CommitteeSince the adoption of OP-CEDAW, women have been able to access justice at an international level through the submission of complaints to the CEDAW Committee.

Here, we’ve put together brief summaries of some of the CEDAW Committee’s key decisions related to violence against women and state responsibility to end it.

CourtCaseX and Y v. Georgia
  Communication No. 24/2009, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/61/D/24/2009 (2015)

This summary was written by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC, based at Middlesex University), which represented X and Y before the CEDAW Committee together with Article 42 of the Constitution, a Tbilisi-based NGO. The case was originally brought by INTERIGHTS, who represented the applicants until May 2014.
This case was brought by a mother (X) and daughter (Y) who complained of Georgia’s failure to prevent, investigate and punish prolonged physical violence, and sexual and psychological abuse, suffered at the hands of their former husband and father respectively.
The violence suffered by X began in 1987 when she was raped by her future husband at a party. Shortly afterwards, she married him. Because of societal attitudes in Georgia which prize the sanctity of a women’s virginity prior to marriage, she believed that no one else would wish to marry her because she was no longer a virgin. Within the marriage, X gave birth to five children, and gave up her job following the birth of her first child. X’s husband was consistently violent towards the children, often shouting at them or punishing them with physical violence for misbehaving or arguing amongst themselves. X was assaulted by her husband whenever she intervened to protect the children and as a result of disputes over insignificant household issues. Her husband also subjected two of their children – Y and her brother – to sexual abuse.
Despite reporting the incidents of physical and sexual abuse to the authorities on more than five occasions (supported by first-hand evidence from X and Y, among others, and medical reports confirming physical injuries sustained by X at the hands of her husband), the complaints were never investigated and no criminal charges were brought against her husband. Her husband was only ever asked by the police to sign unenforceable written declarations that he would not use further violence against his family.
Without justice from domestic courts, X and Y took their case to the European Court of Human Rights (represented by INTERIGHTS and Article 42 of the Constitution) – however their application was found inadmissible. Undeterred, X and Y (and their defenders) filed a complaint with the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (the “Committee”). In 2013 their case was found admissible, despite the previous inadmissible application to another international body. While the application to the European Court was focused on the personal impact of the abuse suffered by the applicants, it never referred to the sex-based discrimination inherent in the authorities’ failure to prevent the violence suffered by the applicants; this argument was the essence of the application made before the Committee. Consequently the Committee acknowledged X and Y’s application was factually and legally distinguishable to the one previously submitted to the European Court.
In its first decision against Georgia, the CEDAW Committee recognised the violation by the state of the authors’ rights under the Articles relied upon:

  • Article 2(b)-(f): Policy measures and obligations in conjunction with Article 1 (definition of discrimination against women) and 5(a) (gender stereotyping and prejudice) (para. 9.2)
  • General Recommendation No. 19 on Violence against Women (para. 9.3)

The CEDAW Committee found that the Georgian State had failed to enact criminal law provisions to effectively protect women and girls from physical and sexual abuse within the family, provide equal protection under the law to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and protect them from domestic violence (violations of Articles 1, 2(b)-(f) and 5(a) of the CEDAW Convention). The Committee also cited the state’s due diligence obligations (under Articles 1 and 2 of the Convention read in conjunction with the Committee’s General Recommendation No. 19 on violence against women) to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of domestic violence by non-state actors (para. 9.3).
In particular, the Committee concluded that the Georgian authorities had failed in their duty to (para. 9.7):

  • Adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions, prohibiting violence against women as a form of discrimination against women
  • Establish legal protection of women’s rights on an equal basis with men and to ensure, through competent tribunals and other public institutions, the effective protection of women against discrimination
  • Refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions act in conformity with that obligation
  • Take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organisation or enterprise
  • Take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against women
  • Take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices that are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women

In addition to providing X and Y with adequate financial compensation, the Committee made the following general recommendations to the Georgian Government, in light of its findings:

