A judge removed Tuğba Arslan, a member of the Ankara Bar Association, from a hearing because Arslan was wearing a headscarf while representing a party. The judge postponed the hearing and ordered alternate counsel in Arslan’s place. Turkish Bar Association rules prohibit attorneys from wearing headscarves during hearings. Arslan appealed to the Constitutional Court, claiming that because no legislation prohibited headscarves during hearings, her rights to freedom of religion and equal treatment had been violated. The Court agreed, holding that women may wear headscarves in accordance with Islam and the practice is common in Islamic society; therefore, the Arslan’s religious right was violated. Further, the Court stated that some limitations could be placed on rights but that such limitations, among other requirements, must be prescribed by law. Moreover, the Court reasoned that Arslan’s removal violated the non-discrimination principle, since on the one hand, women attorneys who do not wear headscarves are permitted to attend hearings while Arslan, on the other hand, is not.
Gülsim Genç petitioned the court of first instance to allow her to use her maiden name only, which the Turkish Civil Code prohibits. The court had previously filed an unsuccessful application to the Constitutional Court to annul this provision and, therefore, dismissed Genç’s petition accordingly. Genç appealed to the court of appeals, which affirmed the court of first instance’s dismissal. Genç then filed an application to the Court. The Court referred to Article 17 of Turkish Constitution, which reads as follows: “every person has the right to preserve and improve one’s existence, both materially and spiritually.” Genç asserted that her surname formed part of this spiritual existence. The Court acknowledged that rights and freedoms may be limited under certain conditions, and when a limitation is placed on those rights, the Court should assess whether such limitation is permitted by law. Under Turkish law, if a contradiction exists between Turkish codes and international agreements on fundamental rights and freedoms, such international agreement shall prevail and apply to the case at hand. The European Court of Human Rights’ rulings indicate that forbidding women to use their maiden name violates the European Convention of Human Rights’ non-discrimination article. The Court remanded the case to the court of first instance for proceedings consistent with the Convention to the extent that the Turkish code violates the Convention. The Court repeatedly referenced the application by Sevim Akat Eşki, which is an indication that similar future rulings may result.
The applicant petitioned the court of first instance to allow her to use her maiden name only, which the Turkish Civil Code prohibits. The court had previously filed an unsuccessful application to the Constitutional Court to annul this provision and, therefore, dismissed Eşki’s petition accordingly. Eşki then filed an individual application to the Court asserting discrimination and other violations. The Court referred to Article 17 of Turkish Constitution, which reads as follows: “every person has the right to preserve and improve one’s existence, both materially and spiritually.” Eşki asserted that her surname formed part of this spiritual existence. The Court acknowledged that rights and freedoms may be limited under certain conditions, and when a limitation is placed on those rights, the Court should assess whether such limitation is permitted by law. Under Turkish law, if a contradiction exists between Turkish codes and international agreements on fundamental rights and freedoms, such international agreement shall prevail and apply to the case at hand. The European Court of Human Rights’ rulings indicate that forbidding women to use their maiden name violates the European Convention of Human Rights’ non-discrimination article. The Court remanded the case to the court of first instance for proceedings consistent with the Convention to the extent that the Turkish code violates the Convention.
The Turkish Civil Code permits a married woman to use her maiden name only if the maiden name is used in conjunction with her husband’s surname. Three applicants, each in separate petitions to courts of first instance, sought to use their maiden names only. The courts of first instance applied to the Constitutional Court, which denied the request because the legislature did not abuse its discretion in determining that the husband’s surname should be the family surname, and this did not violate the Constitution’s equality principle. The Court reasoned that surnames are important for identifying not only the individual, but also the family and ancestry. Consequently, the law requiring women to take their husbands’ surnames benefits public welfare and order. The Court also reasoned that having (the husband’s) surname is a personal right that cannot be renounced or alienated. Moreover, the fact that the surname is an individual right does not mean that the legislature cannot act to ensure public welfare and order. The Constitution states that the family is the foundation of the Turkish society and requires the State to promulgate necessary regulations to preserve the family.
The Turkish Criminal Code, Article 103, Number 5237, provides sentencing for child sexual abuse without graduating the sentence in proportion to the child’s age. The Bafra High Criminal Court applied to the Constitutional Court to annul this provision, and the Court annulled the following two provisions: (1) child sexual abuse carries a sentence between eight and fifteen years; (2) child sexual molestation carries a sentence between three and eight years. The Court reasoned that the legislature may consider the country’s moral values and social and cultural structure in determining the punishment, and while heavier sentences for crimes against younger children who are more vulnerable to sexual assault would be reasonable, the Court opined that in some cases the crime and the punishment might not be proportional, which would violate the “state of law” principle. Therefore, the Court annulled the sentencing guidelines, effective six months following publication in the Official Gazette.
During a divorce proceeding, a matter arose regarding contribution and participation receivables, particularly the application of the Turkish Civil Code, Number 4721, Article 219, Sub-Article 2, Sub-Paragraph 5, dated November 22, 2001, which provides that the income from a personal asset is such spouse’s acquired asset. The court of first instance held that this provision violated the Constitution, Articles 2 and 35, because it unreasonably interfered with property rights and would, therefore, prevent civil marriages. The Constitutional Court, considered the Constitution, Article 35, which simply states that property rights are universal, and this right shall only be limited if public welfare requires. The Court also considered Article 13, which states that fundamental rights and freedoms may be limited only by statute, so long as the core of such rights, as well as other relevant constitutional provisions, are not affected. The Court also noted that Article 41 establishes the state’s positive obligation to promulgate regulations to protect and preserve the institution of the family. The Court held that, while the law in question limits property rights, this limitation does not affect the core of the right and is based on justifiable purposes, and the law in question does not violate the Constitution. The justifiable purpose is protecting families, and especially women, by requiring income from a personal asset to be mutually distributed, thereby promoting public welfare.
