Turkey’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention via a presidential decree constituted a violation of the country’s laws, the prosecutor of the Council of State said in an appeal hearing on Thursday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had signed a presidential decree in March 2021 to take Turkey out of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention after the city it was signed in.
More than 600 female lawyers from 73 of Turkey’s 82 bar associations and representatives from major women’s rights advocacy groups attended the hearing, which was the largest attendance in the country’s history for an administrative court.
The Council of State prosecutor moved for the annulment of the presidential decree that removed Turkey from the convention, on the grounds that Turkish law did not allow withdrawal from international treaties without parliamentary approval, news website Duvar reported.
The case had combined 10 appeals filed separately by different bar associations, women’s groups, trade unions and representatives from opposition parties.
As the hearing continued, women gathered in numbers outside the Council of State in anticipation.
Hülya Gülbahar, a lawyer and veteran feminist campaigner, told reporters that Erdoğan’s decree had been “in violation of the constitution”.
“International conventions cannot be abandoned by the decision of a single person,” Gülbahar said. “This is in violation of the very constitution that (the government) adopted. You cannot go against your own constitution.”
The president holds the authority to annul economic agreements, Gülbahar said. “But our lives are not imported potatoes. We cannot withdraw from conventions on fundamental rights by one single person’s decision.”
According to Article 90 of Turkey’s constitution, international treaties have precedence over domestic laws when they are in conflict, and can be exited by a motion passed by the parliament.
During the hearing, lawyers representing the Presidency argued that the president could exercise executive power without parliamentary approval.
“We do not evaluate the accuracy of our president’s decisions based on international bodies,” Emre Topal, a member of Erdoğan’s legal team, told the court.
Erdoğan’s decision to take Turkey out of the convention had been met with widespread condemnation, with only 17 percent of citizens expressing support for the withdrawal, according to a Metropoll study ahead of the decree. The demand came from Islamist-conservative groups in the country, who object to the convention over the protections it offered to LGBTI+ persons, while women throughout the political spectrum took to the streets in defence of the convention both before and after the decree was signed.
“There was a single piece of legislation that protected women in Turkey, and it was cancelled one day at midnight by the president’s decision,” Healthcare Workers Union (SES) Co-chair Selma Atabey told Jin News on Tuesday, ahead of the hearing.
“To tell the truth, we were a little surprised when the Council of State took on this case, at a time when no trace of justice is to be found,” she said.
At least 113 women have been killed by men in Turkey in 2022 so far, according to activist-run project Anıt Sayaç (Monument Counter). Last year, the activist group recorded a total of 419 femicides. The actual numbers are expected to be much higher, as government bodies do not publicise statistics on the matter and advocacy groups resort to compiling data from media reports and by their own means.
While homosexuality is not criminalised in the country, LGBTI+ individuals lack recognition and fundamental rights and organisations face pressures by the state. Pride marches have been banned since 2015, and top officials including Religious Affairs Director Ali Erbaş and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu have called the LGBTI+ community “sick” and “deviant”.
The court will announce a ruling in writing, at a later date.