Biden rebukes Turkey after it quits accord protecting women

By Staff and agencies

Joe Biden has joined European leaders in condemning Turkey’s withdrawal from a landmark international accord designed to protect women from violence.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a decree early on Saturday annulling Turkey’s ratification of the Istanbul convention, a landmark European treaty protecting women from violence that it was the first country to sign 10 years ago and that bears the name of its largest city.

The convention requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation.

The US president called the move “deeply disappointing”, saying it was a step backward in efforts to end violence against women.

“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,” Biden said in a statement.

The move is a blow to women’s rights advocates, who say the agreement is crucial to combating domestic violence. Femicide in Turkey has tripled in 10 years, according to one monitoring group.

Hundreds of women gathered at demonstrations across Turkey on Saturday to protest against the move. “Reverse your decision, apply the treaty,” chanted thousands of people during a protest in the Kadıköy neighbourhood on the Asia side of Istanbul.

The protesters held up portraits of women murdered in Turkey, one reading: “It is women who will win this war.”

“As women, we now think that the withdrawal is a direct attack on women’s rights and a direct attack on the rights of modern young women, in particular,” Ebru Batur, 21, said. “This of course makes us feel insecure and like our rights are appropriated.”

The Council of Europe’s secretary general, Marija Pejčinović Burić, called the decision devastating.

“We cannot but regret deeply and express incomprehension towards the decision of the Turkish government,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

It “risks compromising the protection and fundamental rights of women and girls in Turkey [and] sends a dangerous message across the world,” he said. “We therefore cannot but urge Turkey to reverse its decision.”

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

Conservatives in Turkey had claimed the charter damaged family unity and encouraged divorce, and that its references to equality were being used by the LGBT community to gain broader acceptance in society.

Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, one of Erdoğan’s main rivals, tweeted that the decision “tramples on the struggle that women have been waging for years”.

Gökçe Gökçen, deputy chair of the main opposition CHP party, said abandoning the treaty meant “keeping women second-class citizens and letting them be killed”.

“Despite you and your evil, we will stay alive and bring back the convention,” she said on Twitter.

Even the pro-government Women and Democracy Association (Kadem), whose deputy chair is Erdoğan’s younger daughter, expressed some unease, saying the Istanbul convention “played an important role in the fight against violence”.

In response to the avalanche of criticism, interior minister Süleyman Soylu said “our institutions and our security forces will continue to fight domestic violence and violence against women”.

Domestic violence and femicide remain a serious problem in Turkey. Last year, 300 women were murdered and the rate is speeding up, with 77 killed already this year, according to the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform.

“The Istanbul convention was not signed at your command and it will not leave our lives on your command,” the platform’s secretary general Fidan Ataselim tweeted.

The country was also shaken by a video spread widely on social media earlier this month showing a man beating his ex-wife on the street. The man was arrested on Sunday and Erdoğan announced that a parliamentary commission would be created to look at legislation to combat violence.

Rights groups accuse Erdoğan of taking mostly Muslim but officially secular Turkey on an increasingly socially conservative course during his 18 years in power.

After a spectacular Pride march in Istanbul drew 100,000 people in 2014, the government responded by banning future events in the city, claiming to have security concerns.