ISTANBUL (AP) – Turkey withdrew early Saturday from a landmark European treaty to protect women from violence, which it signed 10 years ago as the first country and which bears the name of its largest city.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s overnight decree repealing Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention is a blow to suffragettes who say the deal is vital in combating domestic violence. Hundreds of women gathered in demonstrations across Turkey on Saturday to protest the move.
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, described the decision as “devastating”.
“This move is a major setback for these efforts and all the more regrettable as it threatens the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond,” she said.
The Istanbul Convention states that men and women have equal rights and obliges the state authorities to take measures to prevent gender-based violence against women, to protect victims and to prosecute perpetrators.
Some officials from Erdogan’s Islamic party had spoken out in favor of a review of the deal, arguing that it ran counter to Turkey’s conservative values by promoting divorce and undermining traditional family unity.
Critics also claim the treaty promotes homosexuality through the use of categories such as gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. They see this as a threat to Turkish families. Hate speech has increased in Turkey, with the country’s interior minister describing LGBT people as “perverse” in a tweet. Erdogan has rejected their existence altogether.
Women’s groups and their allies who have protested to uphold the convention immediately called for demonstrations across the country on Saturday under the slogan “withdraw decision, implement treaty”. They said their years of struggle wouldn’t be erased in one night.
“Every day we had problems with the Istanbul Convention being implemented and women living. We are now hearing that the Istanbul Convention has been repealed entirely, ”said Dilan Akyuz, 30, who joined other women demonstrating in Istanbul. “We are very angry today. We can’t even bear the death of a woman anymore. We have no tolerance (left) for it. “
Rights groups say violence against and the killing of women is on the rise in Turkey, a claim the Interior Minister called an “outright lie” on Saturday.
A total of 77 women have been killed since the beginning of the year, according to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform. According to the group, around 409 women were killed in 2020, with dozen found dead under suspicious circumstances.
Numerous women’s rights groups slammed the decision, saying laws protecting women were inadequately enforced. The advocacy group of the Turkish women’s coalition said the withdrawal from a human rights treaty was a first in Turkey. “It is clear that this decision will further encourage the murderers of women, molesters and rapists,” the statement said.
The Turkish Justice Minister said the government is determined to combat violence against women.
“We continue to honor the honor of our people, families and our social fabric,” tweeted Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul.
Erdogan has repeatedly stressed the “holiness” of the family and urged women to have three children. His communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said the government’s motto was “Powerful Families, Powerful Society”.
Many women suffer physical or sexual violence from their husbands or partners, but up-to-date official statistics are not available. The Istanbul Convention requires states to collect data.
More than a thousand women and allies gathered in Istanbul, wearing masks and holding banners. There was a heavy police presence in the area and the demonstration ended without any serious skirmishes.
They shouted LGBT slogans and called for Erdogan’s resignation. They cheered when a woman, speaking on a megaphone, said, “You cannot shut down millions of women in their homes. You cannot erase them from the streets and squares. “
“As women, we now think that the withdrawal (from the Istanbul Convention) is a direct attack on women’s rights and, in particular, the rights of modern young women,” said Ebru Batur, a 21-year-old protester. “Of course, this makes us feel insecure and our rights are appropriated (by the government).
Turkey was the first country to sign the “Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence” at a ministerial meeting in Istanbul in 2011. The law came into force in 2014, and the Turkish Constitution states that international agreements have done so by the force of the law.
Some lawyers on Saturday claimed the contract was still active, arguing that the president could not resign without the approval of parliament, which unanimously ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2012.
But Erdogan’s re-election in 2018 gained wide-ranging powers and initiated Turkey’s transition from a parliamentary system of government to an executive presidency.
The Justice Minister wrote on Twitter that while Parliament approves contracts that are put into effect by the executive, the executive also has the power to withdraw from them.
Legislators from Turkey’s main opposition party said they would not recognize the decree, calling it yet another “coup” against parliament and usurping the rights of 42 million women.
The German Foreign Ministry joined the criticism and said: “The withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention sends the wrong signal for Europe, but especially for women in Turkey.”
“Just a few weeks ago, President Erdogan presented an action plan for human rights that also includes the fight against domestic violence and violence against women,” said a statement by the German ministry. “The withdrawal from an important Council of Europe convention raises the question of how serious Turkey is with the goals set out in this action plan.”
“It is clear that neither cultural nor religious or other national traditions can serve as a disguise to ignore violence against women,” said Germany.