Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention – zero impact? Part 2

Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention – zero impact? Part 2

Beyond domestic concerns, what is the impact in other areas of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention?

Part 1 of this blog.

On 22 March 2021, the Council of Europe (CoE) was notified by Turkey on its withdrawal from the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention, IC). As we argued in our first blog, Turkey’s withdrawal has had a major impact in Turkey’s society. Meanwhile, it has shocked many others, including the CoE and the European Union (EU). It is a worrisome situation, given that there has already been a backlash against the Convention in other European countries.

This article will discuss two effects caused by Turkey’s withdrawal: a spillover effect on other European countries, and a snowballing effect on the significance of the Convention. It will also discuss the vital role of European organisations in calling on Turkey to reconsider its decision. Our core argument is that Turkey’s withdrawal is more than a domestic matter – it requires coordinated action at the European level.

Spillover effect on other European countries

According to the Presidential Directorate of Communications, Turkey’s withdrawal is based on a highly anti-gender movement. In fact, Turkey is not the only country to have such a movement and a backlash on the IC.

In Poland, the IC has been attacked as ‘gender gibberish’ due to the increasing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Polish president Duda has described LGBTQ+ rights as ‘another ideology’ and claims that LGBTQ+ movements ‘divide Polish society’. It is estimated that 800,000 women in Poland experience violence each year, and around 150 women die as a result of so-called domestic disagreements. Yet, the Polish government announced preparations for the withdrawal process last year, which triggered mass protests claiming that it was undermining women’s rights.

Similarly, the Bulgarian Constitutional Court decided the IC was unconstitutional in 2018. The Court ruled that the IC ‘relativizes the borderline between the two sexes – male and female as biologically determined’. It also maintained that society needs to distinguish between men and women to combat violence against women. The Constitutional decision provoked a backlash on the IC while it has already been attacked for introducing ‘third sex’ and same-sex marriage. LGBTQ+ communities have increasingly been targeted as well.

These countries are just the tip of the iceberg. With the continuing rise in conservative views against LGBTQ+ people, Turkey’s withdrawal may cause a spillover effect in these countries, which might encourage them to withdraw from the IC.

Snowballing effect on the IC regime

The IC was ratified or accessed by 33 parties including the EU. Similar to other conventions, the number of parties to the convention is vital in implementing particular norms agreed upon. A withdrawal by any state means fewer members in the specific regime formed by the IC, namely the elimination of gender-based violence. The fundamental value of the IC will not be diminished because of the withdrawal, however one cannot deny that the significance of the IC in the European region will be adversely affected. Although Turkey has a legal right to withdraw if it so wishes according to Article 80 of the IC, Turkey’s withdrawal might cause a snowballing effect across Europe which could undermine the norms and spirit of the IC. It may further be accelerated as a result of the spillover effect.

Roles of European organisations

In response to Turkey’s Note Verbal, the CoE’s newsroom reported that it was ‘an inadmissible regression of women's rights in Europe and in itself a denial of the acts of femicide that occur all over Europe, including in Turkey’. Also, the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights stated that it is ‘an ill-advised decision’, underlining ‘an urgent need to stop the growing efforts to obstruct the ratification of the [IC], or to call for pulling out from it, by deliberately spreading false narratives about it’. Based on these statements, it is vital for CoE members, especially parties to the IC, to act in a coordinated way to respect the IC and put peer pressure on Turkey to reconsider its decision.

As full accession to the IC has been a part of the EU agenda, the withdrawal of member states is a major concern. However, both the EU Commission and the EU Council have been content to merely share their concerns. As the Treaty on EU Article 49 provides that commitment to human rights is a premise to the accession to the EU, the EU has greater leverage over Turkey to reconsider. Yet, the EU is failing to act by preferring to maintain the smooth continuity of economic relations and migration collaborations. Turkey's candidate status makes this process an example of how the EU could respond to such a decision if an EU member takes the same road. So far, the EU’s inaction is sending the wrong signal to those states whose economic interests are trumping human rights concerns.


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