Saturday, June 13, 2009

Landmark ECHR Decision on Domestic Violence

Nahide Opuz and her mother were subject to the extreme violence of Nahide's husband and stepfather, her husband's mother, between 1995, when Nahide was married, and 2002, when Nahide's husband shot and killed her mother while they were attempting to drive away. Nahide and her mother had complained to police since 1995, and continued to complain after Nahide's husband stabbed her in 2001 to be released with a fine. The two left after Nahide's mother reportedly decided the two neeed to leave to save their lives. After killing Nahide's husband killed her mother, local authorities released him despite his receiving a life sentence. His release resulted from his claim that he had murdered Nahide's mother to protect the family's honor.

After her mother's murder, Nahide appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after exhausting all legal resorts in Turkey. Nahide claimed the police and local courts had violated numerous articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, include Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibiting torture and "inhuman or degreading treatment and punishment"), Article 13 (guaranteeing the right for an effective remedy before national authorities for violations of the Convention), and Article 14 (prohibiting discrimination). The ECHR found all rights had been violated, including, most significantly, Article 14. In its conclusion, the ECHR recognized "gender-based" violence as discrimination, for the first time ruling that the state had a right to protect women from domestic violence under the article. Click here for the decision. From the Wall Street Journal:
The case is a landmark ruling for Europe. For the first time, it classifies such cases as gender discrimination, giving the Strasbourg court jurisdiction in cases of domestic violence.

Andrea Coombers, legal practice director at the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights in London, said describing gender-based violence as discrimination "is what the rest of the world has thought for at least a decade. It is a significant step in the right direction by the European Union."

Mesut Bestas, the lawyer for Ms. Opuz, added: "European legislation on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and right to life is clear, but when it comes to the issue of women's rights, the legal framework is murky. ... This trial begins to shed light on that murkiness."
Bianet reports that though Opuz is pleased with the decision, she still lives in fear of her husband is not receiving protection from the police.

For more on violence against women, see especially Jenny White's blog, Kamil Pasha, which does an excellent job of chronicling domestic violence cases. I would also

UPDATE 6/23 -- Today's Zaman reports that Opuz is now receiving protection from the state, but is also seeking the protection of her children. See also Rahila Gupta's recent column in The Guardian. Gupta addresses the case in regard to domestic violence cases in the UK. See also the comments of Hülya Gülbahar, president of the Association for the Support and Education of Women Candidates (KA-DER), which ran in Bianet.

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