Urgent Interventions

OMCT expresses concern at violence against women in Turkey at 30th session of Committee Against Torture


The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its concern regarding violence against women in Turkey at the 30th Session of the UN Committee against Torture

Geneva, 1 May 2003

The UN Committee against Torture will tomorrow, 2 May 2003, begin its examination of the implementation of the International Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Turkey. In its alternative country report entitled "Violence against Women in Turkey," which has been submitted to the Committee against Torture, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its grave concern at reports of violence against women at the hands of both private individuals and state officials.

Turkey has ratified most major international and European human rights treaties and its Constitution provides for equality of men and women without discrimination. Moreover, OMCT welcomes the efforts of the Turkish legislature to promote gender equality in civil legislation through the sweeping reforms of the Turkish Civil Code which came into effect on 1 January 2002. However, it is nevertheless evident that reforms in the legal domain alone are not sufficient to prevent gender discrimination and violations of women’s rights. In Turkey, women’s lives continue to be shaped by a multiplicity of traditional practices which violate existing laws, including early and forced marriages, polygamous marriages, “honour” crimes, virginity testing and restrictions on women’s freedom of movement.

OMCT notes in its report that in the eastern and south-eastern regions of Turkey 16.3% of women living were married under age 15. One in ten women live in polygamous marriages, although the practice of polygamy was banned under the Civil Code of 1926 modeled on the Swiss Civil Code of that time. More than half of the women (50.8%) were married without their consent although consent of both parties is a precondition for marriage under Turkish law. In Eastern Turkey, according to a study by a Turkish NGO Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) interviewing 599 women in the region, the payment of bride prices is a widespread practice. According to this tradition, a husband or his family has to pay the family of the bride a certain sum in order to complete the marriage. The majority of women interviewed in the study (61%) said that their husbands had paid a bride price to complete the marriage. Interestingly, over three-quarters of the women interviewed indicated that they were against the practice of paying a bride price, mostly because they felt that the practice treated women as though they were property.

OMCT expresses particular concern about crimes committed against women in the name of “honour”. “Honour crimes” are particularly prevalent in, but not limited to, the Eastern and South-eastern regions of Turkey but they have also been reported in the major Turkish cities, including Istanbul and Izmir and also in Turkish immigrant communities in other countries. The killing of women and girls occurs when a woman allegedly steps outside her socially prescribed role, especially, but not only, with regard to her sexuality and to her interaction with men outside her family. The killing is usually committed by a male member of the family, frequently a minor, and the punishment is typically minimal if any, because Turkish law enforcement authorities generally condone this practice and the Turkish Penal Code contains provisions which continue to discriminate against women and provide loopholes for the perpetrators of “honour crimes”.

Regarding violence against women at the hands of State officials, women in Turkey are particularly at risk of being subjected to sexual torture. Forms of torture inflicted upon women include electro-shocks to the genitals, standing for long periods of time, being forced to strip and stand naked in front of male guards, forced virginity tests, beatings targeting the genitals and breasts, use of high-pressure water hoses, and sexual abuse including rape and threats of rape. Moreover, threats of rape are often compounded by police taunts that rape will deprive women of their virginity and their “honour”.

Most torture and ill-treatment goes unpunished in Turkey. One of the reasons for this impunity is that the State assumes protection for its own officials and does not investigate or adequately punish acts of violence committed by officials. Another reason is that women and girls frequently do not file complaints of rape and other forms of sexual violence out of shame and fear. Due to the fact that in Turkey a woman’s sexuality is a reflection of the family honour, if a woman is not chaste then she may be viewed as a burden on the family, not accepted, subjected to forced marriage, or even killed.

Overall, the government has failed to protect women from violence whether at the hands of private individuals or state officials. OMCT’s report concludes that while Turkey has a duty under international law to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish all forms of violence against women, irrespective of whether this violence is committed by public or private individuals, this obligation has not been adequately implemented at the national level.

For copies of the alternative report on “Violence against Women in Turkey” or for further information on OMCT’s programme on Violence against Women please contact Carin Benninger-Budel at + 41 22 809 4939 or cbb@omct.org.
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