  • Ensure that victims of domestic violence and their children are provided with prompt and adequate support, including shelter and psychological support
  • Intensify awareness-raising campaigns and introduce a zero-tolerance policy in respect of violence against women and, more specifically, domestic violence
  • Ratify the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (‘the Istanbul Convention’)
  • Provide mandatory training for judges, lawyers and law enforcement personnel, including prosecutors, on the application of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, including on the definition of domestic violence and on gender stereotypes, as well as appropriate training on the Convention, the Optional Protocol thereto and the Committee’s general recommendations, in particular General Recommendation No. 19

Want more? Visit our page on X and Y v. Georgia to read more about the significance of the case and the impact it has had in Georgia. You can also read the full text of the decision. Or, visit EHRAC’s website for a more detailed summary of the case and the Georgian context.

CourtCaseR.P.B. v. The Philippines
 Communication No. 34/2011, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/57/D/34/2011 (2014)

In R.P.B. v The Philippines, a case of sexual violence against a disabled woman, who was mute and had a hearing disability. When R.P.B. was 17, she was raped by her neighbour. In the course of the investigation and trial, R.P.B. was not given translator support to enable her to participate in the investigation, and only limited assistance in the trial proceedings.
The trial court relied on many rape myths during the trial, “[the court]… also questioned R.P.B.’s credibility because, in its view, she had not responded to the attack in the manner expected (ie she had not summoned “every ounce of her strength and courage to thwart any attempt to besmirch her honour and blemish her purity”). The court was particularly critical of R.P.B.’s “failure to even attempt to escape … or at least to shout for help despite opportunities to do so”, which in its view, “casts doubt on her credibility and renders her claim of lack of voluntariness and consent difficult to believe”.
The CEDAW Committee affirmed that stereotyping affects women’s right to a fair trial and urged the state party to ensure that all criminal proceedings involving rape and other sexual offences are conducted free from prejudices or stereotypical notions regarding the victim’s gender, age and disability. The Committee also called on the Philippines to institute effective training of the judiciary and legal professionals to eradicate gender bias from court proceedings and decision-making.
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CourtCaseAngela González Carreño v. Spain
 Communication No 47/2012, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/58/D/47/2012 (2014)

In this case, Angela González Carreño had separated from F.R.C., the father of her child Andrea, after being subjected to domestic violence for several years; often F.R.C. committed acts of violence against Angela González Carreño in the presence of Andrea. Despite failing to pay child support, F.R.C. was given on-going contact with Andrea, sometimes supervised by social services, but often unsupervised, even though Andrea herself was afraid of her father. On many occasions Angela González Carreño sought protection orders to ensure that F.R.C. could not harm her or Andrea, but the divorce was finalised without mention being made by the court of the domestic violence. Eventually F.R.C. killed Andrea and then committee suicide. Angela González Carreño filed with the Ministry of Justice a claim for compensation for miscarriage of justice. Angela González Carreño claimed that the authorities were negligent and failed in their obligation to protect the life of Andrea, despite being repeatedly informed of the danger she faced.
The Committee concluded that the violence committed by F.R.C. against Angela and the murder of Andrea was foreseeable. It noted, for instance, that F.R.C.: committed numerous acts of violence against Angela, which Andrea often witnessed; was not held legally liable for ignoring court protective orders; and had been diagnosed with an “obsessive-compulsive disorder with aspects of pathological jealousy and a tendency to distort reality which could degenerate into a disorder similar to paranoia”. It also noted a social services report regarding the need for continuous monitoring of visits between F.R.C. and Andrea. According to the Committee, the state party’s due diligence obligations were not meet, since no reasonable steps were taken to protect Angela and Andrea against the violence and, in Andrea’s case, murder. Moreover, the state party had not investigated whether its authorities failed to protect, or were negligent in protecting, Angela and Andrea against violence.
Parental rights of fathers to have contact with their children may be invoked as entitlement of men accused of violence to violate the safety and wellbeing of women and their children. However, in such a situation, the CEDAW Committee has observed that the best interests of the child must be taken into account in the existence of a context of domestic violence:

