23/02/2021 | Writer: Yıldız Tar

We have compiled the smear campaigns and discriminative practices of the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey, which initiated its policies against LGBTI+ rights before it was established.

Chronology: An anti-LGBTI+ rights institution, with human rights and equality in its name Kaos GL - News Portal for LGBTI+

“LGBTI+ Rights are Human Rights” Illustration: Berrin Simavlıoğlu / Stock Image for KaosGL.org

It's fields of duty include "anti-discrimination and equality", "national prevention mechanism" and "protects and improves human rights". It is called the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey (TİHEK).

Founded in 2016 by a law of the same name, the TİHEK's mission is explained on its site as follows: "Protecting and improving human rights, working to guarantee the right of individuals to be treated equally, effectively combating torture and mistreatment."

Founded in 2012 as the Human Rights Institution of Turkey, which became a national prevention mechanism with the decision of the Council of Ministers in 2013 and changed its name in 2016 and became the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey, this institution implements and disseminates systematic rights violations instead of preventing them when it comes to human rights of LGBTI+'s.

We have compiled the actions of the TİHEK regarding the human rights of LGBTI+'s, since its establishment with the "Law no. 6701 of the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey" dated April 20, 2016.

Discrimination before establishment

Laws drafted on the establishment of the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey were examined by The Grand National Assembly of Turkey Human Rights Commission on February 2016. CHP and HDP’s demand to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the law was not accepted in a homophobic reaction from AKP. HDP subsequently withdrew from the commission’s work.

The draft excluding sexual orientation and gender identity based discrimination could have been sent to the lower commission, yet was forwarded to the Assembly to be voted directly after the commission’s review, due to AKP’s persistence. Thus, the detailed examination of the draft by the lower commission was prevented. Neither civil society nor the opposition parties were allowed sufficient time to present their motions.

There were arguments at the commission meetings for the draft prepared by the government, which neglects LGBTI individuals and their demands while banning discrimination based on sexuality, race, color, language, religion, sect, philosophical and political view, ethnic origin, wealth, birth, marital status, health condition, disability and age

Then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed that Turkey's Human Rights and Equality Institution, which was developed without the views of civil society and ignored LGBTI+’s despite all demands, would strengthen human rights.

Reactions from LGBTI+ organizations and civil society

50 LGBTI organizations published a joint statement, saying “Do not discriminate against the gays, bisexuals, trans and intersex individuals in the Human Rights and Equality Institution Law!” Civil society organizations started a petition against the Law Draft on the Human Rights and Equality Institution which excludes human rights platforms from the procedure and discriminates against LGBTI individuals. Organizations addressed GNAT, stating “We, as the CSOs working for human rights, struggle against discrimination and equality in Turkey, would like to call attention to the fact that there is no possibility for the structure and framework envisioned by the draft to realize the aims and functions indicated in its premises”.

An Institution that disregards LGBTI+’s have been established

The law on the Human Rights and Equality Institution Of Turkey, which ignores discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and discriminates against LGBTI+'s, was published in the Official Gazette on April 20, 2016. The law, which was adopted by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on April 6th, officially came into force with the approval of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Report of LGBTI+ organizations: The ban on discrimination and TİHEK

"Discrimination Ban and Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey Report" published together by Pink Life and Kaos GL Association, prepared by Att. Ezgi Duman and edited by Att. Emrah Şahin, was published in 2017. The five-part report discussed the ban on discrimination in international law and local legislation in the context of sexual orientation and gender identity based discrimination.

The report stated that the "Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey" (TİHEK), which was created in 2006 with the participation of organizations working in the field and organizations that are the primary addressees of the issue, has turned into something else after the "Discrimination Legislation and Equality Board Bill" which was raised by the Joint Platform for Human Rights and the International Minority Rights Commission. Stating that the TİHEK was formed without taking the opinions and suggestions of non-governmental organizations into account and the proposals of LGBTI+ organizations were left unaddressed in this process, the reason for preparing the report was stated as follows: "It was written to address the TİHEK on the basis of the fight against discrimination and with the hope that it would contribute to positive developments in the following stages in terms of both legal regulations and practices."

