ANKARA: A presidential decree withdrawing Turkey from a major treaty protecting women from gender-based violence has caused uproar among rights groups.
The Council of Europe accord, forged in Istanbul and signed by Turkey in 2011, pledged to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence and promote equality.
However, at least 284 women were killed last year during a rise in femicide in the country.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew his signature from the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence — also known as the Istanbul Convention — with a presidential decree that was published in the official gazette at 2 a.m. on Saturday.
Ironically, Turkey had been proud of being the first country to ratify the convention.
The withdrawal, which was met with countrywide protests starting Saturday noon, is likely to further polarize a country where women have long fought to obtain basic rights.
Several rights group saw the withdrawal from the accord as a major blow to women’s safety because the convention contributed to improving legislative and policy standards in domestic law, and an expert group was monitoring effective implementation.
According to a 2020 survey by Istanbul Ekonomi Arastirma, a respected polling company, only 8 percent of respondents favored a withdrawal from the convention, which is known as the world’s first binding treaty to combat and prevent violence against women.
“The Istanbul Convention was not signed at your command and it will not leave our lives upon your single command,” tweeted Fidan Ataselim, secretary-general of the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform.
Legal experts have also criticized the unlawful way in which the withdrawal from the convention happened, as this cannot be accomplished by a single presidential decree.
Under Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution, international agreements such as the Istanbul Convention are considered superior to domestic law. Therefore, only the parliament can withdraw from it.
However, Article 80 of the convention, states that termination requires a notification to the Council of Europe’s (CoE) secretary general.
CoE Secretary-General Marija Pejcinovic Buric released a written statement on Saturday saying: “Turkey’s announced withdrawal from the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on violence against women is a huge setback, compromising the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond.”
Kardelen Yarli, a lawyer specialized in women’s rights, said that the “pullout from the convention with an overnight decree is a politically motivated massacre of law in Turkey where women are being murdered each day and face a mounting rate of violence and abuse.”
She told Arab News: “As a women rights’ activist, I’m ashamed of this backward move. However, we’ll keep struggling for our rights in order not to let more women to be killed in this country. This convention is still valid in our eyes and we’ll do our best to make it implemented in the most efficient way.”
She added: “Let’s make it clear: Women’s rights are human rights. We cannot cope with the violence problem by denying women state protection.”
The Istanbul Convention was signed by 45 countries and the EU, and obliges state parties to revise their legislation to effectively combat domestic violence.
The convention became the target of populist and ultra-conservative rhetoric in Turkey for those who saw it as a threat to traditional family values.
Some conservative segments in the country, including several religious sects, have long criticized the convention, asserting that it undermines family unity, overemphasizes gender equality and encourages divorce.
According to the World Health Organization data, 38 percent of women in Turkey have faced violence, compared to about 25 percent in Europe.