Written by Solène Poreau
Translated by Julie Penverne
The Istanbul Convention came into force on August 1, 2014, after being adopted a few years earlier on May 11, 2011https://www.coe.int/fr/web/istanbul-convention/historical-background. This international treaty requires governments to enact legislation to address domestic violence and abuses such as marital rape and female genital mutilation. By suggesting a four-pillar system of prevention, protection, prosecution and integrated policies, the importance of such a convention lies in the fact that it is one of the first and most progressive legally binding instruments at the pan-European level.
On March 20, 2021, the Turkish government officially denouncedDenunciation is an act by which a State that has ratified a Convention announces its intention to terminate its obligations under that ratification. the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to exclude his country from such an instrument for the protection of fundamental rights is worrying the international community, and in particular international human rights organizations. To what extent does this denunciation constitute a setback for women’s rights in Turkey?
The establishment and purpose of the Istanbul Convention
The idea of setting up such a tool for the protection of women goes back to the 1990s, with the establishment of various initiatives in this sense by the Council of Europe. The objective was to find solutions to counter violence against women resulting from unequal and historical power relations between men and women. The work of the Council of Europe led to the adoption of a recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to the member states on the protection of women against violence« Recommandation Rec (2002)5 du Comité des Ministres aux États membres sur la protection des femmes contre la violence », Council of Europe, 30 April 2002. This was followed by various resolutions and recommendations from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In 2008, a group of experts set up by the Committee of Ministers was given the task of preparing a draft convention to combat violence against women and domestic violence, a draft intended to set more comprehensive standardshttps://www.dalloz-actualite.fr/flash/lutte-contre-violences-faites-aux-femmes-en-france-est-insuffisante-au-regard-de-convention-d-#.YVF50tMzYxg. The final draft of the Convention will be presented in December 2010.
With 34 States Parties, including France since 2014, the “Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence: https://rm.coe.int/168008482e” establishes various minimum standards for prevention, protection of victims of violence and prosecution of perpetrators. The purpose of the treaty is stated in Article 1« The purposes of this Convention are to:a) protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence;b) contribute to the … Continue reading.
In addition, in order to evaluate and improve the proper implementation of the Convention’s provisions by States, the Convention has set up a GREVIOIndependent specialized body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence by the Parties. … Continue reading, Group of Experts on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. This body of independent experts acts in concert with the Committee of the PartiesBody composed of representatives of the Parties to the Convention. The latter are responsible for preparing and publishing reports to evaluate the legislative measures taken by the parties to give effect to its provisions. The GREVIO can also initiate a special investigation procedure (e.g. to prevent serious acts of violence), or adopt recommendations. The existence of these two bodies allows non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to submit their reports, observations or warnings concerning the situations they observe.
Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the convention
One of the surprising aspects of such a withdrawal is related to the fact that in 2012, Turkey had become the first state to ratify the Istanbul Convention without any reservationsIn international treaty law, a reservation is a unilateral statement, however phrased or named, made by a State when signing, ratifying or acceding to a treaty, by which it purports to exclude or … Continue reading. Following a unanimous vote by the Grand National Assembly, Turkey then initiated its ratification procedure. It was approved by the Council of Ministers on February 10, 2012 and entered into Turkey’s domestic legal order on March 8, 2012https://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2012/03/20120308M1-1.htm. In this context, what are the reasons that led Turkey to denounce a treaty that is highly symbolic and significant in terms of human rights protection?
The initiative of such a withdrawal, although shocking, is not surprising in view of the various speeches made by Turkish conservatives over the past several years, as well as the various references by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, over the past several months, to the possibility of departing from it. This decision seems to be justified by one main reason. Some people denounced the incompatibility of the Convention with “traditional” Turkish family values, accusing the treaty of encouraging women to ask for a divorce, or of jeopardizing patriarchy and “the almost natural status of inequality between Turkish men and womenL. Charrier, “Violences contre les femmes : Istanbul quitte la Convention… d’Istanbul et provoque une vague de colère en Turquie”, TV5 monde, published on 22 March 2021, … Continue reading Turquie.Erdogan justifie l’inégalité entre hommes et femmes ; https://www.courrierinternational.com/une/2014/11/25/erdogan-justifie-l-inegalite-entre-hommes-et-femmes ; TURQUIE.”.