TİHEK became the center of discrimination against LGBTI+’s

In the following years, the TİHEK became an institution that does not only ignore the human rights of LGBTI+'s with its practices, explanations, and activities but proceeded to violate these rights.

In 2018, the Former Chair of the Prime Ministery Human Rights Office and Member of TİHEK Board Mehmet Altuntaş targeted Pride Walk through his social media account. He had written “What pride, what love? Love happens between two different sexes. Both the divine creation and nature say this. This is a regression. It’s regressing back from nature towards savagery”, as a comment under Amnesty International’s tweet about Istanbul Pride Walk.

Two trans women in Ankara were not let into the Cinnah Hotel on August 10, 2018. Pink Life has applied to the Human Rights Equality Authority of Turkey on the grounds of the ban on discrimination in access to goods and services. The TİHEK rejected the application on the grounds that "Sexual identity is not considered a basis for discrimination".

In 2019, organizing the “Symposium on Protecting Family Right” and targeting LGBTI+s with hate speeches during the symposium, TİHEK also targeted LGBTI+s in final declaration of the symposium.

In the ninth article of the final declaration, it has been written: “National and international norms that may be negative effects on the family should be reconsidered; Approaches of international norms and controlling mechanisms towards eliminating the structure of the family should be avoided”. 

“Same-sex partnership is never an alternative of family” states the final declaration:

“The foundation of a healthy society is the family founded by men and women with legitimate marriage. The concept of family life is tried to be replaced by “companionship”, “partnership”, etc., and these forms tried to be imposed in society have negative effect on family institution. Additionally, due to the fact that same-sex people do not have a chance to reproduce in “partnership”, such companionships are never the alternative of family”.

The declaration also said: “The certain circles activities to legitimize pervert relations that are contrary to human nature is among the main threats to the family institution”.

TİHEK targets the İstanbul Convention

The TİHEK targeted the İstanbul Convention. In the declaration of the symposium, a call was made not to comply with the articles of the convention:

"In this context, national and international norms with negative effects on the family institution should be reviewed. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the protection of the family should be accepted as essential. The meaning of the family at the time of this declaration should be preserved, the provisions that constitute a contradiction in subsequent international conventions should be reviewed, requested to be amended, treaties that conflict with the international law norm should be superseded, and if necessary, terminated.

“The fact that the 2011 Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe has problematic features as well as solutions to violence against women, is among the common determinations of the presentations made at the Symposium. Even the member states of the Council of Europe that signed the Istanbul Convention of 2011 do not ratify the contract since the convention and the countries that put reservations in the contract do not remove the reservations they have put in place, revealing that there are serious problems with the contract.

"The fact that Istanbul Convention, which is based on violence against women and domestic violence, only the considers women, it does not take the family life and other individuals living differently in different cultures into account, contradicts other international basic documents and regulations, causes very serious problems in practice in countries that approve and implement the convention, such as Turkey."

Statement from Kaos GL:  TİHEK legitimizes human rights violations

The Kaos GL Association issued a statement in 2019 regarding all these practices of TİHEK. “Turkish Human Rights and Equality Institution (TİHEK) was established on the grounds of a law ignoring LGBTI+s. The institution that previously rejected an application regarding an obvious discrimination case against transgender women, and a member of their council shared posts including hate speech against LGBTI+s, currently continue functioning as a “human rights” institution without ending its hateful discourses against LGBTI+s during a symposium they organized.” said the association.

