US, Europe press Turkey to rethink ditching of Istanbul Convention

European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell arrives for the European Foreign Ministers and Interior Ministers Council in Brussels, Belgium, 15 March 2021. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

US and European leaders denounced what they called Turkey’s baffling and concerning decision to pull out of an international accord designed to protect women from violence, and urged President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to reconsider.

Erdoğan’s government on Saturday (20 March) withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, which it signed onto in 2011 after it was forged in Turkey’s biggest city. Turkey said domestic laws, not outside fixes, would protect women’s rights.

The Council of Europe accord pledged to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence and promote equality. Killings of women have surged in Turkey in recent years and thousands of women protested on Saturday against the government’s move in Istanbul and other cities.

The United States, Germany, France and the European Union responded with dismay – marking the second time in four days that Europe’s leaders have criticised Ankara over rights issues, after a Turkish prosecutor moved to close down a pro-Kurdish political party.

EU ‘deeply concerned’ over crackdown on pro-Kurdish party, Turkey rebuffs criticism

Turkey on Thursday (18 March) told foreign countries to keep out of its domestic affairs after Western powers uniformly condemned its bid to shut down the main pro-Kurdish party.

US President Joe Biden said Turkey’s withdrawal from the accord was “deeply disappointing” and a step backward in efforts to end violence against women globally.

“Around the world, we are seeing increases in the number of domestic violence incidents, including reports of rising femicide in Turkey,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday. “Countries should be working to strengthen and renew their commitments to ending violence against women, not rejecting international treaties designed to protect women and hold abusers accountable.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said late on Saturday that the decision was incomprehensible and “risks compromising the protection and fundamental rights of women and girls in Turkey (and) sends a dangerous message across the world. … We therefore cannot but urge Turkey to reverse its decision.”

It is necessary to note that all EU members have not ratified the Istanbul Convention and some said they never will. According to the Council of Europe website Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia have not ratified the convention. The Bulgarian Constitutional Court ruled in 2018 that the Istanbul Convention was unconstitutional. Poland has ratified the Convention, but the conservative government has second thoughts. Critics say the Istanbul Convention is a plot to introduce “gender ideology” in traditionally conservative societies.

Polish official: Istanbul Convention could impose 'leftist ideology'

Poland’s conservative nationalist government cranked up its campaign against Europe’s accord on violence against women, calling it a tool for the EU to foist “leftist ideology” on unwilling member states.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – who spoke with Erdoğan a day before Turkey ditched the pact – wrote on Twitter on Sunday: “Women deserve a strong legal framework to protect them,” and she called on all signatories to ratify it.

The Council of Europe, which gathers 47 members states and was founded in 1949 to defend human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe, also regretted the decision.

“Leaving the Convention would deprive Turkey and Turkish women of a vital tool to counter violence,” the presidents of the organisation’s Committee of ministers and of the Parliamentary assembly said on Sunday in a joint statement.

The convention had split Erdoğan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) and even his family. Officials floated pulling out last year amid a dispute over how to curb domestic violence in Turkey, where femicide has tripled in 10 years, one monitoring group has said.

But many conservatives in Turkey and in Erdoğan’s Islamist-rooted AKP say the pact undermines family structures, encouraging violence. Some are also hostile to its stance against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Paris said Turkey’s withdrawal marked a new regression in respect for human rights, while Berlin said neither culture, religion nor tradition could “serve as an excuse for ignoring violence against women”.

The diplomatic strain comes after Europe and the United States this past week said the move to close down parliament’s third-largest party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), undermined democracy in Turkey.

In their video call on Friday, Erdoğan, Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel discussed a dispute, which has cooled, over offshore resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

An EU summit this week will address relations with Ankara.

Tables have turned: EU is handling Turkey issue together with Washington

Turkey is not just a European-Turkish issue, but also an issue in our transatlantic partnership, and obviously, our partnership with NATO, senior EU officials have said.

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