Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention – zero impact? Part 1

Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention – zero impact? Part 1

Despite what Turkey claims, the domestic impact of Turkey’s recent withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention is cause for concern.

The impact on Violence Against Women

May11 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention, IC). This would normally be a moment for celebration, but President of Turkey instead presented an unusual birthday present: a decree for withdrawal from the Convention in March. Turkey became the first and only country to withdraw. The Presidential Directorate of Communications claimed that the Convention had been "hijacked by people attempting to normalise homosexuality" - which was said to be "incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values", and that Turkey was not alone, and was one of several ‘concerned’ European states. Nonetheless, the government claimed that its withdrawal ‘has zero impact on the implementation of the strict, effective and real-world measures’ to protect women, as Turkey’s domestic law and international obligations provides a basis to protect women from violence. So we ask the question: Is there truly ‘zero impact’?

As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey bears both substantive and procedural positive obligations to prevent and prosecute domestic violence involving discrimination and to protect its victims. This was long established by the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’). However, the IC plays an indivisible role as the first and only comprehensive legally binding international treaty specifically dedicated to addressing a myriad of issues concerning violence against women and girls (VAW), expanding acknowledgement of VAW as a structural and systemic issue emerging from gender inequality, including domestic violence, physiological and physical abuse, non-consensual acts of sexual nature, female genital mutilation, forced abortion and sterilisation, ‘honour’ crimes, stalking and forced marriage. The treaty paves a roadmap for the elimination of gender-based violence and imposes legal obligations on states to undertake various measures, based on four pillars of prevention, protection, prosecution and coordinated policies, ranging from data collection and legal reforms to effective prosecution, victim protection and international cooperation. Although the full implementation of IC in Turkey has been constantly criticised, following the ratification Turkey had accepted gender equality in numerous international law documents and its constitution. Even with such a progressive document, at least 38% of women are subjected to VAW in Turkey. As such, the withdrawal is not ‘impactless’ on the plight of women in Turkey, as evidenced by the immediate halt of the state’s international commitments, legal and non-legal efforts in curbing VAW, discouraged implementation of national legislation passed under the convention, coupled with the loss of binding oversight mechanisms.

National reputation tarnished, the Rule of Law undermined

Moreover, the withdrawal adversely affected the constitutional and democratic order undermining the Rule of Law in Turkey. Indeed, the current decree relies on a prior decree in which President Erdoğan self-recognised the power to unilaterally withdraw from international treaties without being subjected to Parliamentary overview. Scholars assert that the withdrawal was unconstitutional, as the Constitution does not allow Presidents to exercise executive power over fundamental rights regulations. The peculiar timing and form of the decree circumvented any public and Parliamentary debate, giving effect to a crucial decision supported by only 7% of the public. By freeing itself from treaty obligations with a mere announcement, Turkey has placed its reliability and reputation as international partner at stake, evidenced by the discontent expressed by world leaders towards such unilateral withdrawal. Now, the ball is in the court of international relations.

Backlash on the LGBTQ+ Community in Turkey

Another clear impact stems from the official grounds for withdrawal – ‘normalisation of homosexuality’. The convention does not introduce new concepts concerning ‘gender’. The LGBTQ+ community’s explicit recognition by Article 4 is parallel to the ECtHR and the Constitutional Court of Turkey caselaw as both accept sexual orientation as a protected category under the non-exhaustive discrimination clause. Turkey holds one of the worst records of human rights violations against LGBTQ+ people in Europe. Unfortunately, in the absence of state collaboration, charting the exact statistics and records of hate crimes against the community is nearly impossible and might be misleading. Yet, the brutal nature of these acts, and the transphobic or homophobic policies’ mutually reinforcing relation with the impunity culture demonstrated by rights defenders of the country, portrays a clear picture. It is clear that such ‘grounds for withdrawal’ reflect the government’s outright hostility towards LGBTQ+ community of Turkey, pushing them further towards the turmoil of marginalisation and violence, which some call ‘a tsunami of hate’. With daily news about banned LGBTQ+ related events, arrests over rainbow flags, criminalization, and censorship the intolerance and animosity towards the community is growing rapidly.

Now, with thousands on the street, appeals initiated in court, recently launched international campaign and a flood of reactions triggered in the international arena, we hope that the reverse button for such an abrupt decision can be initiated, as #IstanbulConventionSavesLives.

Part 2 of this blog.


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