International community and organizations react to Turkey’s withdrawal from Istanbul Convention

World leaders, international and regional organizations and right groups have reacted negatively to Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe’s (CoE) binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued an executive decree early on Saturday annulling Turkey’s ratification of the convention, the latest victory for conservatives in Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their allies, who argued the CoE accord damaged family unity. Turkey said domestic laws would protect women’s rights.

US President Joe Biden said Turkey’s withdrawal from the accord was “deeply disappointing” and a step backward in efforts to end violence against women globally.

“Around the world, we are seeing increases in the number of domestic violence incidents, including reports of rising femicide in Turkey,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday. “Countries should be working to strengthen and renew their commitments to ending violence against women, not rejecting international treaties designed to protect women and hold abusers accountable.”

“Globally, we must combat gender-based violence and affirm protections for women, including through tools like the Istanbul Convention,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted.

European leaders have also condemned Ankara’s decision. Paris said Turkey’s withdrawal marked a new regression in respect for human rights, while Berlin said neither culture nor religion or tradition could “serve as an excuse for ignoring violence against women.”

High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said late on Saturday that the decision was incomprehensible and “risks compromising the protection and fundamental rights of women and girls in Turkey [and] sends a dangerous message across the world,” urging the Turkish government to “reverse its decision.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who spoke with Erdoğan a day before Turkey ditched the pact, tweeted on Sunday, “Women deserve a strong legal framework to protect them,” and she called on all signatories to ratify it.

CoE Secretary-General Marija Pejcinovic Buric called President Erdoğan’s decision devastating. “This move is a huge setback to these efforts and all the more deplorable because it compromises the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond,” Buric said.

German Foreign Minister and Chair of the CoE Ministers Committee Heiko Maas and President of the CoE Parliamentary Assembly Rik Daems called on the Turkish authorities “not to weaken the international system to protect women against violence put in place by the Istanbul Convention.”

“Leaving the Convention would deprive Turkey and Turkish women of a vital tool to counter violence,” they stated.

On Saturday United Nations agencies called on Turkey to reconsider its decision.

“We are concerned that Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention would undermine the significant efforts invested so far to prevent and combat violence against women and may hinder progress towards further strengthening of national legislative, policy and institutional frameworks,” they said.

“In its most extreme form, and often as the final act on a continuum of violence, hundreds of women are murdered every year,” the agencies said.

The Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, widely known as İstanbul Convention, was signed by 45 countries and the European Union in 2011 and requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation.

Turkey was the first member state to ratify the CoE Convention, which was opened for signature in Istanbul during the Turkey’s chairmanship of the organization 10 years ago.

Thousands of women protested on Saturday against the government’s move in Istanbul and other cities.

According to a report published earlier by Sezgin Tanrıkulu,  a human rights defender and deputy from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), nearly 7,000 women have been victims of femicide during the 18 years that the AKP has been in power.

The report said one of the main reasons for the increase in deaths was because women were not taken seriously by law enforcement when they complained about violence. “Women go to the police and file a complaint against their partners after a violent incident,” said the report. “However, instead of taking the necessary legal steps against the perpetrators, the authorities act as conciliators and try to reconcile the partners.”

 

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