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IBAHRI condemns Turkey’s withdrawal and Poland’s stance on Istanbul Convention

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention and the Polish government’s proposal to replace the Istanbul Convention with an alternate treaty between Poland and surrounding European states. These two pronouncements disregard international standards of human rights and put women at greater risk of domestic, and other forms of, violence at a time when more action is needed to protect women.

The Istanbul Convention is a Council of Europe human rights treaty that outlines ways to prevent and combat violence against girls and women. Its official title is the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. It was opened for signature on 11 May 2011, in Istanbul, Turkey; 46 member states have pledged support for the Convention and 33 of them have ratified it.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG commented: ‘It is extremely disappointing to see Turkey, the first signatory to the Istanbul Convention, rescinding support for it. At a time when domestic violence and the killing of women and girls is rising in Turkey, President Erdogan’s decision is a display of blatant disregard for the safety of girls and women in the country and will probably be viewed as sanctioning violence against them and the killing of women and girls. Similarly, Poland’s apparent decision to leave the Convention is alarming. The discriminatory and ill-informed rhetoric of Polish ministers also stokes the flames against members of the lesbian, gay, transexual, bisexual, and intersex communities. Already marginalised groups are placed at even greater risk of bigotry and violence with claims of the Convention promoting homosexuality and threatening the “traditional family.”’

Mr Kirby added: ‘Revoking the rights of girls and women under the guise of defending traditional family ideals is extremely disappointing. The IBAHRI urgently calls for Turkey’s reinstatement of the Istanbul Convention, the protection of women from domestic and other forms of violence, and renewed respect for international human rights norms.

On 20 March 2021, Turkish President Erdogan issued a decree annulling Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention. The decree is in line with the opinions of Turkish conservatives who argue that the Istanbul Convention encourages divorce and immorality and that its principles of gender equality and non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation undermine family values and promote homosexuality.

On 15 March 2021, it was revealed that the Polish government had circulated a letter to Croatia, Czechia, Slovakia, and Slovenia to create an alternative treaty to replace the Istanbul Convention. Poland’s alternate treaty would outlaw abortion and homosexual marriage. According to Marcin Romanowski, the Polish Undersecretary of State, the letter was to serve as an invitation to secure rights in defence of the family.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and immediate past Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc commented: ‘The Istanbul Convention came into being out of necessity. Violence perpetuated against girls and women was at a level that demanded governmental intervention. The situation has not improved, with reports indicating the converse. COVID-19 lockdowns have further exacerbated violence and controlling behaviours. That such a Convention is needed at all to protect female human beings is shameful, but it is absolutely disgraceful to put women at increased risk by revoking the little protection that is in place.’

Ms Ramberg added: ‘Femicide is not just a word. Each statistic represents the stolen life of a girl or women. The Turkish Government should be protecting their rights rather than signalling that the human rights and lives of girls of women are less important than those of their abusers and murderers. Both Turkey and Poland need to focus on bringing a legal end to the impunity of perpetrators.’

With violence against women in Turkey on the rise, the Turkish government’s move away from providing adequate protection to women will almost certainly result in yearly increases in deaths and incidents of domestic violence against women. We Will Stop Femicides reported 409 femicides in Turkey in 2020.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Related material:
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. Find the IBAHRI on social media here:
  4. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

  5. Find the IBA on social media here:

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