The Turkish Council of State – the highest administrative court in the country – ruled on Tuesday, July 19, in favor of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s March 2021 decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, an international legal framework that seeks to protect women from violence.
This comes after a year of legal appeals filed by the leading opposition party and women’s rights groups, urging the court to block the withdrawal.
The Istanbul Convention, or the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, was drafted in 2011 by member states of the Council of Europe. In 2012, Turkey became one of the first states to ratify the legally binding convention; it has since been signed by 45 countries and the European Union.
Nearly 10 years later, the Erdoğan government unilaterally decided to withdraw from the convention, describing it as a Western imposition which posed a challenge to Turkey’s traditional values. The government also argued that it promoted homosexuality. The decision drew fire from opposition parties in Turkey, especially the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as well as groups such as We Will Stop Femicide and Communist Women, who organized protests against the move.
While the full legal reasoning was not made publicly available, the Council of State’s decision (with three members for, and two against) reportedly cited the president’s “right of discretion” when implementing the convention. According to the Daily Sabah publication, which is known to be aligned with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the president has the right to ratify international treaties according to Article 104 of the Turkish constitution.
Ipek Bozkurt, a lawyer with We Will Stop Femicide, told AFP that the decision was “erroneous” and “terrifying from a legal perspective.” Opponents of the decision assert that the president cannot one-sidedly enact a decision to withdraw from an international treaty.
Rights groups and political parties were quick to express their outrage at the court’s ruling. We Will Stop Femicide tweeted that it “[does] not recognize the unlawful decision,” and shared information on protests in different parts of the country, saying that the organization will not “give up on the Istanbul Convention.” Likewise, the Women’s Solidarity Committee, affiliated with Communist Women, expressed their dissent in a social media statement: “We do not accept AKP law or politics. We will continue to fight backwardness. Not just in courtrooms, everywhere! Women will not bow down!”
The chairman of the CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, also responded to the court’s decision in an interview, promising that “when we come to power, we will put the Istanbul Convention into effect again in the first week, even within 24 hours.”
The issue of violence against women is particularly prevalent in Turkey; just this year, the country has seen 226 cases of femicide, including 31 in the past month, according to We Will Stop Femicide. Many see the court’s decision to withdraw from the convention as part of a a trend of rising conservatism in the country, fueled by the AKP’s efforts to energize a conservative base by asserting ideas of traditional “family values” and rejecting frameworks that may be viewed as “European” in nature.