EU leaders and MEPs condemn Turkey’s decision to withdraw from Istanbul Convention

The controversial move to withdraw from the international treaty, designed to combat violence against women, sparked immediate protests from world leaders and campaigners.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

22 Mar 2021

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reacted to Turkey’s move by saying, “Women deserve a strong legal framework to protect them.”

Von der Leyen, who spoke separately with Turkish leader Recep Erdoğan in a phone call at the weekend, called on all signatories to ratify the accord.

Turkey signed the Council of Europe's convention 10 years ago at its launch in Istanbul. The pact seeks to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence.

EU leaders meeting for a summit later this week are expected to discuss relations with Turkey.

Its decision to abandon the treaty was described as “devastating” for efforts to combat domestic violence by the head of Europe's main human rights body, the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe.

Its Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić said, “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.”

She said in a statement that the Convention covers 34 European countries and is “widely regarded as the gold standard in international efforts to protect women and girls from the violence that they face every day in our societies.”

“This decision risks compromising the protection and fundamental rights of women and girls in Turkey. It also sends a dangerous message across the world” Josep Borrell, EU High Representative

The NGO, We Will Stop Femicide Platform, also attacked the move with, its secretary general Fidan Ataselim saying, “millions of women cannot be ignored, imprisoned, effaced or silenced.”

US President Joe Biden said Turkey’s withdrawal from the accord was “deeply disappointing”, adding, “Around the world, we are seeing increases in the number of domestic violence incidents, including reports of rising femicide in Turkey.”

Turkey has one of the worst records for domestic violence and at least 300 women were murdered in the country last year. The rape and murder of 23-year-old student Şule Çet in the capital Ankara in May 2018 is often cited as an example of how bad the situation is in the country.

Further condemnation on Sunday came from Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative, who said, “The Istanbul Convention is the first international legally binding instrument to combat violence against women and domestic violence. It aims at ensuring essential legal protection to women and girls across the world.”

“This is today more important than ever, as violence against women and girls has increased to new levels worldwide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and of the many conflicts, where women are primary victims.”

Borrell said, “Now is the time to show leadership and enhance global efforts to fight violence against women and girls, not to retreat. This is why we cannot but regret deeply and express incomprehension towards the decision of the Turkish government to withdraw from this convention that even bears the name of Istanbul.”

“This decision risks compromising the protection and fundamental rights of women and girls in Turkey. It also sends a dangerous message across the world.”

“This move is a huge setback … and all the more deplorable because it compromises the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond” Marija Pejčinović Burić, Council of Europe Secretary General

Borrell, also a vice-president of the Commission, went on, “We therefore cannot but urge Turkey to reverse its decision. We hope that Turkey will soon join again the European Union in defending the rights of women and girls, a fundamental element of human rights, peace, security and equality in the 21st century.”

Spanish Socialist MEP Nacho Sánchez Amor, Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey, said he was “dismayed” at the news, adding, “This is the current Turkish government's real face: showing a complete disregard to rule of law, full backsliding in human rights. I hope that Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel can see it before another ridicule.”

German Greens member Sergey Lagodinsky added, “The government of Turkey has run a marathon away from the remaining common positions with the European Union. Leaving the İstanbul Convention is the culmination and a provocation before the EU Council this week.”

Turkey’s justice minister Abdulhamit Gül said the government was committed to combating violence against women, adding, “We continue to protect our people’s honour, the family and our social fabric with determination.”

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