Hormonal Tomato Award goes to TİHEK

The institution was awarded with the hormonal tomato as part of İstanbul LGBTI+ Pride Week in 2019, while the anti-LGBTI+ rights policies of the TİHEK were reached to new heights. At the 15th Hormonal Tomato Award Ceremony, the first award of the night was given in the institution category. Two institutions in this category were awarded this year as a result of the hard-fought voting battle. Hormonal tomatoes went to the Turkish Human Rights and Equality Institution, which said that "Sexual identity cannot be considered among the foundations of discrimination", and the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which responded to questions about discrimination against LGBTI+'s with hate speech, saying, "It is not normal, it is pathological, it is out of line, it is a great sin, it is a structural disorder, unholy, not right!"

The government responded to the LGBTI+ rights question with TİHEK

In January 2020, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Turkish Government responded to recommendations and criticisms of 16 states regarding LGBTI+ rights at the United Nations (UN). The recommendations were directed at Turkey's Universal Periodic Review meeting.

Deputy Minister Faruk Kaymakçı claimed that LGBTI+'s in Turkey had freedom of meetings and demonstrations, despite indefinite LGBTI+ activity n Ankara for more than two years, the Pride Parade ban in İstanbul since 2015, Pride Week bans in Mersin, Izmir and Antalya, the ban on Queer Olympix sports events in Istanbul. "Regarding the freedom of meetings and demonstrations, LGBTI people had 97 activities in 2017. 20,000 people attended to them. 119 people were detained for violence. There is no systematic ban."

Deputy Minister, continued while ignoring the fact that, even the application for the LGBTI+ Pride March at Bakırköy, which is one of the governorate’s designated demonstration fields: "Galatasaray Square is a touristic zone, therefore demonstrations of Saturday Mothers and the LGBT community cannot be allowed."

Kaymakçı defended LGBTI+ exclusive legislation with these words: "10th Article of our Constitution says 'Everyone is equal before the law without distinction as to language, race, color, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, and sect, or any such grounds.' The phrase 'any such grounds' here covers sexual orientation and gender identity. Therefore, sexual orientation and gender identity do not need to be included in other laws."

On the other hand, the UN, CoE, EU and many human rights organizations underline the importance and necessity of explicit inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender characteristics in the constitution and laws for the use of human rights.

The government also claimed that the state report was discussed with "all stakeholders" in the preparation and Human Rights Action Plan process, but no communication was established with LGBTI+ organizations in these processes.

Kaymakçı said that the legislation regarding hate crimes was developed in 2014 and "since then they have been fighting hate crimes." On the other hand, according to the criteria of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), there is no primary legislation or secondary legislation regarding hate crimes in Turkey. The legislation implied by the Deputy Minister does not include statements of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although the Deputy Minister claims to be actively fighting discrimination and hate crimes, the legislation of the Turkish Human Rights and Equality Institution (TİHEK), which is tasked with combating discrimination, does not include expressions of sexual orientation and gender identity. There is no "any such grounds" among protected categories. Applications of LGBTI+s are being rejected. TİHEK officials are systematically making statements against LGBTI+'s. The Ombudsman, which is responsible for the fight against discrimination, is also spreading hate speech.

A private section in the Human Rights Report of LGBTI+’s: TİHEK and Ombudsman Institution

Kaos GL Association published the Human Rights Report of LGBTI+ People in Turkey for 2019 on May 17, 2020. The report prepared by Att. Yasemin Öz covers practices and human rights violations that prevent LGBTI+'s from enjoying human rights.

In addition to these topics, the decisions and practices of the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey and the Ombudsman Institution were also included in the report. This was explained as follows:

“In our 2019 report, unlike previous years, we preferred to examine the decisions and practices of the Turkish Human Rights and Equality Institution and the Ombudsman Institution in detail under separate headings. Although both institutions were established and assigned directly to monitor human rights violations, discrimination, and unlawful public practices, we have seen that both institutions implemented discriminatory decisions and practices when it comes to LGBTI+s and that public institutions tasked with addressing rights violations could take LGBTI+ exclusionary approaches in practice.”

Translation: Yiğit E. Korkmaz

*This article was prepared within the scope of the Strengthening Advocacy for Equal Rights Project supported by the European Union. This does not mean that the content of the article reflects the official view of the EU.

Tags: human rights