European Court of Human Rights: Turkey Failed to Protect Woman from Domestic Violence
Tuesday, June 16, 2009 1:34 PM

The European Court of Human Rights has issued a landmark decision in the case of Opuz v. Turkey, marking the first time the court has ruled against a state for failing to protect a woman from domestic violence. The suit was brought in 2002 by Nahide Opuz, a Turkish woman who had been abused by her husband, referred to as H.O. by the court, as had her mother. Opuz had been repeatedly threatened and attacked by her husband since their marriage in 1990.  In 1998 H.O. intentionally hit Opuz and her mother with a car, and in 2001 stabbed Opuz with a knife after he complained that she spent too much time at her mother’s house. For these assaults, H.O. received only a fine of 385 euros with no jail time. Fearing for her life, Opuz moved in with her mother and in 2002 arranged to move her belongings to another town. When H.O. learned of this, he went to their house and shot Opuz’s mother while she sat in the front seat of a truck. H.O. was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, but because he had supposedly committed this crime to protect his honor, the sentence was reduced to 15 years, and H.O. was released pending appeal.

The European Court of Human Rights held a public hearing for Opuz in 2008 in the Human Rights Building in Strasbourg. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, member states are required to adequately respond to gender-based violence, which the European Court of Human Rights found that Turkey had failed to do. In making its decision, the court looked at both Turkish law, including the 1998 Family Protection Act, and international law, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The court found that there had been a violation of several articles of the Convention, that the Turkish police had failed to use due diligence in protecting Opuz and her mother, and that Opuz and her mother had exhausted their possible remedies within Turkey. Opuz was awarded 36,500 euros in damages. 

Andrea Coomber, a lawyer for Interights, a London-based non-profit which intervened with a third-party brief on behalf of Ms. Opuz before the trial, is optimistic that this is a great victory in the battle against domestic violence. “Domestic violence is recognized by the Council of Europe as the leading cause of death and disability of women aged between 16 and 44. We welcome the Court’s finding that States' failure to respond adequately to gender based violence amounts to discrimination under the Convention, which is a significant advance in the Court’s approach. This emphasizes the seriousness with which the Court regards violence against women”.

Compiled from: Opuz v. Turkey, Application no. 33401/02, The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section) (9 June 2009); “Opuz v. Turkey: European Court Clarifies State Obligations to Protect Women from Domestic Violence,” Interights: International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (9 June 2009); “Turkey Censured on Domestic Abuse,” BBC World News (9 June 2009).