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UN: Turkey’s withdrawing from Istanbul Convention is shocking

UN: Turkey’s withdrawing from Istanbul Convention is shocking

Turkey’s announcement at the weekend that it was withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, an important regional human rights treaty on combatting all forms of violence against women, 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. 

The decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention was taken without a parliamentary debate and reportedly without wider consultation with civil society, including women’s groups and women rights defenders. The High Commissioner has expressed her dismay at the withdrawal, which represents a significant step backwards in Turkey’s efforts to advance women’s rights, especially given that gender inequality and gender-based violence against women remain a serious concern in Turkish society. Turkey played an active role in negotiating the Convention, which was adopted in Istanbul, and was the first State to ratify it in March 2012, which makes its decision to abandon it now all the more shocking.  

Turkey’s decision to pull away 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. 

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. 

Other developments in recent weeks have additionally deepened our concerns about the human rights situation in the country. Opposition politicians and human rights defenders have been detained after raids on their homes, and vaguely defined terrorism-related  charges continue to be brought to target and silence perceived critics. We reiterate that any counter-terrorism operation should comply with international human rights law, and must never be used as a pretext to quash dissent. 

On 17 March, legal proceedings began seeking the dissolution of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). On the same day, Parliament decided to expel HDP member Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu and revoke his parliamentary immunity, citing his conviction for spreading what was termed “terrorist propaganda” in one of his social media posts in 2016. 

The offence 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 using counter-terrorism measures that can have a chilling effect on the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and human rights.

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. Earlier this month Turkey adopted a human rights action plan and we stress that this should be implemented in conformity with such international obligations.