UN rights chief criticizes Turkish gov’t for withdrawing from Istanbul Convention, detaining politicians and rights defenders

Michelle Bachelet

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a press statement released today by her spokesperson Liz Throssell criticized the Turkish government for withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention and detaining opposition politicians and human rights defenders on vaguely defined terrorism-related charges.

According to the statement, the decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe treaty on combatting all forms of violence against women, highlights wider concerns regarding the human rights situation in Turkey, notably the shrinking of civic space and the lack of meaningful and democratic participation in decision making.

“The High Commissioner has expressed her dismay at the withdrawal, which represents a significant step backwards in Turkey’s efforts to advance women’s rights, especially given that gender inequality and gender-based violence against women remain a serious concern in Turkish society,” the statement said. “Turkey played an active role in negotiating the Convention, which was adopted in Istanbul, and was the first State to ratify it in March 2012, which makes its decision to abandon it now all the more shocking.”

Turkey on Saturday pulled out of the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women by presidential decree. The 2011 Istanbul Convention, signed by 45 countries and the European Union, requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation.

Conservatives had claimed the charter damages family unity, encourages divorce and that its references to equality were being used by the LGBT community to gain broader acceptance in society.

“Turkey’s decision to pull away from its obligations under the Istanbul Convention also sends a wrong signal to the world, at a time when global commitment and political will to eradicate violence against women are needed,” the UN statement said. “The rise in gender-based violence and the backlash on women’s rights we have seen worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic make such efforts more vital than ever.”

The statement called on Turkey to reverse its withdrawal from the convention, conduct consultations with civil society and women’s groups, make tangible efforts to promote and protect the safety and rights of all women and girls in Turkey.

The statement also expressed concern about the human rights situation in Turkey and particularly the detention of opposition politicians and human rights defenders. “Vaguely defined terrorism-related charges continue to be brought to target and silence perceived critics,” it said. “We reiterate that counter-terrorism measures should comply with international human rights law, and must never be used as a pretext to quash dissent.”

Regarding the conviction of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker and prominent human rights activist Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu on terrorism-related charges and his removal from parliament, the statement said the offense in question appears to be “broad and not in line with international standards.”

“We are also deeply concerned that legal proceedings initiated against him appear to be part of a wider trend in Turkey of mis-using counter-terrorism measures that can have a chilling effect on the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and human rights,” it said.

In the statement, office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also reiterated the importance of Turkey taking actions consistent with its obligations under international human rights law, including relating to freedom of opinion and expression, right of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, including the right to form and participate in political parties, the right to participate in public affairs and the full respect of human rights in any counterterrorism measures.

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