In 2001, a mother divorced her husband, who was her child’s father, and the court of first instance granted custody to the mother, who then filed a lawsuit to change the child’s name and surname because both names were causing the child problems in his social environment—his friends were making fun of him. The Surname Act provides that the husband, as the leader of the marriage union, shall choose the child’s surname, even after divorce. The court of first instance held that this provision violated the Constitution’s equality principle and requested that the Constitutional Court annul the provision. The Constitutional Court unanimously agreed, holding that the Constitution, Article 41, establishes the equality between husband and wife; moreover, the right to choose a surname for the child was an element of custody. The Court noted that the Turkish Civil Code, Number 4721, had introduced material changes in husband–wife equality, and more importantly, articles that did not comply with the equality principle had been excluded from the law, such as the husband being the leader of the marriage union. The Court referenced the European Court of Human Rights, which held that any differing treatment based on gender, except for valid reasons, breaches the non-discrimination principle. According to the Constitutional Court, the wife and the husband were in the same position regarding their rights and obligations, both during marriage and in divorce; therefore, granting the right to choose the child’s surname exclusively to the father would have violated the Constitution’s equality principle.
Şükran İrge directly applied to the Constitution Court claiming that she and her two infants (one four months old and the other two years old) were illegal detained in a penal institution in unhealthy conditions in violation of the constitutional “prohibition of torture and mal-treatment.” The applicant requested the deferral of the execution of her punishment. The Constitutional Court decided that the institution she was held in, Diyarbakir, was not suitable for children or the applicant based on the incidents that Ms. İrge described and the fact that Diyarbakir, as the only penal institution for women in the region, was severely overcrowded. Accordingly, the Constitutional Court ordered the public authorities to take measures to protect the rights and interests of the applicant and her children and left the nature of those measures (i.e. improving the conditions of the penal institution, deferral of the execution of the punishment, or alternative measures) to the discretion of the public authorities.
Following the divorce of the applicant, E.A.Ö (the mother), and R.Y. (the father), the court gave custody of their daughter to E.A.Ö and limited the father’s visitation rights to certain dates and times indicated by the court. E.A.Ö took her daughter to a Child and Adolescent Health and Disease Specialist (a psychiatrist) to address issues regarding the child’s aggressive sex-related movements and fears about witches and similar beings. The psychiatrist reported that the child had been a victim of sexual abuse by her father. The applicant filed a lawsuit before the Court of First Instance (family court) requesting that the court terminate the father’s visitation rights citing the evidence that the father might have sexually abused the daughter and might continue to sexually abuse her if he had access to her. E.A.Ö. claimed that the father posed a serious threat to the material and moral integrity of the child as well as E.A.Ö. While she was pursuing this claim, the Prosecution Office decided to not pursue criminal charges against the father citing a lack of evidence regarding the father’s sexual abuse of the child. Based on the Prosecution Office’s non-prosecution decision, the Court of First Instance decided against E.A.Ö leading to her application to the Constitutional Court. While, her application to the Constitutional Court was pending E.A.Ö. filed another lawsuit before the Court of First Instance and did not inform the Constitutional Court about this second lawsuit. In the second lawsuit, the Court of First Instance rendered an injunction decision, which prohibited any contact between the father and the daughter. Subsequently, the Constitutional Court rejected E.A.Ö.’s application because there was no longer any risk of danger to the daughter, since the Court of First Instance had already issued a protective order preventing the father from seeing the child.
The applicant, Ayla (Şenses) Kara, filed a complaint against a male co-worker, H.A., who insulted her. After filing her complaint, the applicant’s employer terminated her employment contract notwithstanding the fact that she had been the one who had been insulted. The Court of First Instance accepted the applicant’s complaint because her employment contract had been terminated “without any valid reason” and ruled that she should be re-hired. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision. Despite being ordered to re-hire the applicant, the employer failed to employ her. The applicant filed a lawsuit before the Court of First Instance to address her employer’s violation of that order. She claimed that she was dismissed as a result of gender discrimination while the male employee who should have been dismissed was allowed to stay on, which was a violation of her rights to equal treatment and a fair trial. The Court of First Instance rejected the lawsuit because it had already ruled on her termination and it was not possible for her to claim compensation based on the same event. The Court of Appeals also rejected her appeal which led to her individual application to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court set aside the lower courts’ decisions and remanded the case to the Court of First Instance for re-trial. The Constitutional Court rejected her claim that her right to equal treatment had been violated because there was inadequate evidence to find discriminatory intent. However, the Constitutional Court held that he right to a fair trial had been violated because of an unjustified judgement. The court found an unjustified judgement in her case because the lower courts had failed to properly assess her claim of gender discrimination.
