As feminist and LGBTI+ organizations from Turkey, Europe and International NGOs and networks we have come together to launch an intersectional campaign titled UNITED4ISTANBULCONVENTION against global anti-gender attacks and intensifying threats of backlash.
On the 10th Anniversary of the Istanbul Convention, we forcefully protest Turkey’s unacceptable attempt to withdraw from the treaty. We consider the decision null and void and urge its President and government to reverse this decision.
Around midnight on March 20th, Turkey’s President Erdoğan issued an unconstitutional and unlawful decision declaring withdrawal from The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (“the Istanbul Convention”). As UNITED4ISTANBULCONVENTION, we assert that the decision to withdraw from a basic human rights convention is a blatant attack on our hard-won rights and an open statement rejecting the state’s duty to ensure non-discrimination and the right to life free from violence. Turkey was the first signatory to the Convention and its enthusiastic host a decade ago. Now, with this complete reversal, it sets a very dangerous precedent not just for Turkey’s commitment to other human rights treaties, but also for other countries where the convention is being contested. It does not bode well for democracies anywhere as it demonstrates that a single man or small group can unilaterally bypass the democratic processes that are the foundation of international human rights law.
This withdrawal attempt is the culmination of global attacks against human rights in general, and women’s and LGBTI+ rights in particular. Such assaults weaken and undermine multilateralism, states’ accountability under international law and egalitarian national legal frameworks. They also constrain the civil space to fulfil our mandates and exercise our rights
We know these attacks by nationalist, conservative and authoritarian right-wing populist governments and certain private sector stakeholders, supported by colluding far right movements, have a global spillover effect. Turkey announced its attempt to withdraw targeting LGBTI+ manifestly with hate speech, a rhetoric often employed by this anti-democracy and anti-gender movement. Another reason they gave was that the Convention undermined so-called “family values”. Governments where the Convention is contested are collaborating for alternative international treaties to protect “the rights of the family” in the traditional sense. We assert that families are diverse; it is not gender equality that threatens families, but violence, and that the Istanbul Convention saves lives. The withdrawal attempt implies the state is turning its back to all those exposed to gender-based violence. Instead of implementing action plans to advance the prevention and protection of everyone at risk, particularly those with intersectional identities, Turkey is refusing a vast population legal protection under the false premises of protecting “family values.” Targeting and criminalizing LGBTI+ persons, feminists, rights defenders among others, as we have been witnessing in Turkey and some other countries, lead to impunity for hate and right violations.
Regression from the Istanbul Convention should be recognized as a regression from commitment to equality, democracy and rule of law.
The Istanbul Convention affirms a clear road map for the state: to prevent, prosecute and eliminate gender-based violence and domestic violence. The Istanbul Convention is a gold standard recognizing the structural nature of gender-based violence. It is a step forward, building on instruments like the CEDAW Convention and other international and regional human rights treaties. It also remains the most holistic and progressive international document against gender-based violence to date. The Convention explicitly obligates the state to protect the rights of those subjected to violence without any discrimination. This is crucial for everyone who can be at risk of violence, including children, LGBTI+, migrants, refugees, the disabled, minorities, etc. who face multiple discrimination.
We emphasize that human rights are non-negotiable and cannot be bargaining chips, and recognize it is not only women’s and LGBTI+ rights, but also gender equality, human rights, and democratic principles that are at stake. We call upon:
Civil society to:
● Support our intersectional struggle to promote our rights and gender equality for all,
● Join our concerted efforts to counter all anti-gender, anti-rights policies and discourses, while also upholding the Istanbul Convention and the principles it enshrines.
The EU, CoE, and decision makers at European Institutions to:
● Urgently ratify the Istanbul Convention as the European Union,
● Prioritize and promote the implementation of the Convention in countries where it is ratified and urge other European countries to sign and ratify the treaty,
● Reiterate the Convention’s values as the most significant building block for core CoE human rights and equality principles, provisions and obligations at all fora and liaise with member countries accordingly,
● Recognize that Turkey’s withdrawal attempt and related anti-gender attacks in Turkey and beyond are part of a larger anti-rights and anti-democracy alliance that sharply contradicts international human rights instruments, and work toward deterring these attacks in member states by also putting all legal and political measures into force.
Member states and European countries to:
● Call on the President and the government of Turkey to reverse its withdrawal attempt,
● Fully implement the Convention where ratified; ratify where it is only yet signed and become party to the treaty if not yet signed,
● Mobilize governmental bodies, relevant actors and resources to institute gender equality for all women, LGBTI+ persons and minorities, and prioritize human rights and equality issues in bilateral and multilateral relations.
● Mobilise all measures and resources of international dialogue to mainstream awareness raising on the Istanbul Convention and build coalitions of party member states for its full implementation.
And the President and Government of Turkey to:
● Immediately reverse its unlawful and unconstitutional decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention in line with strong demands from national and international civil society, political parties, and the general public, as well as the PACE Resolution 2376 (2021),
● Fulfil its duty and responsibility to ensure the right to life free from violence and discrimination for all as per its constitution, national legal framework, and the international binding human rights treaties it is party to.
We know we are strong, and together we are an even more resilient global opposition movement. We are committed to realizing gender equality for all and as the UNITED4ISTANBULCONVENTION campaign, we declare that we will continue and broaden our struggle with exuberance until our demands for equality, freedom and life free of violence are met.
 Organizations from Turkey, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden, and six regional and international NGOs and networks.