European Court of Human Rights: failure to protect women from domestic violence can be human rights violation

by on June 23, 2009  •  In Family law

In Opuz v Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found that a state violated the human rights of the applicant and her mother in failing to protect them against domestic violence.  The applicant had alleged that the state bore responsibility under the European Convention on Human Rights for its failure to take action against her violent husband who repeatedly attacked her and killed her mother. For the first time in a domestic violence case, the Court found violations of:

  • the right to life (art. 2) "in respect of the death of the applicant's mother"
  • the prohibition of torture (art. 3) "in respect of the authorities' failure to protect the applicant against domestic violence perpetrated by her former husband"
  • and the right to non-discrimination on the basis of sex (art. 14). It explicitly recognized domestic violence as a form of gender discrimination that gives rise to state responsibility.

Regarding the sex discrimination claim, the Court found:

the existence of a prima facie indication that hte domestic violence affected mainly women and that the general and discriminatory judicial passivity in Turkey created a climate that was conducive to domestic violence … the criminal-law system, as operated in the instant case, did not have an adequate deterrent effect capable of ensuring the effective prevention of [domestic violence] …

Bearing in mind its finding above that the general and discriminatory judicial passivity in Turkey, albeit unintentional, mainly affected women, the Court considers that the violence suffered by the applicant and her mother may be regarded as gender-based violence which is a form of discrimination against women. Despite the reforms carried out by the Government in recent years, the overall unresponsiveness of the judicial system and impunity enjoyed by the aggressors, as found in the instant case, indicated that there was insufficient commitment to take appropriate action to address domestic violence.

HT: IntLawGrrls


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