Turkey vows to maintain fight against domestic violence

Turkey will not compromise in its continued fight against domestic violence, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday in response to certain countries’ negative reactions to Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a European treaty aimed at preventing and combating violence against women.

In a statement, the ministry said that Turkey’s laws guarantee the highest possible standard of women’s rights and that the country will maintain its zero-tolerance policy against domestic violence.

“The Republic of Turkey’s withdraw from the treaty should not be interpreted as compromising on combating violence against women,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“Women’s rights in the national legislation of the Republic of Turkey are safeguarded by the most advanced norms,” the statement said.

Noting that Turkey has stood by women in advancing their rights, strengthening their social role and protecting them against violence, the ministry said, “The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence is a convention prepared with the main purpose of combating violence against women.”

However, it added that “elements of the convention and various practices created sensitivity in the public and caused criticism.”

The ministry pointed out the “discussions in many countries within the Council of Europe regarding the convention” and said: “Some countries that have signed the convention have refrained from ratifying it.”

With the understanding of zero tolerance of violence against women, the ministry said Turkey will continue to take all necessary measures to strengthen women’s rights.

In another statement, Turkey’s Communications Directorate said Sunday that Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the treaty “by no means denotes that Turkey compromises the protection of women.”

“The Turkish state has continuously stressed that the country will not give up on its fight against domestic violence by quitting the convention,” the directorate said in a written statement on the country’s decision announced early on Saturday.

Stressing that the convention permits any party to terminate it by notifying the Council of Europe, the statement said: “As known, Turkey was the first signatory to the Istanbul Convention by demonstrating a strong commitment to protect women’s status in society and fight any violence against women.”

On the reason for withdrawal, the directorate said the convention’s original intention of promoting women’s rights “was hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality” and that it is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values.

Highlighting that Turkey was not the only country with “serious concerns” about the convention, it said six members of the EU, namely Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia, also have not ratified the treaty.

“Poland has taken steps to withdraw from the convention, citing an attempt by the LGBT community to impose their ideas about gender on the entire society,” it said.

On Turkey’s fight against violence against women and domestic violence, it said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan strongly emphasizes that Turkey “will continue protecting the safety and rights of all women.”

“He underlines that fighting domestic violence with the principle of zero tolerance will remain on top of the government’s agenda,” it said.

Emphasizing the “concrete steps” taken by the Turkish government to support and improve women’s rights, it said such mechanisms are still in place.

The directorate also underlined that new reforms would be implemented in the face of increasing violence against women and added that Turkey would continue to focus on measures to address the society’s specific needs and strengthen ongoing efforts in this regard.

The Turkish Constitution, civil law and penal code, as well as a 2012 law on the protection of the family and the prevention of violence against women, serve as legal mechanisms to uphold and promote women’s rights, the statement said.

It added that Turkey also remains a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

“It must be noted that Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention has zero impact on the implementation of strict, effective and real-world measures, including a landmark legislation that President Erdoğan’s government drafted, sponsored and passed.”

Referring to the groundbreaking Human Rights Action Plan announced in early March, it said: “With no doubt, Turkiye will take additional steps to improve the effectiveness of existing precautions against domestic violence and violence against women.”

International reaction

Statements from Turkey came after senior U.S. and European officials voiced regret over Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the treaty.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement that the Istanbul Convention was the first international legally binding instrument to combat violence against women and domestic violence.

“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,” Borrell said.

Borrell called on Turkey to reverse the decision.

Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister and chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, and Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly President Rik Daems issued a joint statement on Turkey’s announced withdrawal.

Maas and Daems said they “deeply regret the decision” to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention that was ratified in Turkey’s Parliament in 2012.

“We recall that the purpose of the Convention is to prevent violence against women, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators. It upholds women’s fundamental human right to a life free from violence,” the statement read.
The Council of Europe also criticized Turkey’s decision, saying that it “endangers” women’s rights.

Noting that the withdrawal undermines women’s rights and sends the wrong message to women, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović said “Turkey should not step back and reduce its tools to fight against this scourge.”

U.S. President Joe Biden also commented on Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the treaty aimed at preventing violence against women, calling the move “deeply disappointing.”

“Turkey’s sudden and unwarranted withdrawal from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, is deeply disappointing,” Biden said in a written statement.

The president noted the increase in domestic violence being witnessed around the world, including in Turkey, and stressed the need for countries to work together to put an end to gender-based violence.

“This is a disheartening step backward for the international movement to end violence against women globally,” Biden added.

Biden pointed to the recent massage parlor shootings in Georgia in which the gunman targeted Asian women, saying: “It hurts all of us, and we all must do more to create societies where women are able to go about their lives free from violence.”

Turkey was the first country to ratify the convention designed to protect women while putting an end to perpetrators’ legal impunity, signing the agreement in 2011 before it was adopted in Istanbul in 2012.

While the convention was enforced in 34 countries, including Turkey, some countries – Ukraine, the U.K., the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Moldova, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Latvia, Hungary, Armenia and Bulgaria – signed the document but have yet to ratify it.

The EU signed the convention on June 13, 2017, but Council of Europe members Russia and Azerbaijan did not.

Officially called the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, the accord was established in 2011 and aims to create a legal framework to prevent and fight violence against women and domestic violence while promoting equality.

Opponents of the pact in Turkey say the convention undermines family unity, encourages divorce and that its references to equality were being used by the LGBTQ community to gain broader acceptance in society.