, with an equally monumental assembly hall. They achieved their ambition. The beautiful paintings in the ceiling panels are original and depict the various peoples and parts of the world with which the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands had trade relations in those days.

The States General also have a long and illustrious history. We celebrated our bicentenary in October 2015. Our current parliamentary system, with its two Chambers, was enshrined in the Constitution as early as 1815 and although there have been some minor changes, it still forms the basis for our modern parliamentary democracy. The Inner Court forms the heart of that democracy. On the other side of the court lies the directly-elected House of Representatives, of which I am the First Deputy Speaker. It is there that we debate government policy, where political decisions are made, and which therefore has primacy. In our system, the Senate serves as a revising chamber, assessing whether laws and regulations adopted are in line with the Constitution and other laws.

The two Chambers work together in many areas and put together their delegations to the various interparliamentary assemblies in consultation with each other – as is also the case for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. This assembly has a strong focus on the improvement of the position of women. Discrimination and violence against women and domestic violence share a common origin: the dependency relationships that still exist today. Discrimination and obstacles to equal opportunities for women, as well as violence against women, are denying them their right to develop and aim to maintain a dependency relationship and social isolation. It is our duty to do everything possible to fight this.

Even in the Netherlands, domestic violence and violence against women are problems in society that have long been ignored or sidelined. The response was denial, disregard, disbelief and taboo. In the 1960s, often initiated by the victims themselves and those very close to them, the first telephone helplines and women’s shelters were established. Understandably, the main focus was to provide refuge to the victims of violence as far as this was possible. Tracking down and prosecuting those responsible for the violence often proved difficult or even impossible, because of the difficulty of providing evidence, the danger to the lives of the victims or an intrusion of their privacy. Now, with government support, social institutions and organisations have established refuge facilities and shelters in many municipalities in the Netherlands. Some of you visited a shelter of this kind this morning and had an opportunity to speak to the residents there. I have no doubt that the stories they had to tell will have had a deep impression on you and only emphasise the need for a wide-ranging, international approach.

The Istanbul Convention is an indispensable tool in the battle against violence towards women and domestic violence because it provides the people involved with everything they need to take on their responsibilities: from prevention through to after-care. The Convention also has a direct effect, which means that citizens can invoke all of its articles in a court of law.

The Netherlands ratified the Istanbul Convention in November 2015. A total of 26 out of 47 member states of the Council of Europe still need to ratify the Convention. I trust that this conference can and will make an important contribution to increasing awareness of the seriousness of violence against women and domestic violence and will very soon result in an increase in the number of parties to this Convention.

I wish you all a very constructive conference.