On March 21, 2021, the Turkish President’s communication services issued a press release on this denunciation, which easily made the link with the various arguments mentioned. Indeed, the release expressly stated that “The Istanbul Convention, originally intended to promote women’s rights, was hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality – which is incompatible with Türkiye’s social and family values. Hence the decision to withdraw“The Istanbul Convention, originally intended to promote women’s rights, has been hijacked by a group of people who are trying to normalize homosexuality – which is incompatible … Continue reading”. Furthermore, it added “The decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention by no means denotes that the State of the Republic of Türkiye ‘compromises the protection of women.’ Türkiye will not give up on its fight against domestic violence by quitting the Convention“The decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention in no way means that the state of the Republic of Turkey “compromises the protection of women.” Turkey will not give up its … Continue reading.”
In a context where conservatives are becoming increasinlgy important in politics and where the rejection of a new vision of society continues, this decision is questionable.
The reactions of Turkish civil society and the opposition
Faced with this event, reactions were swift from part of the Turkish population, with the country’s feminist associations being the first to react. Many Turkish citizens showed great concern about the abandonment of such a text, which is the first supranational tool to set up a legal framework to prevent gender-based violence and protect victims. Many people then took to the streets of Istanbul, chanting slogans calling on the government to reverse its decisionhttp://urlr.me/qZLJy (Via Bahar Kimyongür, @Percligia on Twitter) . On the occasion of these demonstrations, Turks did not hesitate to hold up various portraits of murdered women, in order to underline the extent to which patriarchal violence could be rampant in Turkey, and the need to multiply the instruments of protection.
Such a decision to withdraw has not failed to shock and dismay political opponents, including the CHP, Republican People’s PartyFounded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the CHP is a republican, social-democratic and secular party. It is the main opposition party to the Justice and Development Party, also called AKP. See … Continue reading spoke out on his Twitter account on March 20, accusing Recep Tayyip Erdogan of “trampling on the struggle that women have been waging for yearsTranslated from turkish. https://twitter.com/ekrem_imamoglu/status/1373170214184030208“ .
The shock of the Turkish government’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention is all the greater in civil society as it comes at a time when the number of feminicides remains high in Turkey, with the Turkish association “We will put an end to feminicidesThis association aims to protect women against violence and fights to end feminicide in Turkey. To this end, it provides legal assistance to women who want to protect themselves from the violence … Continue reading” having counted 300 feminicides in 2020, and 77 since the beginning of the year 2021Reported in March 2021.
The reactions of the international community
The denunciation of the treaty triggered numerous reactions from members of the international community. Some States parties to the Istanbul Convention have not hesitated to speak out. France, through the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, expressed its solidarity with Turkish women as well as its “deep regret at the decision of the Turkish authorities to withdraw from the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, even though Turkey was the first country to ratify itStatement by Agnès von der Mühll, spokesperson for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs via: … Continue reading”.
Another particularly important actor whose reaction has had a significant impact is the United Nations, which, through its various bodies, has expressed its concerns about this decision, recalling that the Istanbul Convention is “the first and most comprehensive international treaty dealing specifically with these issueshttps://turkey.un.org/en/122727-un-joint-statement-response-turkeys-withdrawal-istanbul-convention“, especially since it “builds on the standards enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women Ou CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly.”.
In the same motion, UN WomenUnited Nations Body for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women did not fail to report its various concerns regarding the situation, indicating that “this action comes at a time when concerted international action and commitment to end violence against women and girls is more important than everStatement by UN Women on Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2021/3/statement-un-women-turkey-withdrawal-from-the-istanbul-convention”. On this occasion, the UN entity urged Turkey to rethink its decision and reconsider its desire to withdraw from the Convention. The current health context also emerged as a key argument, since, as the UN pointed out, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the increase of violence against women and girls, particularly due to containment measures and “disruption of vital support servicesThe Shadow Pandemic: Violence against women during COVID-19 : https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/in-focus-gender-equality-in-covid-19-response/violence-against-women-during-covid-19”. In this context, the implementation of the commitments of the Istanbul Convention is a fundamental response.
For all these reasons, the UN bodies said they were “concerned that withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention would jeopardize the considerable efforts invested to date in preventing and combating violence against women and could impede progress towards further strengthening national legislative, policy and institutional frameworksidem ref 13”.
NGOs also spoke out against the Turkish decision. Among them, Amnesty International, whose Secretary General Agnès Callamard considers that “On 1 July at midnightDate on which the withdrawal actually took effect., Turkey turned its back on an absolute reference in terms of safety for women and girls. Its withdrawal sends a reckless and dangerous message to those who abuse, maim and kill, telling them in essence that they can continue with impunityhttps://www.amnesty.org/fr/latest/press-release/2021/06/turkeys-withdrawal-from-the-istanbul-convention-rallies-the-fight-for-womens-rights-across-the-world/”.
