United Nations Expert on Violence Against Women Concludes Mission in Turkey
Monday, June 5, 2006 1:20 PM

On 31 May 2006, Prof. Yakin Ertürk, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on violence against women, its causes and consequences, delivered the following press statement:

"Having taken note of the extensive media coverage of suicides of women in Batman, I conducted an official fact finding mission in Turkey from 22 to 31 May 2006.

Following consultations with national authorities and non-governmental organizations in Ankara, I have visited Batman, Sanliurfa and Van provinces, where I met with local authorities, civil society representatives and victims or families' of victims in order to understand the incidents of suicides of women.

I would like to thank the Government of Turkey, national and local authorities and civil society actors for their cooperation and support. At this point, I would like to share some preliminary observations.

The majority of women in the provinces visited live lives that are not their own but are instead determined by a patriarchal normative order that draws its strength from reference to tradition, culture and tribal affiliation and often articulates itself on the basis of distorted notions of honour. Diverse forms of violence are deliberately used against women who are seen to transgress this order. Suicides of women in the region occur within such a context.

There have been many misleading statements about suicides of women in Southeast Turkey and Batman specifically. I would like to note some basic facts. Between 2000 and 2005, there were 105 suicides in Batman: 61 victims were women, 44 were men. In 2006, there have been so far 7 suicides: 5 women and 2 men and 53 suicide attempts of which 36 are women and 17 men. Two significant facts emerge from these figures. Firstly, suicide rates in Batman (calculated per 100,000 individuals) are not particularly high compared with national rates for Turkey. It would therefore be wrong to stigmatize Batman as a "City of Suicide," as some have done.

Secondly, far more women than men commit suicide in Batman. This runs contrary to world-wide trends according to which more men than women commit suicide. Batman is not the only province in Turkey that shows this anomaly. According to 2003 figures of the State Institute of Statistics, other provinces in the region such as Van, Diyarbakir, Hakkari, Sirnak, and Siirt have more suicides of women than men. Similar patterns are also noted in several provinces outside the region.

During the course of my mission, I had the chance to personally meet with families of suicide victims as well as with women who survived a suicide attempt. I would like to express my gratitude to these families and women for having the courage and strength to talk to me about the very personal tragedies they had to live through. I also spoke with a number of social services officials and women's rights groups who had worked on individual cases. The causes of a suicide are hard to understand, not least because the victim cannot be asked about her motives. Typically, personal, family and societal factors interlink. I have found that the patriarchal order and the human rights violations that go along with it – for example, forced and early marriages, domestic violence, and denial of reproductive rights - are often key contributing factors to suicides of women and girls in Southeast and Eastern Turkey. Additional pressures result from the fact that women have to navigate between the multiple demands imposed by the traditional order and rapid socioeconomic change in the context of urbanization and internal migration as well as having to cope with poverty, displacement and the ambiguities created by the political tensions often experienced in the region. Reportedly, in some suicide cases, child sexual abuse in the family circle also appears to be a major factor. Therefore, there is an urgent need to overcome social taboos and openly discuss study and address this problem.

National and international media have speculated whether suicides of women and girls are in reality disguised honour killings or forced suicides. For many of the cases reported to me, these speculations probably do not hold true. I would like to note, however, that senior justice and law enforcement officials in provinces I have visited informed me about cases, in which there were reasonable grounds to believe that the suicide was instigated or that a so-called honour killing was disguised as a suicide or an accident. Some of these cases have been referred to the courts for prosecution. I call on the competent authorities to investigate cases of unnatural death of women and girls with particular diligence and institute prosecutions for instigation of suicide, where necessary.

Turkey is a party to all major international human rights instruments. Its domestic legislation provides for the equality and human rights of women and addresses violence against women. In practice, however, I have found that authorities too often lack the willingness to implement these laws and protect women from violence. Interlocutors in the region explained that politicians and administrators are often inclined to arrange themselves with local power structures and norms at the expense of women's rights. Female illiteracy rates that reach up to 50 percent in some parts of the region are a clear indication of this gross neglect. While noting the lack of an effective institutional protective framework, I would like to acknowledge the work of those courageous and enlightened individuals serving in the provinces who continue to protect women from grave violence, including murder, at great personal risk. In this regard, the 2004 judgment of the Sanliurfa Assize Court convicting 9 persons for organizing and carrying out a murder in the name of honour even before the adoption of the new Penal Code constitutes a commendable example.

I envisage presenting a comprehensive report containing my findings and recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Council."

Published in: Press release, United Nations Expert on Violence Against Women Concludes Mission in Turkey, 31 May 2006.