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Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention: An Issue of Fundamental Rights

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Doga Fadillioglu



On the 20th of March, an order was given by the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. The Istanbul Convention[1] (45 state signatories + EU nations)[2] is a Council of the European Convention which aims to tackle violence against women, with particular concern to domestic abuse and implementing criminal liability against perpetrators. In 2020, 300 women were victims of femicide (gender-based murders), 171 of which were deemed “suspicious” and probable suicides, even when autopsy reports did not depict sufficient evidence to do so[3]. The decision to withdraw was based on the protection of family values, which caused an outrage in the nation given the lack of political and legal protection for women. This article will discuss the government’s reasoning for the withdrawal, and the legal implications of Turkey withdrawing from an international Treaty ratified by Parliament.


“One cannot put women and men on an equal footing … it is against nature”[4]

is a statement Erdogan made in a 2014 speech, arguing that the equality of men and women stands to be unachievable. The main aim of the Istanbul Convention is distributed in four: “prevention, protection, prosecution and coordinated policies”[5] Therefore, it can be said that the treaty recognises a victim and aims to legally prosecute it. While it was argued by the Turkish government that this lacks an upholding of “Turkish family values” (where “man” sits in an ivory tower), the legal protection stands to be not a mere argument of equal rights, but protection against unlawful violence. In withdrawing from this treaty, six women were murdered within 12 hours, where the perpetrators of violence were failed to be tried. Even under the effect and ratification of the treaty, cases such as Sahin v Council illustrate that repeated report of violence did not lead to reparations (where the victim had reported abuse 60 times prior to her death, caused by her husband in an instance of domestic violence).[6] Therefore, the basis of the protection of traditional family values stands against the safety of victims, where the ECHR also noted a 1400% increase in violence in the nation within a span of 7 years.[7]


The withdrawal conveyed a rejection of the ECHR “zero-tolerance” approach set for cases of domestic violence, even though it was initially ratified by the Turkish Parliament. In the Parliamentary procedure, an international agreement is subject to Parliament’s consent, which is subsequently approved by the President; this procedure deems legal effect, making the contents of the treaty a fundamental right for all individuals[8]. Parallel to the ratification procedure, proportional steps are followed in the discharge of a Treaty, wherein the consent of both the President and the Parliament is required[9]. However, Article 104 of the Turkish Constitution sets out a hierarchy of governmental institutions of power, where the President may override Parliamentary legislation through the weighted command of an executive decision. This creates a conflict in a balanced separation of powers, since laws can be rejected by a member of the ruling political party. Therefore, fundamental international cases which rendered a ‘zero-tolerance’ towards domestic abuse and femicide (Opuz v Turkey, ECHR), as well as secondary legislation passed by the Parliament (Istanbul Convention), were rejected in the name of “protecting family values”, a decision made by a single individual: The President.


The morality of “family values” cannot be understood in the deduction of a short article, thus there cannot be a clear comment or confrontation made against the statement of politicians. However, a legal conflict in the decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Treaty is evident, where it is also seen that there is a rise of cases in violence against women in the family home. Thus, women will continue to protest, continue to call for a report of violence, and continue to be deemed as deaths that were merely “suspicious”, yet the legal response to the protection of such continues to perish.


 

[1] Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence [2011] [3] Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com, “How Many Femicides in Turkey Are Covered up as Suicides? | DW | 03.03.2021” (DW.COM2021) <https://www.dw.com/en/how-many-femicides-in-turkey-are-covered-up-as-suicides/a-56752194> accessed June 11, 2021

[4] Devran Gulel and Leïla Choukroune, “Turkey: Erdoğan’s Decision to Pull out of Istanbul Convention Has Put Him in Opposition to Women” (The ConversationMarch 24, 2021) <https://theconversation.com/turkey-erdogans-decision-to-pull-out-of-istanbul-convention-has-put-him-in-opposition-to-women-157753> accessed June 11, 2021

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Turkey’s Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention: A Step in the Wrong Direction” (LSE Women, Peace and Security blogMay 5, 2021) <https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/wps/2021/05/05/turkeys-withdrawal-from-the-istanbul-convention-a-step-in-the-wrong-direction/> accessed June 11, 2021

[9] Ibid.

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