Germany warned Turkey on March 22 that the possibility for European Union (EU) sanctions to be lodged against it remains in play. This comes as ties deteriorate in light of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention and its ban of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). According to the Council of Europe, the Istanbul Convention is an agreement between European nations which embraces four pillars in combatting violence against women and domestic violence: prevention, protection, prosecution, co-ordinated policies. Turkey pulled out of the agreement on March 20 following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s one-paragraph statement. The paragraph did not offer substantial justification for removing the country from the human rights treaty. The HDP, Turkey’s third-largest political party, was banned last week after a prosecutor claimed that the party shares links with militants, BBC News reports. This all comes after the EU planned to impose sanctions on Turkey in light of disputes between Athens and Ankara regarding natural gas resources, according to The Guardian. While this dispute has since died down, new diplomatic challenges arise in the footsteps of Turkey’s recent moves.
In preparation for the upcoming EU summit, German foreign minister Heiko Mass recognized that while de-escalation is happening in the eastern Mediterranean, “the decision on the HDP or the pullout of the Istanbul Convention are certainly the wrong signals” (Reuters). In opposition to Edroğan’s decision to pull Turkey out of the Istanbul Convention, women in different cities across the country poured into the streets to protest. In a White House Briefing Room statement on March 21, President Joe Biden called the move by Erdoğan a “disheartening step backward.” In addition, UN Women vows to take organizational action and urges Turkey to reverse its decision to step away. In regards to the intra political situation in Turkey, the HDP denies any links to militants following the Turkish prosecutor’s accusation that the HDP engages in supportive ties with the militant group Kurdish Workers Party, BBC News indicates. The political party also decries the ban and considers it “a heavy blow to democracy and law” and a “political coup,” (BBC News). President Biden has responded to this development as well, citing it as political subversion. In addition, Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn also gave a warning to Turkey ahead of the summit.
The recent actions taken by the Turkish leadership were repressive and ignorant, but they come as no surprise. Led by a president with authoritarian tendencies and explicit contempt for the idea of gender equality, legislation in Turkey seems to set the undertone of a country moving backwards from progress and peaceful democracy. This sentiment aligns with a statement by the foreign minister Asselborn, who said that Turkey’s disregard for the human rights path, which was charted with partial guidance by the EU, mirrors a way back to the Middle Ages. The European Union should move forward with imposing sanctions on Turkey, particularly against high-profile individuals. As a fellow member of the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the United States should also take similar measures. The United States should be cognizant of the socially conservative and authoritarian direction Turkey is heading towards, and hopefully President Biden’s record in passing legislation fighting against violence impacting women can be a force in pressuring Turkey to re-enter the Istanbul Convention.
The Istanbul Convention was opened for signature in 2011, according to the Council of Europe’s website, after it was adopted by the European Council of Ministers. Turkey was the first country to join the human rights treaty and it became enforced in 2014. In recent years, the country has seen a rise in rates of femicide as UN independent experts have called for more diplomatic tools to combat gender-based violence. Turkey’s ban on the HDP is the culmination of years of tension between the Turkish central leadership and its Kurdish politicians. According to BBC News, HDP lawmakers, including the party’s former leader, have been investigated and jailed in previous years.
Erdoğan’s decision to leave the Istanbul Convention could have life-threatening consequences for women, since Turkish democracy seems to be deteriorating and Islamist, authoritarian political power is on the rise. The Turkish exit from the convention may encourage perpetrators to commit violence without accountability. If anything, the country should have solicited more tools in an effort to stem the tide of gender-based violence and mistreatment. And although Ankara’s attempt to put a nail in the coffin of the HDP’s existence as a legal political party is not a surprise, it highlights a trend of repression that is not being internationally recognized by republics worldwide as much as it should be. The developments also highlight the challenge that Western countries such as the United States, an ally to the Kurds, face in dealing with Turkey, a country on the border of Russia that is purchasing their S-400 missiles.
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