A key Council of Europe treaty to combat violence against women was opened to signatures by member states on Wednesday in İstanbul, the first step to its eventual implementation.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the outgoing chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, became the first official to sign the treaty ahead of the opening of a meeting of the Committee of Ministers. Thirteen countries have signed the text so far. In addition to Turkey, they are: Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.
The treaty, called the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, is aimed at protecting women against all forms of violence. The convention applies to all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence. It requires the signatories to criminalize the practices of forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced abortion and sterilization, sexual harassment and stalking.
It also stipulates that the parties to the convention should take the necessary legislative and other measures to combat honor killings, which refers to killings of women usually by family members for “staining family honor.” The parties will make sure that “culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called ‘honor' shall not be regarded as justification for such acts,” says the convention. “This covers, in particular, claims that the victim has transgressed cultural, religious, social or traditional norms or customs of appropriate behavior.”
Families usually assign an underage member of the family to kill the woman convicted for staining family honor in order to evade prosecution. As a countermeasure, the convention says that the signatory countries will take measures to ensure that incitement by any person of a child to commit such a crime will not diminish the criminal liability of that person for the crime.
Honor killings are particularly common in Turkey's East and Southeast, where a patriarchal family structure prevails.
The convention was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in April, during Turkey's term at the helm of the Committee of Ministers. Debates on the convention, considered as the most significant legislative measure taken in Europe to combat violence against women, took three years before its text was finalized. Turkey is one of the convention's strongest proponents.
The work to adopt such a convention intensified after a landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which is the top European court of human rights. On June 9, 2009, in a landmark case, the European court found Turkey in violation of its obligations to protect women from domestic violence, and for the first time held that gender-based violence is a form of discrimination under the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgment was finalized on Sept. 9, 2009, with no request having been made under Article 43 of the convention for the case to be referred to the Grand Chamber.
The case was that of Nahide Opuz who, along with her mother, suffered years of brutal domestic violence at the hands of her husband. Despite their complaints, police and prosecuting authorities did not adequately protect the women, and ultimately Opuz's mother was killed by her husband.
Turkey is to hand over the presidency of the Committee of Ministers to Ukraine at the end of the committee's İstanbul meeting.