The resistance against Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention to combat violence against women continues, both inside Turkey and abroad. The unity and persistance with which women passionately call on Erdoğan to reverse his decision is inspiring. At the same time, it’s important to see the wider picture: the Istanbul Convention is just one of many treaties Turkey scorns.
Only resistance that recognises that, can eventually be effective.
Back in 2011, Turkey was not only among the first signatories of the Convention named after the city in which is was drawn up, but actually was the very first one to ratify it. Quick ratification is not always a good sign. More often than not, quick ratifiers turn out to be slow implementers.
That Turkey indeed didn’t ratify so quickly because it was suddenly fully committed to women’s rights, is clearly shown by what was done in the ten years since ratification: nothing.
Last month, I joined an online seminar with the inspiring lawyer Eren Keskin about the Istanbul Convention. Keskin said: “That the Convention was never implemented doesn’t mean it was not important to us as lawyers and human rights activists. We could go out on the streets to demand action with the Convention in our hands. It was a basis to work from. That is gone now.”
Keskin even went one step further, and said: “The government has breached the Convention in an organised manner. We have voiced this many times but other states have never listened to our voice.” She identified specific groups who are suffering the most from the government’s sabotage, besides women in general: refugees, transgender people, and Kurdish women who can’t properly express themselves in Turkish.
Turkish officials have pointed out that the Istanbul Convention goes against family values, but listening to Eren Keskin and reading the Convention myself, it is obvious that it goes much further than that. Not only is there a suffocating heteronormativity in society and government, there is also the wish of the state to be fully in control. The Convention breaths cooperation, not only between the government and state institutions, but also between authorities and the widest possible range of NGOs and civil society groups. How could Turkey even do that with everybody who matters in civil society in jail?
On top of that, the Istanbul Convention doesn’t only address women’s rights in peace time, but also in armed conflict. No way Turkey will ever commit to that. It wants a free hand in murdering Kurds and silencing, torturing and jailing Kurdish women.
Turkey hates human rights. Not just Erdoğan, but the state itself. Several treaties that protect the political and cultural rights of minorities, were never signed or ratified by Turkey, or only accepted with exceptions that render them void (like the Refugee Convention of 1951). Others were signed and ratified but never respected and increasingly ignored, like the most important one of all, the European Convention of Human Rights https://www.patreon.com/posts/even-european-47445731.
In 2011, the year the Istanbul Convention became effective, the dynamics in Turkey were different than now. The decade in which Erdoğan seemed serious about making progress towards a EU membership and a greater respect for human rights, had ended but the situation wasn’t hopeless. The war between the state and the PKK had flared up again after some years of relative calm. A year later, it would become public that Erdoğan was steering towards some kind of peace process with the PKK and the wider Kurdish movement. Erdoğan felt he had an image to hold up, and a fast ratification of the Istanbul Convention boosted that image.
It was never more than that. And now Erdoğan feels emboldened enough, not in the least because of Europe’s refusal to hold Turkey accountable for human rights violations at home and abroad, to just ditch the Convention. Right there where it belongs in the state’s eyes: on the pile of treaties that Turkey refuses to sign or ratify. A mistake corrected.
Anybody protesting the withdrawal, should take this broader perspective into account. To stand up for the Istanbul Convention, must go hand in hand with standing up for other fundamental rights, including full political and cultural rights for all citizens and nations of Turkey. They are all connected and can’t be separated.
Any protest that doesn’t recognize this and is not inclusive, will be futile.