The Committee observes that during the time when the regime of judicially determined visits was being applied, both the judicial authorities and the social services and psychological experts had as their main purpose normalizing relations between father and daughter, despite the reservations expressed by those two services on the conduct of F.R.C. The relevant decisions do not disclose an interest by those authorities in evaluating all aspects of the benefits or harms to the child of the regime applied. It is also noteworthy that the decision which ushered in a regime of unsupervised visits was adopted without a prior hearing of the author and her daughter, and that the continued non-payment of child support by F.R.C. was not taken into account in that context. All of these elements reflect a pattern of action which responds to a stereotyped conception of visiting rights based on formal equality which, in the present case, gave clear advantages to the father despite his abusive conduct and minimized the situation of mother and daughter as victims of violence, placing them in a vulnerable position. In this connection, the Committee recalls that in matters of child custody and visiting rights, the best interests of the child must be a central concern and that when national authorities adopt decisions in that regard they must take into account the existence of a context of domestic violence. [para. 9.4]

The CEDAW Committee recommended that the state party provide Angela González Carreño reparations and investigate whether failures in its structures and practices led to Angela González Carreño and Andrea being denied appropriate protection. Other recommendations included: ensuring domestic violence is taken into account in custody and visitation matters and that the best interests of the child prevail in related decisions; ensuring that its authorities exercise due diligence and respond appropriately to domestic violence; and providing mandatory training for judges and administrative personnel on the legal framework concerning domestic violence and gender stereotyping.
Want more? Read the full text of the decision.

CourtCaseCecilia Kell v. Canada
 Communication No. 19/2008, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/51/D/19/2008 (2012)

In 1990, Cecilia Kell, an aboriginal woman from the Northwest Territories, returned to her community of Rae-Edzo after attending college. Cecilia Kell had left her three children in the care of relatives, hoping to be reunited with them once she had established herself and secured a home for her family.
When the local housing authority made lodging available to indigenous people under a special scheme, Cecilia Kell decided to apply. She was living with her partner, one of the Directors of the Housing Authority Board at the time who, once hearing of the scheme, attempted to apply in his own name. After his application was rejected because he was not a member of the Rae-Edzo community, the housing authority advised Cecilia Kell to list both herself and her partner in her application. This proved successful as a house was assigned to them as co-owners.
Over the three years that followed the acquisition Cecilia Kell experienced domestic violence and her situation worsened when she got a job and became financially independent.
In 1993, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, the state agency administering the earmarked properties in the locality, removed Cecilia Kell’s name from the Assignment Lease at the request of her partner and without her knowledge or consent. Two years later, Cecilia Kell was evicted from her home by her partner, and she sought housing in a domestic violence shelter.
Over a period of ten years Cecilia Kell fought to regain her property rights through the Canadian legal system. She filed three consecutive suits with different legal aid lawyers assigned to each case. Shortly after the first suit, Cecilia Kell’s former partner was diagnosed with cancer and died before the end of her legal battle. By the time she filed the third action, the property had been sold by her partner’s estate.
The Committee concluded that Kell’s property rights had been prejudiced due to a public authority acting with her partner, and that she had been discriminated against as an aboriginal woman. The Committee also found that Canada had failed to provide Kell effective legal protection when she sought to regain her property rights. The CEDAW Committee recognised that Cecilia Kell had been subjected to intersectional discrimination, because of her identity as an Indigenous person, and because of her identity as a woman.
The CEDAW Committee established that Canada, as party to the Convention and its Optional Protocol, had failed to fulfil its obligations under articles 1, 2 and 16 and that it should provide monetary compensation and housing matching what Kell was deprived of. The Committee also recommended recruiting and training more aboriginal women to provide legal assistance, as well as review Canada’s legal system to ensure that aboriginal women victim of domestic violence have effective access to justice.
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CourtCaseIsatou Jallow v. Bulgaria
 Communication No. 32/2011, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/52/D/32/2011 (2012)