Ms. Özdemir had a child with her husband. After the finalization of her divorce and custody proceedings, gave her custody of the child, she petitioned the Court of First Instance to change the child’s last name to her maiden name. The Court of First Instance accepted the lawsuit on the grounds that the Constitutional Court had invalidated Article 4 of Surname Act, which said that a “the child would carry the surname that the father chose or will choose even if the custody of the child has been transferred to the mother following the divorce.” However, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision citing Article 321 of the Turkish Civil Code No. 4721 which states that a child should carry the family name of the father, that a child’s name could only be changed in the father consented or if the child, when he/she reached lawful age, duly petitioned for such a change, and that the transfer of custody to the mother does not give the mother power to change the child’s last name. The Court of First Instance complied with the appellate court’s decision and rejected the lawsuit, leading to Ms. Özdemir’s individual application to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court set aside the lower courts’ decisions and remanded the case to the Court of First Instance for re-trial. The Constitutional Court dismissed that the applicant’s claim that her right to a fair trial had been violated by an unjustified judgement because of inadequate evidence. However, the Constitutional Court accepted her claim that her right to private family life had been infringed. The Constitutional Court noted that marriage partners have equal legal standing pertaining to rights and responsibilities during marriage and after divorce. Consequently, the Constitutional Court held that giving the male partner the right to determine the child’s last name within the scope of custodial rights but withholding that right from the female partner with custody constituted discriminatory treatment without reasonable justification. Consequently, the Court of First Instance’s decision to deny Ms. Özdemir the right to determine the last name of a child over whom she had custody was a violation of the prohibition on discrimination provided in Article 10 of the Turkish Constitution in regards to a right provided to her in Article 20 of the Constitution.
Ms. Kirikli and Mr. Akça (the “Petitioners”) brought a land registration case against their uncle A.S requesting the annulment of a land transfer between their grandfather M.S. and A.S. The Petitioners claimed that M.S. had conducted a dubious transaction where he sold his land to A.S. in return for a very low price in order to prevent his late daughter’s children, the Petitioners, from inheriting the land. The Court of First Instance rejected their case on the grounds that whether M.S.’s motive was to cut his heirs off from their inheritance could not be proven and that it was reasonable that M.S., who had financial troubles at the time, sought to quickly relieve those troubles by selling his only asset for a considerably low price. The Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court, which led to the Petitioners’ application to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court refused to hear the case because of a time limitation.
A.Y. was married to H.Y. A.Y. believed that H.Y. was having an affair with Ms. Armağan. After a fight between the three of them, A.Y. requested a preventative and protective measure for a period of three months against H.Y. and Ms. Armağan because she feared violence from both of them. The competent court granted A.Y.’s request for a preventative and protective measure. Ms. Armağan appealed the protective measure. The Court of First Instance rejected her petition on the grounds that solid evidence regarding the occurrence of incidents or threats of domestic violence is not necessary when granting a preventative and protective measure. Ms. Armağan filed an individual application with the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court evaluated the case based on whether the lower courts had infringed Ms. Armağan’s right, under the Turkish Constitution, to a fair trial because of an unjust verdict and judgement. The Constitutional Court ruled that both grounds are inadmissible because (i) individual applications to the Constitutional Court do not serve as an appeal mechanism in order to overturn an undesirable decision of a Court of First Instance; and (ii) the justifications given by the Court of First Instance provided a sufficient basis for the preventive and protective measure in question.
Ms. Yolcu had a child with her husband. After the finalization of her divorce and custody proceedings, which gave her custody of the child, she petitioned the Court of First Instance to change the child’s last name to her maiden name. The Court of First Instance found that a child’s last name could only be changed if the father consented or if the child, when he/she reached a lawful age, duly filed a petition for such change. The Court of Appeals approved the lower court’s decision upon appeal, which led to Ms. Yolcu’s individual application to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court set aside the lower courts’ decisions and remanded the case to the Court of First Instance for retrial. The Constitutional Court accepted Ms. Yolcu’s claim that her right to private family life had been infringed. The Constitutional Court noted that marriage partners have equal legal standing pertaining to rights and responsibilities during marriage and after divorce. Consequently, the Constitutional Court held that giving the male partner the right to determine the child’s last name within the scope of custodial rights but withholding that right from the female partner with custody constituted discriminatory treatment without reasonable justification. Consequently, the Court of First Instance’s decision to deny Ms. Yolcu the right to determine the last name of a child over whom she had custody was a violation of the prohibition on discrimination provided in Article 10 of the Turkish Constitution in regards to a right provided to her in Article 20 of that same Constitution.
Ms. Özgüler had a child with her husband. After the finalization of her divorce and custody proceedings, which gave her custody of the child, she petitioned the Court of First Instance to change the child’s last name to her maiden name. The Court of First Instance rejected her petition on the grounds that the transfer of custody to the mother was not grounds for changing a child’s last name. The Court of First Instance found that a child’s last name could only be changed if the father consented or if the child, when he/she reached a lawful age, duly filed a petition for such change. The Court of Appeals approved the lower court’s decision. After Ms. Özgüler’s individual application, the Constitutional Court set aside the lower courts’ decisions and remanded the case to the Court of First Instance for retrial. The Constitutional Court dismissed that the applicant’s claim that her right to a fair trial had been violated by an unjustified judgement because of inadequate evidence. However, the Constitutional Court accepted her claim that her right to private family life had been infringed. The Constitutional Court noted that marriage partners have equal legal standing pertaining to rights and responsibilities during marriage and after divorce. Consequently, the Constitutional Court held that giving the male partner the right to determine the child’s last name within the scope of custodial rights but withholding that right from the female partner with custody constituted discriminatory treatment without reasonable justification. Consequently, the Court of First Instance’s decision to deny Ms. Özgüler the right to determine the last name of a child over whom she had custody was a violation of the prohibition on discrimination provided in Article 10 of the Turkish Constitution in regards to a right provided to her in Article 20 of that Constitution.
The applicant, Albina Kiyamova, was arrested at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul for infringing an order that prohibited her entry into Turkey. She submitted a complaint to the Chief Public Prosecutor's Office (the “CPPO”), asserting that the police subjected her to treatment incompatible with human dignity while she was in custody. Specifically, the applicant said that the police subjected her to a naked body search and other inhuman and degrading treatment charged by race and gender discrimination. The CPPO requested permission from the relevant authority to investigate the officers of the applicant’s treatment. However, the relevant authority denied the CPPO’s request. The applicant appealed the authority’s decision, but her appeal was rejected. She then appealed to the Constitutional Court, claiming that her constitutional right to protection from treatment incompatible with human dignity was infringed. The Constitutional Court partially rejected some of the applicant’s claims due to lack of evidence but accepted her claim that it was unjust for the relevant authority to reject her claims without conducting an investigation.
