Istanbul Convention on Combating Violence against Women and Children

human rights

Istanbul Convention on Combating Violence against Women and Children

  • 04.12.2023
  • 04:01:58

The Istanbul Convention is an international convention drafted by the Council of Europe that sets basic standards for preventing and combating violence against women. It has been signed by 45 countries and the European Union. The Convention obliges signatory states to develop policies based on gender equality, increase economic resources, collect and share statistics on violence, and bring about a change in social mentality. The Convention aims to protect not only violence against women, but also violence and abuse against children.

The preparatory process of the Istanbul Convention addresses issues such as the causes and consequences of violence, gender inequality and power relations. While violence against women is defined as a historical phenomenon, it is emphasized that violence stems from power imbalances based on gender inequality. The Convention states that situations such as sexual abuse, harassment, rape, forced marriage and honor killings make women the "other" in society. Similar to the definitions in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Declaration, mental and economic violence is also defined. The Convention recommends that equality between men and women will prevent violence against women and obliges States Parties to prevent violence. It emphasizes that there should be no discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, health, disability, marital status, immigration. It is stated that women face violence more than men and therefore special measures should be taken for women victims. Unlike other regulations prohibiting violence against women in international law, the Istanbul Convention stands out with its scope and monitoring mechanism. It includes comprehensive definitions on violence against women and gender-based discrimination.

The Istanbul Convention places responsibilities on signatory states to develop and implement inclusive policies based on gender equality, increase economic resources, statistically monitor and publicize the extent of violence against women, and create a change in social mentality. These responsibilities must be fulfilled without discrimination. Within this framework, States Parties should raise awareness and cooperate with non-governmental organizations and relevant institutions to prevent violence (Article 13-8). Training (Article 14), the establishment of specialized staff (Article 15), preventive intervention and treatment processes (Article 16), the contribution of the private sector and the media (Article 17), the right of victims to legal assistance (Article 57) and the establishment of monitoring mechanisms (Article 66) are also the responsibility of States Parties.

Although the Convention is primarily aimed at preventing violence against women, it covers all members of the household, as stated in Article 2. The Convention therefore aims to prevent not only violence against women, but also violence against children and child abuse. Article 26 establishes the obligation to protect the rights of child victims, provide psycho-social counseling services, and take preventive and protective measures. Article 37 calls for legislation to criminalize child marriage and forced marriage.

The Istanbul Convention addresses violence stemming from gender inequality and power relations, with "women" and "children" as its victims. The term "women" is used to include girls under the age of 18 and determines how policies will be shaped accordingly. It primarily emphasizes violence prevention and expects States Parties to prevent the legitimization of violence by concepts such as thought, culture, religion, tradition and "so-called honor" that create disadvantages in the social structure. In this context, fundamental human rights and freedoms should be the basis for preventing gender roles and stereotypes from justifying violence (Article 12).

The Convention encourages States Parties, in cooperation with various organizations, to organize campaigns and programs to raise public awareness of the types and effects of violence. It calls for the implementation of curricula and syllabi to raise public awareness at all levels of educational institutions and emphasizes the creation of specialized cadres for the prevention and detection of violence, gender equality, victims' rights and the prevention of secondary victimization. It states that the Parties should take legislative measures to prevent domestic violence and sexual offenses and to prevent their recurrence. It also encourages the private sector, the information sector and the media to formulate policies and set their own regulatory standards to prevent violence against women (Articles 12-17).

The protection and support section of the contract focuses on the need to prevent the recurrence of negative situations experienced by victims and the necessity of post-victimization support services. The legal measures to be taken and the support to be provided for the protection and support of victims of violence are included in Part IV. In this context, States Parties are required to protect victims and witnesses and ensure effective cooperation between state institutions and institutions such as non-governmental organizations. The focus should be on the basic human rights and safety of victims. Economic independence should also be promoted and victims' legal rights and available support services should be presented in understandable language.

The Convention emphasizes victims' access to various support services and provides examples. This includes legal and psychological counseling, economic assistance, housing, health care, education and employment. Appropriate and sheltered shelters should be established for victims and telephone helplines where they can receive uninterrupted support are recommended (Article 23). States parties are obliged to provide medical and forensic medical examinations, support and counseling services, and easily accessible crisis centers for victims of sexual violence (Article 25).

