UN rights office calls on Turkey to reverse decision on domestic violence treaty

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The United Nations human rights office on Tuesday called on Turkey to reverse its decision to withdraw from an international treaty aimed at combating violence against women, widely known as the Istanbul Convention.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government announced the decision Saturday, the latest victory for conservatives in Erdoğan’s nationalist party and their allies, who argued that the treaty damaged family unity.

But the withdrawal ignited domestic and international outrage, with thousands in Turkey protesting the move.

Liz Throssell, spokesperson for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, said in a statement on Tuesday that Turkey’s announcement at the weekend that it was withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention highlights wider concerns regarding the human rights situation in the country, notably the shrinking of civic space and the lack of meaningful and democratic participation in decision making.

“We call on Turkey to reverse its withdrawal, conduct consultations with civil society and women’s groups, and make tangible efforts to promote and protect the safety and rights of all women and girls in Turkey,” said the statement.

It also noted that Turkey’s decision to pull out 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 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,” she added.

The 2011 Istanbul Convention, signed by 45 countries and the European Union — Turkey was the first signatory — requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation.

European leaders have also condemned Ankara’s decision to withdraw from it.

Gergerlioğlu’s expulsion

In the statement the commissioner also talked about the expulsion of opposition lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu from the Turkish Parliament on terrorism charges, saying that the offense for which Gergerlioğlu was convicted appears 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,” said the commissioner.

Gergerlioğlu, a former lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was stripped of his parliamentary membership after a Supreme Court of Appeals decision upholding a prison sentence of two years, six months given to the rights advocate lawmaker on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda was read out in the General Assembly last Wednesday. He was given the jail sentence due to a 2016 tweet.

Throssell also said a human rights action plan recently unveiled by Turkey should be implemented in conformity with international obligations.

“We reiterate 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 counter-terrorism measures.”

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