The applicant, Ms. Kaya, applied to the Office of Public Prosecutor (the “OPP”), claiming that she had been the victim of domestic violence. After investigating, the OPP charged the applicant’s husband with domestic violence and went to trial. However, during the trial, the applicant withdrew her claim and said that the bruises she had submitted as evidence were actually the result of an accident at the couple’s home. The OPP dropped the charges against the applicant’s husband. Two years later, the applicant filed another claim with the OPP alleging that her husband stole her jewellery and again subjected her to domestic violence. The OPP notified the proper Court of First Instance for Family Affairs (the “Court of First Instance”). The Court issued a restraining order against the husband that prevented him from approaching the applicant and ordered that he pay alimony to her for four months. The government offered the applicant state housing for the victims of domestic violence, but she rejected the offer. The applicant was subjected to several more incidents of domestic violence. During that time, the OPP requested the Court of First Instance to issue a warrant for the arrest of the applicant’s husband. The Court of First Instance rejected the OPP’s request. The applicant appealed, but her appeal was dismissed because Ms. Kaya’s statements alone were not adequate evidence of domestic abuse. After Ms. Kaya appealed, the Constitutional Court ruled that Turkey had a duty to take affirmative steps to prevent further acts of domestic violence against the appellant and effectively investigate her claims in this case. However, after applying the legal framework addressing victims of domestic violence, the Constitutional Court ruled that Ms. Kaya’s fundamental rights under the framework had not been infringed. This decision is important because it demonstrates that even though there is a legal framework available for women affected by domestic violence, claims against state officials for failing to act on their duties under that framework need to be specific and supported by substantial evidence.
In response to statements by the Turkish Prime Minister regarding abortion, the applicants demonstrated outside of the Ministry of Family & Social Policies of Turkey. The applicants asked for the Prime Minister and the Minister of Family & Social Policies to apologize for the statements. When police officers told the applicants that the Minister was not present in the Ministry building, the applicants tried, unsuccessfully, to enter the building using force. Following their failed attempt to enter the building, the Applicants headed to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and blocked the road in front of it. At this point, the applicants were arrested by police. The applicants allege that during the arrests they were injured and sexually harassed. They were held in custody for seven hours. Medical reports indicate that when they were released, each of the activists had several bruises on their bodies. The Office of Public Prosecutor (the “OPP”) failed to investigate the activist’s allegations of abuse, did not take the testimony of the police officers regarding this incident, and decided to not prosecute this case. The applicants appealed the OPP’s decision claiming gender discrimination, but their appeal was dismissed by the lower court. The Constitutional Court ruled that the force exerted by the police officers while they arresting the applicants was proportionate because the applicants had used force against the police officers. Furthermore, the Constitutional Court concluded that the bruises mentioned in the medical report indicate that police officers only used force to capture the applicants. Because of this, the Constitutional Court found that bruises were not evidence of sexual harassment. This case is important because it demonstrates that the Constitutional Court relies on the medical reports to judge allegations of sexual harassment.
The applicant, Ms. Kaya, was arrested for alleged political offences. After she was released, she submitted a petition to the Office of Prosecutor General, asserting that she had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment while she was in custody. She also claimed that physicians at the state hospital ignored her complaints related to torture and inhuman treatment. After the incident, Ms. Kaya received asylum from Austria in 2002. Concurrently, the Office of Prosecutor General brought an action against the gendarmerie personnel and the physicians who ignored Ms. Kaya’s complaints to address her complaint regarding inhuman and degrading treatment. The trial at the Court of First Instance took about nine years. During that period, the claim against physician was dropped due to the lapse of time. Ms. Kaya was outside of Turkey during the trial. However, she remotely applied to several hospitals in Turkey to get consultations regarding the medical reports that were prepared while she was in custody. All of Ms. Kaya’s medical reports indicated that she showed signs of torture and inhuman treatment. She submitted those reports to the Court of First Instance. In 2011, the Court of First Instance dropped the case as a result of lapse of time. However, the Constitutional Court set aside the Court of First Instance’s decision and ruled that the prolonged trial violated Ms. Kaya’s right to access justice. The Constitutional Court held that Turkey must hold a speedy trial to abide by its constitutional obligation to effectively investigate claims related to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. This case is important, because it concluded that an insufficient investigation may itself be inhuman treatment. This case should constitute a precedent for the future cases where women are harmed as a result of insufficient and ineffective investigation.
The petitioner filed a claim to the Turkish Constitutional Court stating that trial and appellate courts’ refusal to allow her use her pre-marriage surname after marriage violated her right to protection of her private life and discriminated against her based on her gender. Article 187 of the Turkish Civil Code requires married women to use their husband’s surname after marriage, which created complications in the petitioner’s professional life since she was known by her pre-marriage name. On appeal, the Constitutional Court applied both Turkish law and international law to find that a person’s right to a name, including their surname, is an inalienable right. The Court looked to precedent from the European Court of Human Rights in finding that protection of a person’s name including person’s surname is covered by Article 8 (respect for private and family life). The Court also found that the protections afforded by Article 17 of the Turkish Constitution overlapped with the protections in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Consequently, the Court concluded that, since the right to one’s name is protected in the Turkish Constitution and within the scope of international agreements to which Turkey is a party—including the European Convention of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—men and women are entitled to equal rights to use their pre-marriage last name.