The Convention encourages the reporting of various forms of violence and potential victimization to the competent authorities and provides for the evaluation of this information. It also addresses legal measures and support services for child witnesses (Article 26). It encourages the establishment of specialized cadres for the prevention of violence and the prevention of potential acts of violence and the communication of assessments to higher authorities (Article 28).

Contracting Parties should ensure that the victim has access to all forms of legal assistance against the aggressor. The general principles of international law should be referenced in this regard. In situations involving risk, parties should take legal measures to remove the perpetrator of violence to protect the victim or person at risk. Furthermore, during the investigation, details of the victim's sexual history and behavior should not be included if they are not relevant to the case. The Convention recognizes the right of victims of violence to compensation against perpetrators (Article 30). Parties should take legal measures to ensure this right. If the damage caused by the violence is not covered by state health and social insurance and there is serious bodily injury or mental disorder, the victim should be provided with state compensation. However, the compensation may be reduced by the amount awarded by the perpetrator. The rights of child victims are also given special consideration. Legal measures should be taken to establish custody and visitation rights for children. Parties are obliged to ensure the safety of victims during custody and visitation processes. The Convention emphasizes legal measures to invalidate and end child and early marriages and forced marriages. Criminal penalties are imposed for forcing a child or adult into marriage. The Convention defines acts such as forcing and encouraging female genital mutilation, forcing or subjecting a woman to abortion without her prior informed consent, and intentionally terminating her natural reproductive capacity in these processes as acts that require criminal legal measures. Contracting states are obliged to take measures against such situations.

The relevant articles of the Istanbul Convention regulate the criminal penalties for crimes such as harassment, psychological violence, physical violence and rape, and the responsibilities of state parties. Parties are obliged to take legal measures against coercion and threats that may harm the mental state of individuals. Legal measures must also be taken against all forms of harassment and psychological violence that make individuals feel insecure. Parties are obliged to take effective legal measures to ensure that perpetrators are punished for all forms of sexual violence, including rape. The Convention provides a detailed definition of rape and the acts that should be punished. These acts include sexual penetration, forcing, inducing or attempting acts of a sexual nature. Any conduct that violates the dignity of the individual, is degrading, hostile, insulting, insulting, humiliating or offensive, and any verbal or non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature are defined as negative situations for which the parties must provide criminal sanctions and take legal measures.

The Istanbul Convention sets out the legal measures and responsibilities of States Parties to address various forms of violence. The Convention emphasizes the need to implement a comprehensive and coordinated state policy for a long-term and effective solution. As part of these policies, it is important to allocate financial and human resources and ensure cooperation with civil society organizations. In addition, a responsible institution needs to be identified or established to prevent and combat violence.

The Convention specifies the measures to be taken against various forms of violence under each main heading and article. These measures must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive. Monitoring and control of convicted perpetrators are also among the measures to be taken. The proposal to establish custody rights for child victims is also included in the Convention. The Convention also provides for increased severity of punishment depending on various factors of the offense. For example, repeat offenses, offenses against vulnerable individuals, offenses against children, the use of weapons or physical/psychological harm may lead to increased penalties.

The draft of the Istanbul Convention was adopted on April 7, 2011 at a meeting of the Council of Europe Deputy Ministers. The Convention was opened for signature at the meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in Istanbul on 11 May 2011. Turkey was the first country to sign the Convention on May 11, 2011 and the first to ratify it in its parliament on November 24, 2011. The Convention entered into force on August 1, 2014. However, with a decision taken by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on March 20, 2021, Turkey decided to terminate the Istanbul Convention. This termination took place in accordance with Article 80 of the Convention and officially entered into force on July 1, 2021, after a three-month period following notification to the Council of Europe. Turkey played a historic role as one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention, but then, with the decision of President Erdoğan, it terminated the Convention and officially withdrew from it on July 1, 2021.

The Istanbul Convention is an important international convention drafted by the Council of Europe that sets basic standards for preventing and combating violence against women. Signed by 45 countries and the European Union, the Convention imposes responsibilities such as developing policies based on gender equality, monitoring violence statistics, and protecting and supporting victims. In addition to violence against women, this comprehensive text also addresses violence and abuse against children and sets out criminal penalties and prevention measures for crimes such as sexual abuse, harassment and rape. However, Turkey's decision to abrogate the Convention on July 1, 2021 sparked controversy and international outcry. This decision will have repercussions on the efforts for gender equality and women's rights, while affecting the struggle for the purpose of the Convention.