Human rights, pawns in Turkey’s geopolitical games
President Erdogan’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention plays at domestic and international level. The EU needs to go beyond “regrets and incomprehension”.
“Regrets and incomprehension” is the EU’s equivalent to the Anglophones’ “thoughts and prayers”. And yet, since President Erdogan’s weekend decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, EU High Representative Josep Borrell’s “regrets” expressed on the occasion of Monday’s EU Foreign Affairs Council won’t be of much help for the women in Turkey who have been deprived of this milestone in the protection from gender-based violence.
The EU has only ever paid lip service to human rights in Turkey. Worse even: as the EU implemented support partnerships with Turkey (in the fight against terrorism or the management of migration flows), their short-term approach only served to strengthen the hand of authoritarianism in Turkey at the expense of human rights, women rights and LGBTIQ+ rights.
The decision taken by Erdogan last weekend spells his objectives clearly: human rights, especially women’s and LGBTIQ+’s rights, are weapons in the struggle to achieve domestic and international political objectives. Withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention is a tactical move that serves Erdogan’s nationalistic, conservative and anti-gender electoral base to whom he owes his political longevity.
The fact that women will suffer from this withdrawal is the least of his concerns. In 2020, 409 femicides were recorded in Turkey according to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform and sadly, despite reassurances from the Turkish government that this withdrawal has “zero impact on the implementation of strict, effective and real-world measures”, the truth is that women in Turkey have just lost a powerful defence mechanism against gender-based violence.
Erdogan’s decision also plays at the geopolitical level: his project of becoming a major actor in the Middle East and North Africa rests upon the notion of ‘motherhood’ and the Turkish nation’s ability to ‘expand’. Feminists, LGBTIQ+ people and human rights defenders are therefore seen as enemies who must be violently and categorically opposed.
Repeated warnings were issued to the EU from NGOs working in Turkey (including EuroMed Rights) in recent years. And yet, these were rarely heard. As the EU prepares to renegotiate its relationship with Erdogan’s Turkey, we urge Josep Borrell and the European Council to go beyond “regrets and incomprehension” and demonstrate the Union’s commitment to gender equality and the due respect for fundamental human rights in their exchanges with Erdogan. Or else not only will “thoughts and prayers” be the EU’s main message to the victims of gender-based violence in Turkey but it will also be a poor message of solidarity against the struggles of Turkey’s civil society.