Undoubtedly, Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention is an ill-advised and worrisome decision, especially since it is the first and only member country of the Council of Europe to have taken such a decision for an international human rights treaty. Despite the Turkish government’s reassuring statements about its commitment to women’s protection policies, its withdrawal is a clear step backwards.
Moreover, this decision reflects the still significant presence of state homophobia in a country where participants in the Istanbul Pride march on June 26 were violently dispersed by the policehttps://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/turquie/turquie-interpellations-de-manifestants-lors-de-la-marche-des-fiertes-a-istanbul_4680051.html. Members of the LGBTI+ community are thus likely to continue to be frequent targets of persecution.
While it is unlikely that Turkey will reverse this choice, the observation of such an event and its consequences is an opportunity to alert us to the need to strengthen the legal instruments intended to fight against gender-based violence, but also against discrimination. It is also a real warning in the face of the rise of increasingly extremist discourse in favor of the rejection of a part of the population, discourse that is taking concrete form in a disturbing manner in certain States, as shown for example by the recent anti-LGBT policies implemented by Hungaryhttps://www.courrierinternational.com/revue-de-presse/acharnement-la-hongrie-cible-nouveau-les-lgbt-avec-une-loi-melant-homosexualite-et.
Infography – Piliers de la Convention d’Istanbul. (2015). Council of Europe. https://rm.coe.int/coe-istanbulconvention-infografic-fr-r04-v01/1680a06d4e
Liste des décisions de la 24ème réunion du GREVIO. (2021). Council of Europe. https://rm.coe.int/grevio-inf-2021-ld24-fre-liste-de-decisions/1680a2ed3a
L’ONU préoccupée par le retrait de la Turquie de la Convention d’Istanbul contre les violences faites aux femmes. (2021). UN Info. https://news.un.org/fr/story/2021/03/1092292
Le retrait turc de la Convention d’Istanbul : un pas en arrière dans la lutte contre la violence à l’égard des femmes. (2021). https://blog.leclubdesjuristes.com/. https://blog.leclubdesjuristes.com/le-retrait-turc-de-la-convention-distanbul-un-pas-en-arriere-dans-la-lutte-contre-la-violence-a-legard-des-femmes/
La sortie de la Turquie de la Convention d’Istanbul relance le combat pour les droits des femmes à travers le monde. (2021). Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/fr/latest/news/2021/06/turkeys-withdrawal-from-the-istanbul-convention-rallies-the-fight-for-womens-rights-across-the-world/
Statement regarding Türkiye’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. (2021). Government of Turkey official website. https://www.iletisim.gov.tr/english/haberler/detay/statement-regarding-turkeys-withdrawal-from-the-istanbul-conventionhttps://www.iletisim.gov.tr/english/haberler/detay/statement-regarding-turkeys-withdrawal-from-the-istanbul-convention
La Turquie quitte officiellement la convention d’Istanbul, qui réprime les violences faites aux femmes. (2021). France TV Info. https://www.francetvinfo.fr/societe/violences-faites-aux-femmes/la-turquie-quitte-officiellement-la-convention-d-istanbul-qui-reprime-les-violences-faites-aux-femmes_4686287.html
Istanbul Convention on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (2011). Council of Europe.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1981). United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CEDAW.aspx
Inquiétude.La Turquie se retire de la convention d’Istanbul, “un jour de fête pour les maris violents”. (2021). Courrier International. https://www.courrierinternational.com/revue-de-presse/inquietude-la-turquie-se-retire-de-la-convention-distanbul-un-jour-de-fete-pour-les
Violences contre les femmes : la Turquie a quitté la Convention d’Istanbul. (2021). TV5 Monde. https://information.tv5monde.com/terriennes/violences-contre-les-femmes-istanbul-quitte-la-convention-d-istanbul-et-provoque-une
L. Charrier, “Violences contre les femmes : Istanbul quitte la Convention… d’Istanbul et provoque une vague de colère en Turquie”, TV5 monde, published on 22 March 2021, sur : https://information.tv5monde.com/terriennes/violences-contre-les-femmes-istanbul-quitte-la-convention-d-istanbul-et-provoque-une
The Shadow Pandemic: Violence against women during COVID-19. (2021). UN Women. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/in-focus-gender-equality-in-covid-19-response/violence-against-women-during-covid-19
Statement by UN Women on Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2021/3/statement-un-women-turkey-withdrawal-from-the-istanbul-convention
Acharnement. La Hongrie cible à nouveau les LGBT avec une loi “mêlant homosexualité et pédophilie”, (2021), Courrier International. https://www.courrierinternational.com/revue-de-presse/acharnement-la-hongrie-cible-nouveau-les-lgbt-avec-une-loi-melant-homosexualite-et
TURQUIE. Pour Erdogan, l’égalité homme femme est « contre nature ». (2014). L’OBS. https://www.nouvelobs.com/monde/20141124.OBS5990/turquie-pour-erdogan-l-egalite-homme-femme-est-contre-nature.html
Turquie.Erdogan justifie l’inégalité entre hommes et femmes. (2014). Courrier international. https://www.courrierinternational.com/une/2014/11/25/erdogan-justifie-l-inegalite-entre-hommes-et-femmes
To cite this article : Solène Poreau, “Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on violence against women”, 09.12.2021, Gender Institute in Geopolitics.