The phrase “bare-headed” in Article 20 of the Code of Conduct, which entered into force on 26 January 1971 by the decision of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, abolished on 5 November 2012 with the decision of the Council of State, number 2012/5257. After that, Tu?ba Arslan, who is a lawyer admitted to the Ankara Bar Association, started to attend to hearings while her headscarf is on. On 4 December 2012, Ankara 11st Family Court’s judge stated that Tu?ba Arslan cannot perform her profession while her headscarf is on and adjourned the hearing on the grounds that headscarf is a strong religious and political symbol of anti-secularism. On that occasion Tu?ba Arslan applied to the Constitutional Court of Turkey individually. In its judgment of 25 June 2014 the Constitutional Court examining the case found that the acts of the public power that impose restriction on the location and style of the right to wear a headscarf as a religious belief constitute a violation of freedom of thought and faith. In addition, the Constitutional Court observed that wearing a headscarf is neither constitute an impediment to the use of the rights and freedoms of others nor trigger a social conflict or tension, therefore Tu?ba Arslan decreased at a disadvantage compared to those not wearing headscarf and that constitute a violation of prohibition of discrimination.
The Constitutional Court held that a provision in the Turkish Penal Code that increases the penalty by half for the crime of laceration if committed against family members is constitutional. Although such a penalty treats family members differently than non-family members, the Court found that such differential treatment did not violate the equality principle under the Turkish Constitution. Under the equality principle, criminals who have committed the same offence may not be subject to the same penalty if they have different legal statuses. Here, the Court found that the Turkish Legislature, through the Turkish Penal Code, expressed a preference for family members, giving family members a different legal status and thus the provision did not violate the equality principle. In reaching its decision, the Court also noted that Turkey has taken “extensive legal and administrative measures” to prevent and reduce domestic violence in Turkey. Because the state must protect family members from danger and family members have a different legal status, the Court found that the provision increasing the term of imprisonment and fine for laceration against a family member is constitutional.
The Constitutional Court found that the legislature could take necessary measures to reduce violence within families. Articles 1.1 of the Law on the Protection of the Family allows judges to take measures against one spouse, not both, and not against the children or members of the family, if a spouse has subjected another family member to domestic violence. The Gulyaly Peace Court found that because the Articles did not provide for an injunction or penalty if a child committed a violent act, rather than a spouse or parent, the Articles violated the principle of equality. Relying on Article 41 of the Turkish Constitution, which focuses on the family as the foundation of Turkish Society and gives the legislature the power to protect the family unit, the Constitutional Court found that Article 1.1 does not violate the Constitution because it protects the family unit and ensures peace within a family unit. The Court also found that the provision did not violate the Turkish equality principle, because the legal status of spouses differs from that of other family members and just cause exists to treat such groups differently.
Article 237.4 of the Turkish Criminal Code provides for a penalty of two to six month imprisonment if a man or woman holds a religious wedding ceremony before a civil ceremony. Under Turkey’s principle of equality, different individuals with different legal statuses may be treated differently. The Constitutional Court found that the statute does not violate the principle of equality because unmarried individuals have a different legal status than those who have conducted a religious wedding ceremony. In reaching its decision, the Court also noted that legislature has discretionary power to make laws, the Constitution provides for the protection of family life, and the statute does not prohibit religious ceremonies entirely.
The Constitutional Court found that a Labour Law that states that an employer must pay severance to a woman who requests to terminate her employment contract within a year of getting married is constitutional and not discriminatory. Under Article 14.1 of the Turkish Labour Law, an employer must pay severance to a woman who requests to terminate her employment contract within a year of getting married. The Izmir 6th Labour Court found that this provision is discriminatory under the Constitution as it treats male and female workers differently. Using Article 41 and Article 50 of the Turkish Constitution, the Constitutional Court, however, ruled that the law is not discriminatory and does not violate the Constitution. Under Article 41, Turkey has the power to “take necessary measures” to ensure the “peace and welfare” of the family, specifically in regards to the protection of mothers and children. Article 50 allows women, and other protected groups, to enjoy “special working conditions.” The Court found that the goal of the Labour Law to protect both female workers and the family union aligned with these two Articles, and thus was neither discriminatory nor in violation of the Constitution.
The applicant, ?erife Yi?it, is a Turkish national who was born in 1954 and lives in Gaziantep, Turkey. In 1976, she married Ömer Koç (Ö.K.) in a religious ceremony (imam nikah?). Ö.K. died on 10 September 2002. The youngest of their six children, Emine, was born in 1990. On 11 September 2003 ?erife Yi?it brought an action, in her own name and that of Emine, seeking to have her marriage with Ö.K. recognised and to have Emine entered in the civil register as his daughter. The District Court allowed the second request but rejected the request concerning the marriage. The applicant further applied to the retirement pension fund (Ba?-Kur) to have Ö.K.’s retirement pension and health-insurance benefits transferred to her and her daughter. The benefits were granted to Emine but not to her mother, on the ground that her marriage to Ö.K. had not been legally recognized. The applicant appealed unsuccessfully against that decision. Relying on Article 8 of the Convention (right to respect for family life), the applicant complained about the Turkish courts’ refusal to transfer her deceased partner’s social-security entitlements to her. In its judgment of 20 January 2009 the Chamber examining the case found that it was not unreasonable for special protection to be afforded only to civil marriages in Turkey, pointing out that marriage remained an institution widely recognized as conferring a particular status on those who entered into it. It considered that the difference in treatment between married and unmarried couples with regard to survivors’ benefits was aimed at protecting the traditional family based on the bonds of marriage and was therefore legitimate and justified. Accordingly, the Chamber held by four votes to three that there had been no violation of Article 8. On 14 September 2009 the case was referred to the Grand Chamber at the applicant’s request.
