Women’s Protection Treaty or the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women was opened for signature for the first time in Istanbul on May 11, 2011, and it is better known as the Istanbul Convention. Turkey was the first country to ratify the treaty in 2012.
The Convention is supported by the Council of Europe and legally binds the states parties. The four basic principles of the convention are prevention of all forms of violence against women and domestic violence, protection of victims of violence, prosecution of crimes, punishment of perpetrators, and the implementation of policies that include holistic, coordinated, and effective cooperation in the field of combating violence against women. It is the first binding international regulation that defines violence against women as a violation of human rights and a type of discrimination. The commitments made by the parties under the contract are monitored by the independent expert group GREVIO.
GREVIO is the auditing body that is formed from expert members in the field to monitor whether the requirements of the Treaty are fulfilled. The first evaluation period of GREVIO, which consists of 10 members determined by the election held in 2015, started in 2016.
The Convention was accepted at the 121st meeting of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, which took place in Istanbul. It entered into force on August 1, 2014. Turkey signed the first contract on 11 May 2011 and was the first country to ratify in parliament on 24 November 2011. Approval document was submitted to the General Secretariat of the Council of Europe on 14 March 2012. Signed by 45 countries and the European Union as of July 2020, it was ratified in 34 of the signatory countries.
The convention not only combats violence against women and domestic violence but also aims to realize the principle of equality between women and men. The Convention, which aims to protect all women from violence regardless of their marital status, provides for non-discrimination, including sexual identity and sexual orientation, while taking measures to protect the rights of individuals who have been subjected to violence. States that have signed and ratified the convention have certain responsibilities, in particular, the adoption and implementation of effective, comprehensive, and compatible policies across the state in order to prevent and combat all kinds of violence against women. The convention aims to support data collection and research as part of holistic policies.
There are common elements in the arguments against the Convention in Turkey: Istanbul Convention was imposed from the outside by “foreign forces” in order to undermine the family structure. Side arguments are also used to support this implication, such as that the signing process of the contract is questionable, the signature and approval process is not managed well enough. However, at that time, the position of Turkey to the European Council, contract negotiations, disclosures, and approvals from the government after talks in Parliament’s agreement, the process is carried out consciously and clearly evident.
One of the reasons for Turkey’s active role in the process is the decision made regarding Nahide Opuz’s case in the European Court of Human Rights in 2009. With this decision, it was the first time that a country was convicted in a court case regarding domestic violence. Court has ruled that Turkey has discriminated against a woman who was subjected to violence by not being able to protect her from her husband. In the decision, for the first time in the history of the court, domestic violence was considered as a kind of discrimination against women.
The convention gives the state parties the duty to implement the provisions of the convention on any grounds without discrimination, including the protection of the rights of the victims regardless of sexual orientation. While those who criticize the convention describe concepts such as sexual orientation and gender in the convention as a “threat” to the social structure and traditions, their expressions often result in hate speech and discriminatory language. Such discourses found in the media play a role in the increase of gender-based violence cases.
In many different countries, allegations parallel to those in Turkey have been made regarding the convention. In 2018, when the debates in Bulgaria escalated, the Council of Europe published a statement and a question and answer text in order to prevent information pollution regarding the agreement.
Turkey’s Withdrawal from Istanbul Convention
On March 20, 2021, it was announced that Turkey has pulled out of Istanbul Convention by Presidential decree. Women’s organizations protested the decision in many cities all over the world. The Istanbul Convention has been on the public agenda with rumors that it will be abolished in the last few years. Women’s rights activists, lawyers, and human rights organizations have been campaigning for a long time not to abolish the Istanbul Convention, emphasizing that it is a very important agreement to prevent violence and murder of women and to protect women.
EU asked Turkey to rethink the decision
The European Union has reacted to Turkey’s Presidential Decision to annul the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell shared his opinion regarding Turkey’s written decision on his Twitter account, “The #IstanbulConvention aims at ensuring essential legal protection to women & girls across the world. We cannot but regret deeply and express incomprehension towards the decision of the Turkish government to withdraw from this convention. We urge Turkey to reverse its decision.“ He said.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who shared the statement of Josep Borrell on her Twitter account, said, “Violence against women is not tolerable. Women deserve a strong legal framework to protect them. I support the #IstanbulConvention and call on all signatories to ratify it…”
Presidential Communications President Fahrettin Altun, made a statement on his social media accounts regarding Turkey’s withdrawal from Istanbul Convention. Altun noted the following: “From yesterday to today, we have been resolutely continuing our encouragement under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for women’s greater participation in social, economic, political, and cultural life. Women are not objects but subjects of life! We will always say ‘Strong Women Strong Turkey’”.
Istanbul Bar Association has made the following statements against the government’s decision: “Turkey’s signature withdrawal from Istanbul Convention is against the law. The approval of the aforementioned Agreement was approved by Law No. 6251 of 24.11.2011. In addition, this Agreement aims for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. Wherein the principle of parallelism in nature described above and the Convention, the Republic of Turkey said there is a need for statutory authority to withdraw a provision allowing for withdrawal from the contract. For this reason, withdrawal by administrative decision is not lawful. On the other hand, while violence against women and domestic violence is one of the most important issues in our country and the whole world, this withdrawal, which will weaken the legal foundations of combating violence, psychologically encourage the perpetrators of violence and give victims a sense of vulnerability, this withdrawal was not appropriate in terms of effective protection of human rights.”
Many non-governmental organizations and celebrities such as Mor Çatı and Fazıl Say have protested the government’s decision. Republican Public Party (CHP) has also stated that it will stand with the Istanbul Convention and that Turkey will be again a part of this treaty.
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About the author:
Ghina ALRIHANI holds a bachelor’s degree in Turkish and French Philology and finished her master’s degree in Economic Diplomacy where she studied international relations, economic and public diplomacy, foreign policy, and security studies. Her main interests are migration, migration policies, EU relations, Middle East, and Turkey.