Turkey officially withdraws from landmark Istanbul Convention over its own homophobia

Istanbul Convention

Turkey has officially withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention, a move activists fear has “set the clock back ten years” on women’s rights in the country.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously announced his intention to leave the landmark treaty, intended to tackle violence against women, because it “normalises homosexuality”.

Turkey left the Istanbul Convention for good on Thursday (1 July) after a court appeal to halt the withdrawal was rejected this week.

“At the stroke of midnight today, Turkey turned its back on the gold standard for the safety of women and girls,” said Amnesty International’s secretary general, Agnès Callamard.

“The withdrawal sends a reckless and dangerous message to perpetrators who abuse, maim and kill: that they can carry on doing so with impunity.”

With its unprecedented departure, Turkey is the now the first and only country in the Council of Europe to have ever withdrawn from an international human rights convention.

Turkey claims Istanbul Convention ‘hijacked’

Turkey was among the first signatories in 2011, but later turned sour against the treaty as the country’s homophobic hostilities have deepened.

This culminated in March when Erdogan’s directorate of communications claimed: “The Istanbul Convention, originally intended to promote women’s rights, was hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalise homosexuality – which is incompatible with Türkiye’s social and family values.”

The rise in “homophobic narratives” to attack the Convention was flagged by the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovic, who wrote to Turkey’s interior and justice ministers last month expressing serious concern.

“All the measures provided for by the Istanbul Convention reinforce family foundations and links by preventing and combating the main cause of destruction of families, that is, violence,” she said.

Erdogan defended Turkey’s withdrawal, insisting that it would “not lead to any legal or practical shortcoming in the prevention of violence against women”.

Women in Turkey are protected by laws, not by the Istanbul Convention, his government in Ankara argued.

But activists pointed to the steady erosion of human rights under Erdogan’s leadership – in particular the surging rates of femicides, with one monitoring group logging roughly one per day in the last five years.

Callamard highlighted the “terrifying precedent” of leaving the Istanbul Convention and warned that “Turkey has set the clock back ten years on women’s rights”.

“This deplorable decision has already become a rallying point for women’s rights activists all over the world, and we must come together to resist further assaults on our rights,” she said.

Speaking to Reuters on Wednesday, Canan Gullu, president of the Federation of Turkish Women’s Associations, agreed that “Turkey is shooting itself in the foot with this decision.”

Regardless, “we will continue our struggle,” she added.