The case concerned the complaint by a woman that, under Turkish law, she was not allowed to keep just her maiden name in official documents after getting married, whereas married men kept their surname. The Court held that this difference in treatment on grounds of sex between persons in an analogous situation had no objective and reasonable justification. Accordingly, the obligation imposed on married women to bear their husband’s surname – even if they could put their maiden name in front of it – had no objective and reasonable justification, in breach of Article 8 in conjunction with Article 14.
The applicant, Gülizar Tuncer Güne?, is a Turkish national who was born in 1966 and lives in Istanbul (Turkey). The case concerned her complaint that she had not been allowed to keep just her maiden name after her marriage in March 2005. She claimed in particular that the fact that Turkish law allowed married men but not married women to use only their own surname after marriage amounted to discrimination based on sex. She relied in particular on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the Convention.
In this case the applicant complained that, at the age of 16, she was sexually harassed while in police detention. She was given a gynecological examination – unaccompanied and without her or her guardian’s consent – to verify whether her hymen had been broken. After being acquitted and released, she suffered from post-traumatic stress and depression. Her allegations of assault in custody were largely corroborated by subsequent medical examinations. No disciplinary proceedings were brought against the prison doctors concerned. The European Court of Human Rights noted that that the law at that time did not provide the necessary safeguards concerning examinations of female detainees and that additional guarantees were required for gynecological examinations, particularly for minors. The general practice of automatic gynecological examinations for female detainees – supposed to prevent false sexual assault accusations against police officers – was not in the interests of detained women and had no medical justification. The applicant had complained of sexual harassment, not rape, which could not be disproved by an examination of her hymen. The Court noted that the new Turkish Code of Criminal Procedure regulated gynecological examinations, but made no specific provision for minors. It held that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of inhuman treatment) concerning both the gynecological examinations of the applicant while in police custody and the inadequate investigation concerning those responsible.
The applicant, Ümran Durmaz, is a Turkish national who was born in 1955 and lives in ?zmir, Turkey. The case concerned her complaint of the authorities’ failure to carry out an effective investigation into the death of her daughter. Ms Durmaz’ daughter, Gülperi O., died in July 2005 in a hospital in ?zmir – where she had been working as a nurse – after her husband had taken her to the emergency department, informing the doctors that she had taken an overdose of two medicines. The doctors pumped her stomach but were unable to save her. When questioned by the police, her husband, who worked at the hospital’s pharmacy, also stated that the couple had had a row on the same day and he had hit her. Gülperi O.’s father subsequently lodged a complaint with the prosecutor, stating that she had not been suicidal, and alleging that her husband was responsible for her death. In the course of the ensuing investigation, a forensic medical examination found no trace of medicines or other drugs in Gülperi O.’s blood or in other samples taken from her body, but it noted that there was an advanced oedema in her lungs. In February 2006, the prosecutor decided to close the investigation, concluding that Gülperi O. had committed suicide. An objection by Ms Durmaz – stating, in particular, that the prosecutor had failed to question her late daughter’s husband, despite the fact that by his own admission he had beaten her, and that the prosecutor’s conclusion ran contrary to the findings of the forensic examination – was dismissed by the courts. Relying in particular on Article 2 (right to life), Ms Durmaz complained that the investigation into the death of her daughter had been ineffective. In particular, further expert reports would have been required, and the prosecutor should have investigated whether the cause of Gülperi O.’s death could have been an internal hemorrhage caused by the blows inflicted by her husband.
The case concerned a dismissal from public sector employment – a State-run electricity company – on grounds of gender. Ms Boyraz, the applicant, had worked as a security officer for almost three years before being dismissed in March 2004 because she was not a man and had not completed military service. In the Court’s opinion, the mere fact that security officers had to work on night shifts and in rural areas and had to use firearms and physical force under certain conditions had not in itself justified any difference in treatment between men and women. Moreover, the reason for Ms Boyraz’ dismissal had not been her inability to assume such risks or responsibilities, there having been nothing to indicate that she had failed to fulfil her duties, but the decisions of Turkish administrative courts. The Court also considered that the administrative courts had not substantiated the grounds for the requirement that only male staff could be employed as security officers in the branch of the State-run electricity company. The Court therefore concluded that the difference in treatment of which she had been a victim had not pursued a legitimate aim and had amounted to discrimination on grounds of sex. Consequently, there had been a violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8.
The applicant was a German national arrested in Turkey on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization. She claimed that she was subjected to a gynecological exam during her detainment and that the local gendarmes stripped her naked and sexually harassed her. The court found that in these circumstances the gynecological exam was an interference with her right to physical integrity and her right to respect for her private life.
The applicant alleged that the forced gynecological exam of his wife constituted a breach of Article 8 of the Convention. The Government argued that the exam was carried out with the consent of both the applicant and his wife. The Court found that the interference with the woman’s right to physical integrity was not “in accordance with law” because the Government failed to demonstrate a medical necessity or circumstanced defined by law for an exam, and there was the question of consent.
The European Court of Human rights held that a Turkish Law preventing married women from keeping their own surname after marriage is unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. As required under Turkish law, upon marriage Ms. Unal Tekeli took her husband’s last name. She continued to use her maiden name in her professional life and put it in front of her legal surname, but could not use her maiden name in official documents. She brought suit in the Turkish Courts requesting that she be able to use her maiden name and that the law was discriminatory, but her case was dismissed both at the trial court and upon appeal. After being dismissed, she brought suit in the European Court of Human Rights, alleging discrimination. The Court first determined that differential treatment did exist because under the law, married men were treated differently from married women. Next, it found that no objective and reasonable justification existed for such differential treatment. It acknowledged that Turkey has a goal of preserving the family unit, but noted that this goal was not defeated by allowing women to keep their surnames. Thus, preserving the family unit was not a justification for the unequal treatment of married men and married women. The Court held that the difference in treatment based on sex violated international law.
