Turkey ‘got out’ as it ‘got in’ to Istanbul Convention - Erdoğan

(Updates in paragraphs 12-13 with Erdoğan's remarks on China)

Leaving the Istanbul Convention on women’s rights by a presidential decree was a legal act, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters on Friday, according to a statement released by the Communications Directorate.

“We made the decision to join, and we will get out like we went in,” Erdoğan said. “We have sent notice of our decision, and this job is done.”

Erdoğan, in an executive order he signed on March 19, said Turkey had withdrawn from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, via “Article 3 of the Presidential Decree No. 9”, which the opposition has called unlawful.

“As a rule, an international treaty is denounced in the same manner that it was enacted in,” main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Disciplinary Board Tuba Torun said, adding that the leaving convention would require a parliamentary agreement.

Opposition comments on the legality of leaving the convention are nothing but “an attempt to muddy the waters”, Erdoğan said.

“They know nothing,” he said, adding that this has nothing to do with the parliament. “Three months later it will be announced and we will be out.”

The convention itself stipulates that to withdraw its signature, a CoE member state would need to send a notification to the CoE Secretary General.

Polls conducted last summer, when Islamist groups brought the matter on the agenda and Erdoğan’s government officials frequently spoke of the possibility to leave the convention, showed overwhelming support for the protective treaty. Only 17 percent of Turks were in favour of withdrawing from the convention, while 63.6 percent of people believed Turkey should remain a signatory, according to a MetroPoll study.

Erdoğan’s move also raised concerns and met with criticism both nationwide and internationally.

In his first statement on Turkey after taking office, U.S. President Joe Biden called the withdrawal a “disheartening step backwards” and mentioned the need for accountability for abusers.

As part of conclusions adopted at a European Council meeting on Thursday, EU leaders said “recent decisions represent major setbacks for human rights and run counter to Turkey’s obligations to respect democracy, the rule of law and women’s rights”.

Erdoğan, in the same remarks, also touched on the meeting he had with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday. The president said China failed to deliver some 50 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine by the end of February despite its promises. Turkey expects the doses “in a rapid manner”, he added, saying he will discuss the matter with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Minister Yi told Erdoğan he would follow the issue closely, and convey his concerns to President Jinping, Erdoğan said.

The arrival of doses of CoronaVac, manufactured by China's pharmatech giant SinoVac, has seen several delays since early December. Turkey's vaccination drive depends mainly on the CoronaVac.