Scottish and Welsh Ministers have repeated calls for the UK Government to extend safeguards against gender-based violence to migrant women, after the Home Office announced partial ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
The Convention obliges signatories to take steps to tackle violence against women and girls but the UK Government has declined to include Article 59, which protects migrant women.
In a joint letter, Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie and Welsh Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt urged UK Safeguarding Minister Amanda Solloway to “do the right thing by migrant women” by ratifying Article 59, pointing out that the Convention specifically prohibits discrimination of any kind.
The full letter reads:
Dear Ms Solloway,
We are writing in response to your predecessor’s letter of 5 July 2022, reiterating the Home Office’s position in relation to the reservation you are applying to Article 59.
We’d like to take this opportunity to re-state the Scottish and Welsh Governments’ disappointment with this decision and to urge you again to do the right thing by migrant women and ensure that they are offered the same protection as other women in this country. A key element of the Istanbul Convention is the obligation it places on States to implement its provisions without discrimination on any grounds and we urge you to take this obligation seriously.
We understand your position in regard to Article 59 is under “review pending the results and evaluation of the Support for Migrant Victims (SMV) scheme, which will conclude by this summer… at which point we would be able either to maintain the reservation or to withdraw it under Article 78(4).” As the pilot is testing the question of how, not whether, migrant victims and survivors are supported, we are not clear why this would lead you to submit a reservation to Article 59. The Pilot would appear to be more about operational practice which, while clearly important, does appear secondary to the principle behind Article 59. It is on these grounds that we ask you to withdraw the exemption immediately.
We wish to reiterate the points we made separately in Ms McKelvie’s letter of 8 June 2022, and Minister Hutt’s letter of 5 May 2022, that the scheme is too restrictive and that funding is insufficient. Additionally, Scotland’s Ending Destitution Together strategy highlights the risks faced by migrant women experiencing domestic abuse and calls for the UK Government to enable funding of refuge spaces for people subject to No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and for the extension of the Destitution Domestic Violence (DDV) Concession.
If you are not willing to reverse your decision at this time, we would suggest we have a window of opportunity to come to a policy agreement that works for all nations once the pilot is complete. We recognise that ratification itself is a prerogative power exercised by UK Ministers, nonetheless this Treaty gives rise to obligations in devolved areas and we would wish to discuss with you how this can be reconciled. We understand that your officials have agreed to meet with counterparts in Scotland and Wales to discuss this in the autumn. It is important that officials are not just updated on the findings of the review at that meeting but discuss a resolution to our concerns.
For your awareness, Ms McKelvie raised these concerns when she met the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, earlier this month.
Minister for Equalities and Older People
Minister for Social Justice