Ms. Tanbay Tuten, a university professor, was married and took her husband’s surname as required by law in 1992. She continued, however, to use her maiden name in her professional life, even though she could not use it in official documents. In 2007, she brought a proceeding in the Turkish Courts requesting that she be allowed to use only her maiden name, but was denied in the lower court and on appeal. Ms. Tuten brought her case to the European Court of Human Rights contending that the law is discrimination on ground of sex. The Court held that the difference in treatment on grounds of sex was in violation of Article 14 and Article 8 of the Convention and based its analysis on Tekeli v. Turkey.
The applicant was allegedly tortured and raped while in the custody of the State security forces although according to the Government reports, she and the other members of her family were never detained. They filed a complaint to the Public Prosecutor who sent them to the State hospital for a medical examination, resulting in a perfunctory report not focusing on whether the applicant had in fact been raped. The Public Prosecutor thereupon reported to the Principal State Counsel that there was no evidence to support the applicant's complaints but the investigation was continuing. The Court found violations of Article 3 ad 16 of the ECHR. The court noted that the rape of a 17-year-old detainee who had also been subjected to other forms of physical and mental sufferings by an official of the State is an especially grave and abhorrent form of ill-treatment and amounted to torture. The failure of the authorities to conduct an effective investigation into the applicant’s alleged suffering while in detention resulted in her being denied access to a court to seek compensation. The Court dismissed the intimidation and harassment claim due to lack of sufficient evidence.
A 20-year-old Y killed himself while performing his compulsory military service after being provoked by Sergeant A’s physical and verbal violence who had been informed of Y’s problems linking to his sister’s marital difficulties. The ECtHR concluded a violation of Article 2 as the authorities failed to effectively protect the victim from the improper conduct of his superiors.
A Turkish woman was allegedly attacked by the police following her participation in a peaceful demonstration to celebrate Women’s Day in Istanbul and that such police brutality in Turkey was tolerated and often went unpunished. The ECtHR considered that the police officers had failed to show a certain degree of tolerance and restraint before attempting to disperse a crowd which had neither been violent nor presented a danger to public order,and that the use of disproportionate force against the demonstrators had resulted in the injuring of Ms Izci. Moreover, the failure of the Turkish authorities to find and punish the police officers responsible raised serious doubts as to the State’s compliance with its obligation under the ECHR to carry out effective investigations into allegations of ill-treatment. Finally, the use of excessive violence by the police officers had had a dissuasive effect on people’s willingness to demonstrate. The Court reiterated that a great number of applications against Turkey concerning the right to freedom of assembly and/or excessive use of force by law enforcement officials during demonstrations were currently pending. Considering the systemic aspect of the problem, it therefore requested the Turkish authorities to adopt general measures, in accordance with their obligations under Article 46 of the Convention, in order to prevent further similar violations in the future.
The applicant fled to Turkey from Iran fearing that she would be convicted of having committed adultery, an offence under Islamic law, and sentenced to be stoned to death or flogged. She was arrested at Istanbul airport on the ground that she had entered Turkey using a forged passport. No charges were brought against her on account of the forged passport but she was ordered to be deported. The applicant subsequently lodged an asylum request, which was rejected by the authorities on the ground that the request had not been submitted within five days of her arrival in her Turkey. Later the applicant was granted refugee status by the UNHCR. The Ankara Administrative Court dismissed the applicant's petition against the implementation of her deportation on the grounds that there was no need to suspend it since it was not tainted with any obvious illegality and its implementation would not cause irreparable harm to the applicant. The applicant complained that her right not to be subjected to ill-treatment guaranteed under Article 3 ECHR would be breached if she were to be deported to Iran. She further complained that she had no effective remedy in the domestic law of the respondent state to challenge her deportation, in breach of Article 13. The ECtHR was not persuaded that the authorities of the respondent state conducted any meaningful assessment of the applicant's claim, including its arguability. It would appear that her failure to comply with the five-day registration requirement under the Asylum Regulation 1994 denied her any scrutiny of the factual basis of her fears about being removed to Iran. The automatic and mechanical application of such a short time-limit for submitting an asylum application must be considered at variance with the protection of the fundamental value embodied in Article 3 of the Convention. It fell to the branch office of the UNHCR to interview the applicant about the background to her asylum request and to evaluate the risk to which she would be exposed in the light of the nature of the offence with which she was charged. The Administrative Court on her application for judicial review limited itself to the issue of the formal legality of the applicant's deportation rather than the more compelling question of the substance of her fears, even though by that stage the applicant must be considered to have had more than an arguable claim that she would be at risk if removed to her country of origin. It further observed that the government have not sought to dispute the applicant's reliance on the findings of Amnesty International concerning the punishment meted out to women who are found guilty of adultery. Having regard to the fact that the material point in time for the assessment of the risk faced by the applicant was the time of its own consideration of the case, the Court was not persuaded that the situation in the applicant's country of origin has evolved to the extent that adulterous behavior was no longer considered a reprehensible affront to Islamic law. It had taken judicial notice of recent surveys of the current situation in Iran and noted that punishment of adultery by stoning still remained on the statute book and may be resorted to by the authorities. Having regard to the above considerations, the Court found it substantiated that there was a real risk of the applicant being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 if she was returned to Iran. Accordingly, the order for her deportation to Iran would, if executed, give rise to a violation of Article 3. The Court held that there had been a breach of Article 13. The notion of an effective remedy under Article 13 requires independent and rigorous scrutiny of a claim that there exist substantial grounds for fearing a real risk of treatment contrary to Article 3 and the possibility of suspending the implementation of the measure impugned. Since the Administrative Court failed in the circumstances to provide any of these safeguards, the Court was led to conclude that the judicial review proceedings did not satisfy the requirements of Article 13.
