Islamist Erdogan Pulls Turkey Out of ‘Istanbul Convention’ on Domestic Violence

Turkish President and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a parliamentary group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNAT) in Ankara, Turkey on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)
ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images

Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally withdrew Turkey on Thursday from the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty aimed at reducing domestic violence against women.

“Turkey said it pulled back from the convention on the ground that it was undermining family values,” Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News reported on July 1.

Erdogan issued a presidential decree on March 20 annulling Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention effective July 1.

The Istanbul Convention is a “legally binding” treaty crafted by the Council of Europe, a European Union (E.U.) human rights organization, that took effect in 2014, according to the BBC.

“To date, 34 member states of the Council of Europe have ratified the Istanbul Convention, and must adopt measures to fulfil their commitment to preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence,” the Council of Europe states on its official website, adding, “All governments that have ratified this treaty are bound by its obligations.”

“The Istanbul Convention specifies several forms of gender-based violence against women that are to be criminalised (or, where applicable, otherwise sanctioned),” the Council of Europe wrote.

Examples of “gender-based violence against women” that should be criminalized or sanctioned under the treaty include “psychological violence; Stalking; Physical violence; Sexual violence (including rape); Forced marriage; Female genital mutilation; Forced abortion; Forced sterilisation; [and] Sexual harassment,” according to the Council of Europe website.

“In addition, the Istanbul Convention sets out the obligation to ensure that culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called ‘honour’ are not regarded as justification for any of the acts of violence covered by its scope,” the Council noted.

Erdogan, who leads Turkey’s Islamist ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), reportedly took issue with a specific clause of the Istanbul Convention requiring signees to apply the treaty’s guidelines to people including those in “same-sex relationships.”

“The convention can, and must be applied irrespective of the legal definitions of ‘family’ or ‘marriage’ and recognition, or not, of same-sex relationships,” the Council of Europe stated on its website. “These are matters for each state to decide since the legal recognition of same-sex unions or adoption by same-sex couple is outside the scope of the Istanbul Convention.”

“As known, Türkiye [Turkey] was the first signatory to the Istanbul Convention by demonstrating a strong commitment to protect women’s status in society and fight any violence against women,” the head of Turkey’s Directorate of Communications, Fahrettin Altun, wrote in an official statement addressing Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on March 21.

“The Istanbul Convention, originally intended to promote women’s rights, was hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality – which is incompatible with Türkiye [Turkey]’s social and family values. Hence the decision to withdraw,” the statement read.

Turkey’s population is 99 percent Muslim and currently ruled by the AKP, a socially conservative Islamist political party. While homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, the country’s majority religion, Islam, teaches that homosexuality is a sin.

Women’s rights organizations accuse the Turkish government of withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention “to appease conservatives [Islamists in Turkey] who claimed the treaty damaged family unity,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported in June.

“Conservatives also suggested references to equality in the treaty were used by the LGBT community to gain broader acceptance in Turkish society,” the French news agency reported.

Human rights activists say the number of Turkish women murdered by their partners has significantly increased in recent years and that the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention further threatens women’s rights and safety.

“Last year [2020], 300 women were murdered according to the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform, while 177 have been killed so far this year [2021],” AFP noted last month.

Deutsche-Welle (DW) in March recalled one of Turkey’s most infamous femicide cases from the past few years.

“The May 2018 murder of 23-year-old Ankara resident Sule Cet is one that has lodged itself particularly deep in Turkey’s collective memory,” the German broadcaster wrote.

“The young woman was raped in the office by two drunken men, one of them her boss,” according to DW. “Afterward, she was tossed out of the window of the high-rise block. The men told police that Cet had taken her own life — even though the coroner had detected a broken neck, tears in the victim’s anal region and sedatives in her blood — evidence hardly consistent with suicide.”

“The trial lasted six months and was accompanied by demonstrations and expressions of solidarity from women,” DW noted. “The case was also followed with great compassion on social media. The public pressure brought results, with the court in Ankara sentencing the perpetrator to life in prison and his accomplice to almost 19 years in jail.”


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