Turkey has pulled out of a landmark European treaty protecting women from violence that it was the first to sign 10 years ago, sparking a wave of anger at a time when attacks have been on the rise.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a decree in the early hours of Saturday canceling Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention, which is named after the country’s largest city.
His move follows months of pressure from conservative and Islamist groups, who had asked Turkey to withdraw from the treaty. However, it is a blow to women’s rights advocates, who say the agreement is crucial to combat domestic violence.
Campaign groups have called for people to show up in Istanbul and across the country on Saturday to protest against the measure under the slogan “Withdraw the decision, implement the treaty.”
Withdrawal ‘tramples women’s struggle’
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, called the decision “devastating”. “This move is a major setback for these efforts and even more regrettable because it compromises the protection of women in Turkey, throughout Europe and beyond,” she said.
The mayor of Istanbul, one of Erdogan’s main political rivals, also condemned Turkey’s move. “Announcing the withdrawal of the Istanbul Convention in the middle of the night, as we learn every day that more violence has been committed against women, leaves a very bitter taste,” said Ekrem Imamoglu.
“Trample the fight that women have led for years,” she added.
Violence and murder of women is increasing in Turkey, according to human rights groups. A total of 77 women have been murdered since the beginning of the year, and 409 women were murdered in 2020, according to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform.
The Istanbul Convention seeks to fix legally binding restrictions in around 30 countries to combat violence against women. It establishes that men and women have the same rights and obliges state authorities to take measures to prevent gender-based violence against women, protect victims, and prosecute perpetrators.
Some officials from President Erdogan’s Islam-oriented party have argued that it encourages divorce and undermines the traditional family, which they say is contrary to the country’s conservative values.
Critics of the treaty also claim that it promotes homosexuality through the use of categories such as gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. They see that as a threat to Turkish families. Hate speech has been on the rise in Turkey, including the interior minister who described LGBT people as “perverts” in a tweet.
The government promises ‘zero tolerance’
The Turkish minister for family, labor and social policies tweeted that women’s rights are still protected by Turkish law and that the judicial system is “dynamic and strong enough” to enact new regulations. Zehra Zumrut Selcuk also tweeted that violence against women is a crime against humanity and that the government will continue to have “zero tolerance.”
But a leading figure in the opposition Social Democratic Party (CHP), Gökçe Gökçen, said abandoning the treaty amounted to “allowing women to be killed.”
“Despite you and your wrongdoing, we will continue to live and revive the Convention,” he wrote on Twitter.
Turkey was the first country to sign the “Convention to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence” of the Council of Europe in a committee of ministers meeting in Istanbul in 2011. The law came into force in 2014 and the constitution of Turkey says international agreements have the force of law.
Some lawyers claimed on Saturday that the treaty is still active, arguing that the president cannot withdraw from it without the approval of parliament, which ratified it in 2012.
But Erdogan gained broad powers with his re-election in 2018, setting in motion Turkey’s shift from a parliamentary system to an executive presidency.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism