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Turkey: Withdrawal from Istanbul Convention is a pushback against women’s rights, say human rights experts

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23 March 2021

GENEVA (23 March 2021) – The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and other UN and regional human rights experts* today deeply regretted the decision by the President of Turkey to withdraw from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the Istanbul Convention.

"This decision to withdraw from such an important instrument is a very worrying step backwards. It sends a dangerous message that violence against women is not important, with the risk of encouraging perpetrators and weakening measures to prevent it," Dubravka Šimonović, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, said.

"This decision weakens protections for women's well-being and safety and leaves them at further risk at a time when violence against women is surging all over the world. The Istanbul Convention is the most recent and detailed women's rights instrument that, alongside the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, provide a roadmap for the elimination of gender-based violence against women and girls.

"These instruments recognise gender-based violence against women as a human rights violation, and commit States to putting in place policies and legislation to eradicate it," the experts said. "The implementation of the Istanbul Convention alongside other international standards had resulted in positive changes at the national level."

In the last few months, political actors in Turkey have expressed concerns that the Convention "threatened the family", in a misinterpretation of the term gender, used in the Convention. "On the contrary, the Convention provides Member States with tools to better protect women and girls and their human rights," the experts said.

Turkey had been the first Member State to ratify the Convention, in 2012, followed by 33 others. The decision to withdraw was announced on 20 March 2021 by a Presidential decree, without debates in Parliament and society at large.

"As a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, a sister instrument to the Istanbul Convention, I would welcome a dialogue with Turkey to discuss the importance of the Istanbul Convention for working together on the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence against women at the national, regional and international levels," said Gladys Acosta Vargas, Chair of the CEDAW Committee and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women.

"We call on Turkey to reconsider this decision and to conduct consultations with academia, civil society organisations, Parliament and society at large," the experts said.

The experts also noted the increased risk of violence against women, particularly domestic violence, in the context of the COVID-19 restrictive measures in Turkey, with a particular impact on women and girls with disabilities and older women. They stressed the need for more, and not fewer, tools to prevent and eradicate gender-based violence in all its forms.

Information available indicates a rise in femicide in Turkey in recent years; the experts reiterate their call for the Government to collect and analyse data on femicide and establish a Femicide Observatory to prevent them.

"The present time calls for better implementation of international norms and standards, not for Turkey to dissociate from them," the experts said.

The experts had previously expressed their concern regarding trends of pushbacks against women's rights and on the relevance of the Istanbul Convention to eradicate violence against women.

ENDS

*The experts: Dubravka Simonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Elizabeth Broderick (Chair), Melissa Upreti (Vice Chair), Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, Ivana Radačić, and Meskerem Geset Techane, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Gladys Acosta, Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; Tatiana Rein, President of the Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention; Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on slavery, including its causes and consequences; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967; Jelena Aparac (Chair-Rapporteur), Lilian Bobea, Chris Kwaja, Ravindran Daniel, and Sorcha MacLeod, Working Group on the use of mercenaries; Dante Pesce (Chair), Surya Deva (Vice-Chair), Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai, Anita Ramasastry, Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mumba Malila, and Seong-Phil Hong, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children; Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living; Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For further information and media requests, please contact: Renata Preturlan (+41 22 928 92 54/ rpreturlan@ohchr.org) or write to vaw@ohchr.org

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org).

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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