A teacher was attacked in the street by two individuals who threw acid in her face. She alleged that the authorities had failed to prevent the attack on basis of a report by the Turkish Human Rights Foundation according to which 91 of 143 teacher killings in south-east Turkey between 1984 and 1995 were attributed to the PKK (Workers' Party of Kurdistan, an illegal organization). Her claim for compensation was twice set aside by the Supreme Administrative Court. Her aggressors were not arrested until six years later; the proceedings against the instigator of the aggression lasted over seven years and those against his accomplice were still pending before the Court of Cassation. The ECtHR did not hold the authorities responsible for any failure to take steps to protect the applicant individually due to lack of proof of any intimidation or threats to which she might have been subjected. But the Court found that the administrative and criminal proceedings had failed to provide prompt and adequate protection against a serious act of violence and that there had been a violation of Articles 3 and 8. The Court did not examine the case under Article 6.
The applicants, 16 and 19 years old at the time, were arrested in the context of a police operation against the PKK (the Workers' Party of Kurdistan). Both girls claimed that, during their police custody, they were blindfolded and beaten. N also alleged that she was sexually harassed and, forced to stand for a long time, was deprived of food, water and sleep. P further alleged that she was anal raped. The applicants were examined during their police custody by three doctors who all noted that there was no sign of physical violence to their bodies. Both applicants also had a "virginity test"; the examinations recorded that the girls were still virgins. A month later, P was given a rectal examination; the doctor noted no sign of intercourse. Following complaints made by the two applicants, an investigation was launched by the prosecution authorities, followed by criminal proceedings against the police officers who had questioned the applicants during their police custody. During the first hearing of the case, the girls further submitted that, when brought before the public prosecutor and judge with a view to their being remanded in custody, they had not made statements about their ill-treatment as they were scared. In particular, they both contended that, during certain medical examinations and when they had made statements to the prosecution, the presence of police officers had intimidated them. The accused police officers denied both ill treatment and presence during their medical examinations or the taking down of their statements. The applicants were subsequently both diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. P was further declared as having a major depressive disorder. The applicants subsequently underwent psychotherapy. The domestic courts ultimately acquitted the police officers on the ground that there was insufficient evidence against them. Subsequently, that judgment was quashed; however, the criminal proceedings against the police officers were terminated as the prosecution had become time-barred. In the meantime, the applicants were convicted of membership of an illegal organization and of throwing alcohol. They were sentenced to terms of imprisonment amounting to more than 12 and 18 years, respectively. The ECtHR took consideration of the circumstances of the case as a whole, and in particular the virginity tests carried out without any medical or legal necessity as well as the post-traumatic stress and depressive disorders suffered, and was persuaded that the applicants had been subjected to severe ill-treatment during their detention in police custody, in violation of Article 3. The Court further concluded that the Turkish authorities had not effectively investigated the applicants' allegations of ill-treatment after seven years, in further violation of Article 3. The Court awarded the applicants non-pecuniary damages and costs and expenses.
R.K.B.’s employer dismissed her but not the male colleague whom she was accused of having an affair with, and threatened to “spread rumours about her relationships with other men” to pressure her to sign a document, attesting that she had been paid all her benefits upon termination. R.K.B. filed a claim to the Kocaeli 3rd Labour Court against her employer alleging unfair termination based on gender stereotypes. The Court decided that the termination of her contract was not justified but not dismissing the male colleague was not discriminatory. R.K.B. appealed to the Court of Cassation, which dismissed the appeal without reference to gender discrimination. The CEDAW held that the Turkish court violated Articles 5(a), 11(1a) and 11(1d) of CEDAW by basing their decisions on gender stereotypes, tolerating allegations of extramarital relationships by male employees but not by female employees. It recommended adequate compensation to be paid to R.K.B, issued the State to take measures to implement laws on gender equality in the work environment; and to provide training to judges, lawyers and law enforcement personnel on women’s rights and gender-based stereotypes. The decision is of particular importance in a country where almost 80% of women are unemployed (Richinick) and where women’s participation in the labor force has been declining. It also stresses that mere adoption of laws is not enough to protect rights – implementation is the key. The decision also emphasizes the role of the courts (and not the executive branch) as ultimately responsible for rights’ violation.
State failure to protect victims from domestic violence. Applicant brought this case against Turkey, alleging failure to protect her and her mother from domestic violence, violence which resulted in her mother's death and her own mistreatment. The victim and her mother were repeatedly abused and threatened by the victim's husband, abuse which was medically documented. The victim's husband and his father were at one point indicted for attempted murder against the two women, but both were acquitted. The abuse continued after the acquittal and eventually resulted in the husband's father killing the victim's mother. The husband's father was tried and convicted for intentional murder, but because he argued provocation and exhibited good behavior during the trial, his sentence was mitigated and he was released pending an appeal. Taking into consideration regional and international treaties as well as the domestic situation in Turkey, the ECHR held that Turkey violated Articles 2, 3, 14 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The ECHR ordered Turkey to pay the victim non-pecuniary damages and costs.
This memorandum provides a brief overview of violence against women in Turkey and, in doing so, highlights select reports and news stories, and references key legal obligations and case law touching on this problem.
Report by Human Rights Watch documenting violence against women and girls by husbands, partners, and family members in Turkey, and the survivors' struggle to seek protection (2011).