When the first Dutch ambassador in Constantinople arrived in 1612 he had a double assignment: to sign economic treaties and to free Christian slaves. Working like me for the Dutch foreign ministry in 21st century, it is reassuring that these two main pillars of our foreign policy have remained the same during all these centuries: economic diplomacy and human rights.
In Istanbul human rights is an important part of our daily work. In close coordination with the Embassy in Ankara and the ministry in the Hague we implement the combined instruments of the Human Rights Fund, the MATRA Fund and of course Public Diplomacy. Money might be indispensable in order to realize projects, but publicity and signs of open support and solidarity are probably even more important. Therefore we not only financially support projects like the annual gay pride activities, shelters for LGBT’s and anti-discrimination projects we also show solidarity by organizing events around IDAHOT and International Human Rights Day.
The date of May 17th was specifically chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. This date is now celebrated as IDAHOT, the International Day against Homophobia & Transphobia. Such days are needed as equal rights are all but guaranteed. While homosexuality was decriminalized in many countries, we see a reversed trend in Africa. Equal rights is not about law only, but as much about attitude and tolerance.
One of my colleagues gave me a recent Facebook discussion on the tolerance in the Netherlands towards homosexuality. The results were, to put it mildly, not encouraging. The majority of the Dutch population does not accept kissing in public of homosexuals, while they do approve of the same act by heterosexuals. When I was ambassador in Riga I was once asked how I could defend homosexual rights, as I myself was married and had children… All in all, a long way to go. Everywhere in the world, whether it is in The Netherlands, Latvia or here in Turkey.
IDAHOT was created in 2004 to draw the attention of policymakers, opinion leaders, social movements, the public and the media to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTIQ people internationally. I very much welcome IDAHOT, as it galvanizes discussions and draws attention to an important right to equal treatment for all.
As a Consulate, what do we do in Turkey? We take part in a panel discussion, co-organized with the British and Swedes; we pay attention via media to our position; we put a poster about IDAHOT outside our CG building and take part as Dutch government in public activities. Enough? It can be more of course, but there can not be any doubt about our commitment.