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.
|↑2||Denunciation is an act by which a State that has ratified a Convention announces its intention to terminate its obligations under that ratification.|
|↑3||« Recommandation Rec (2002)5 du Comité des Ministres aux États membres sur la protection des femmes contre la violence », Council of Europe, 30 April 2002|
|↑5||Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence: https://rm.coe.int/168008482e|
|↑6||« The purposes of this Convention are to:|
a) protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence;
b) contribute to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and promote substantive equality between women and men, including by empowering women;
c) design a comprehensive framework, policies and measures for the protection of and assistance to all victims of violence against women and domestic violence;
d) promote international co-operation with a view to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence;
e) provide support and assistance to organisations and law enforcement agencies to effectively co-operate in order to adopt an integrated approach to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence.»
|↑7||Independent specialized body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence by the Parties. https://www.coe.int/fr/web/istanbul-convention/grevio|
|↑8||Body composed of representatives of the Parties to the Convention|
|↑9||In international treaty law, a reservation is a unilateral statement, however phrased or named, made by a State when signing, ratifying or acceding to a treaty, by which it purports to exclude or modify the legal effect of certain provisions of the treaty in respect of itself.|
|↑11||L. Charrier, “Violences contre les femmes : Istanbul quitte la Convention… d’Istanbul et provoque une vague de colère en Turquie”, TV5 monde, published on 22 March 2021, sur : https://information.tv5monde.com/terriennes/violences-contre-les-femmes-istanbul-quitte-la-convention-d-istanbul-et-provoque-une|
|↑12||Turquie.Erdogan justifie l’inégalité entre hommes et femmes ; https://www.courrierinternational.com/une/2014/11/25/erdogan-justifie-l-inegalite-entre-hommes-et-femmes ; TURQUIE.|
|↑13||“The Istanbul Convention, originally intended to promote women’s rights, has been hijacked by a group of people who are trying to normalize homosexuality – which is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values. Hence the decision to withdraw.”|
|↑14||“The decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention in no way means that the state of the Republic of Turkey “compromises the protection of women.” Turkey will not give up its fight against domestic violence by leaving the Convention.”|
|↑15||http://urlr.me/qZLJy (Via Bahar Kimyongür, @Percligia on Twitter)|
|↑16||Founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the CHP is a republican, social-democratic and secular party. It is the main opposition party to the Justice and Development Party, also called AKP. See https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parti_r%C3%A9publicain_du_peuple_Turquie|
|↑17||Translated from turkish. https://twitter.com/ekrem_imamoglu/status/1373170214184030208|
|↑18||This association aims to protect women against violence and fights to end feminicide in Turkey. To this end, it provides legal assistance to women who want to protect themselves from the violence they suffer. It reminds the authorities of their duties and in particular of their obligation to apply Law No. 6284 for the protection of the family and the prevention of violence against women, adopted in 2021. In addition, the association raises public awareness through multiple actions.. Cf http://kadincinayetlerinidurduracagiz.net/|
|↑19||Reported in March 2021|
|↑20||Statement by Agnès von der Mühll, spokesperson for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs via: https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/dossiers-pays/turquie/evenements/article/turquie-retrait-de-la-convention-d-istanbul-20-03-2021|
|↑22||Ou CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly.|
|↑23||United Nations Body for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women|
|↑24||Statement by UN Women on Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2021/3/statement-un-women-turkey-withdrawal-from-the-istanbul-convention|
|↑25||The Shadow Pandemic: Violence against women during COVID-19 : https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/in-focus-gender-equality-in-covid-19-response/violence-against-women-during-covid-19|
|↑26||idem ref 13|
|↑27||Date on which the withdrawal actually took effect.|