Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Turkish Authorities Conceal Crimes Against Women

Crimes Against Turkish Women
Women shout slogans as Turkish anti-riot police officers try to push them back during a rally marking International Women’s Day on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul on March 8, 2019. Ozan KOSE / AFP

Ali Noureddine

This article was translated from Arabic.

Crimes against women are increasing in Turkiye. According to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, Turkiye recorded 226 femicides up through August 2022, compared to 425 murders the year prior. Despite how horrific these figures may appear, Turkish human rights organizations contend that the actual death toll is significantly higher.

Owing to a concerted cover-up by the authorities, a significant portion of these murders are classified as suicides or accidents, which limits their ability to be identified and recorded as crimes. Given to the official, systematic cover provided, women’s rights organizations have been applying constant pressure on the government and the legal system.

On average, one murder occurs every day, and this number has tripled over the past several years. Human rights organizations claim that this is related to the fact that hundreds of these incidents have been reported as accidents as a result of legal intervention.

These actions not only allow murderers to escape punishment but also fail to present a deterrent, which leads to the propagation of this trend and an increase in the murder rate.

Organizations fighting for women’s rights have emerged as outspoken opponents of the regime through increasing demonstrations against the patriarchal mindset that rules over Turkiye’s judicial and executive branches. This is due to the authorities’ lax enforcement of the law.

Judiciary targets We Will Stop Femicide Platform

In order to address the Turkish system and the judiciary’s contempt for these crimes and to rectify data that suggest the Turkish judiciary has failed to undertake a meaningful inquiry, human rights organizations have assiduously tracked and documented crimes against women. The main tool for revealing the complicity of the Turkish courts and their lack of sincerity in addressing this issue is now in concrete figures.

Founded in 2010, the We Will Stop Femicide Platform quickly became a prominent advocate of women’s rights in Turkiye before ultimately taking the lead in the endeavor. Since then, it has developed into the primary source that chronicles on a monthly and annual basis crimes against women in Turkiye, such as rape, assault, and murder.

The organization has also persevered in organizing protests and launching positions rejecting the manner in which the regime and courts in Turkiye deal with violations against women. The platform’s most significant accomplishment, which has made it a source of discomfort for the Turkish judiciary and the ruling regime, is its exposure of instances where the Turkish justice system neglected crimes against women.

This explains the request made by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor in April to shut down the organization and permanently revoke its license in response to a complaint made by a member of the government’s Justice and Development Party.

The organization had previously been accused of acting “against the law and morality,” a clear allusion to the group’s adoption of viewpoints and support of the LGBT community in Turkiye. Assertions like “trying to destroy and split the Turkish family, under the guise of safeguarding and supporting women’s rights” were also mentioned.

Before making a final decision on the motion to shut down the platform, the Turkish judiciary will continue the trial sessions that it launched in early October. During the earliest court hearings, it became evident that the Public Prosecution Office and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party planned to prosecute the group to the very end. This shows that they not only want to put pressure on the organization to give in on the cases it is pursuing; their ultimate objective is to shut it down altogether.

In any event, neither the prosecutor’s allegation nor the complaint made by a member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party had any specifics regarding egregious transgressions of the country’s laws. This gives rise to the theory that this case involves the organization’s defense of women’s rights against the Turkish legal system and its complicity in undermining justice when such crimes are committed.

Erdogan in opposition to groups working for women’s rights

The conflict between human rights groups fighting for women’s rights and the Turkish court, which is tasked with delivering justice in situations of violence against women, may seem to have clear-cut justifications. Erdogan does, however, play a significant part in aiding the judicial disdain for women’s rights and the cases of violence and crimes against them in his capacity as president of Turkiye.

Because of his conservative background, Erdogan’s approach has always been marked by an effort to disassociate himself from women’s rights issues. This was amply demonstrated by his withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, also known as the “Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Abuse,” on July 1, 2021.

Following that departure, a battle between the Turkish authorities and local human rights organizations emerged, which prompted Turkiye to reject any demands made of it with regard to women’s rights and preventing violence against them.

Women’s rights organizations have since denounced Erdogan’s decision to abandon the agreement, which they thought would result in the adoption of further legislation that would end violence against women in Turkey. The importance of these laws in Turkiye is directly linked to the high number of women who experience domestic abuse in the country—more than 38%, to be specific.

Erdogan’s actions have reinforced the lack of accountability for individuals who commit domestic abuse and violence against women, and as a result, the tensions that characterized his relationships with groups defending women’s rights have increasingly deepened. The actions of these groups, in the eyes of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party, undermine traditional family values and run counter to conservative Turkish culture.

Consequently, pro-women’s rights demonstrations in Turkiye frequently escalate into violent clashes with security forces, which often do not tolerate such protests in major cities or sensitive public squares.

Reasons for Erdogan’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Agreement

The signing of the Istanbul Convention, also known as the “Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence,” took place in 2011. The 81-article treaty is founded on four pillars: preventing violence against women in all its types and manifestations, protecting witnesses from abuse by perpetrators, assisting victims and offering them safe places to stay, and bringing offenders to justice and enforcing deterrent punishments.

The Convention also clearly defines the crimes that fall under the umbrella of violence against women, and include: psychological violence and stalking, physical violence including rape, forced marriage and forced abortion, in addition to forced sterilization, sexual harassment, honor crimes and sexual exploitation.

Erdogan’s departure from the deal came as a result of conservative groups’ objections to several of its clauses, as stated by the Justice and Development Party. Provisions that demand the protection of victims’ rights without discrimination based on “sexual orientation or gender identity,” which in their eyes indicates the normalization of homosexuality, were of particular concern.

The party’s deputy leader, Numan Kurtulmus, addressed this concern explicitly when he said that the reason the deal was rejected by the party was because of its trepidations about clauses that might “provide free space that can be manipulated by the LGBT community.”

But it soon became clear that Turkiye’s decision to abandon the agreement, was motivated by Erdogan’s political considerations, which include:

– Attempting to appease the Islamic right, which opposes the terms of the accord, and which makes up the majority of his conservative party base.

Evading provisions that impose on the Turkish regime and the judiciary certain standards in dealing with crimes against women whose burden Erdogan does not currently want to bear.

– Attempting to fragment the opposition by creating rifts over an issue that does not enjoy unanimous support, given the presence of both conservative and secular Islamic ideologies within the opposition.

– Erdogan’s decision to give up his aspiration to join the European Union, which had previously served as the primary driver for entering into the accord.

– Erdogan’s refusal to challenge the patriarchal paradigm that dominates Turkish politics and the legal system, especially given that neither his ideological foundation nor the makeup of his support base provide any motivation to do so.

Constant confrontation

The We Will Stop Femicide Platform, one of the biggest such groups in Turkiye, was targeted as a result of the conflicts that characterize the Turkish regime’s relationship with organizations defending women’s rights. This is a blatant indication of how uncomfortable the Turkish government is with the role that this group and others like it play in keeping an eye on the actions taken by the local judiciary as well as the ruling regime.

It’s expected that this struggle will persist in Turkiye regardless of the court’s ruling. Human rights organizations working for women’s rights continue to document abuses against women while Erdogan makes no indication that he will back down or modify how he approaches this issue. The patriarchal institutions that control political life and the judicial system in Turkiye are also accountable for the scourge of violence against women in the nation; it is not only a matter that falls on the shoulder of one man.

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