Isatou Jallow, an illiterate woman, moved from the Gambia to Bulgaria with her Bulgarian husband and was subsequently subjected to domestic abuse. Her daughter was also subjected to abuse. Isatou Jallow sought shelter with an NGO for a few days, then her husband tracked her down and forced her to move back to the marital home. At no time did they interview Isatou Jallow, and they only gave verbal warnings to her husband. Indeed, A.P, the husband, tried to bring proceedings against Isatou Jallow on the grounds that she was subjecting him to domestic violence. A.P. was given custody of the child, and eventually Isatou Jallow regained custody of the child through agreeing to a divorce settlement that put her at substantial disadvantage.
Isatou Jallow made an application to the CEDAW Committee, citing the failure of the Bulgarian authorities to investigate the allegations of domestic violence committed against her and her daughter.
The Committee observed that “the authorities based their activities on a stereotyped notion that the husband was superior and that his opinions should be taken seriously, disregarding the fact that domestic violence proportionally affects women considerably more than men.” The CEDAW Committee also noted that Bulgaria ignored Jallow’s vulnerable position and disregarded evidence concerning the disproportionate impact of domestic violence on women.
The CEDAW Committee urged Bulgaria to compensate Isatou Jallow and her child M.A.P. for violating their rights under CEDAW. It also recommended that the state party adopt measures to ensure that women victims / survivors of domestic violence, including migrant women, have effective access to justice and other services (e.g., translation services). It also called on the state party to provide regular training on CEDAW and the Optional Protocol and to adopt legislative and other measures to ensure that domestic violence is taken into account in the determination of custody and visitation rights of children.
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CourtCaseV.P.P. v. Bulgaria
 Communication No. 31/2011, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/53/D/31/2011 (2012)

V.P.P., a child, was sexually assaulted by B.G., an adult man who lived in a neighbouring apartment building. Bulgarian authorities waited two years before indicting B.G. for “sexual molestation of a minor”. The District Court approved a plea bargain agreement that B.G. receive a three-year suspended sentence for pleading guilty. B.G. continued to live next door to V.P.P. following the assault and no action was taken to ensure the ongoing safety of V.P.P.

V.P.P.’s mother, S.V.P, brought an action against Bulgaria at the CEDAW Committee, complaining that the Bulgarian authorities:

  • Failed to act with due diligence to protect V.P.P. against sexual assault
  • Failed to provide an effective remedy and address the health, rehabilitative and other needs of V.P.P.
  • Failed to provide V.P.P. ongoing protection from B.G.
  • Had not introduced specific legal and policy measures and health services to address violence against women and girls. S.V.P. also claimed that Bulgaria’s response to her daughter’s assault reflected gender stereotypes related to violence against women and girls

The CEDAW Committee held that the Bulgarian authorities needed to provide better health services to women and girl survivors of sexual violence, and to ensure effective access to full reparations for gender based violence. In particular, the CEDAW Committee noted that Bulgaria failed to:

  • Adopt criminal laws to punish rape and sexual violence effectively and classify sexual assault of a child as a “serious” offence
  • Charge B.G. with rape or attempted rape, despite evidence of anal penetration by a bodily part and attempted rape
  • Indict B.G. in a timely manner and its decision to approve a plea bargain agreement that left V.P.P. without a remedy and resulted in a sentence considerably less than the prescribed maximum
  • Refrain from gender stereotyping in its sexual violence laws
  • Introduce mechanisms (e.g., protection orders) to protect against re-victimisation and ensure the safety of V.P.P.
  • Ensure V.P.P. received adequate compensation for her pain and suffering.

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CourtCaseV.K. v. Bulgaria
  Communication No. 20/2008, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/49/D/20/2008 (2011)

In the case of V.K. v Bulgaria, the applicant had unsuccessfully sought a permanent protection order to ensure her safety from harm by her abusive husband.
The CEDAW Committee found that the state had required too high a level of violence to be proved before issuing an order. The Committee decided that when assessing whether a protection order should be granted, national courts should take account of all forms of gender based violence affecting an applicant, not just life-threatening violence. Courts should also be aware that many forms of violence, particularly domestic violence, are courses of conduct which take place over time. Failure to take this into account violates women’s rights not to be subjected to gender stereotyping.
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CourtCaseKaren Tayag Vertido v. the Philippines
  Communication No. 18/2008, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/46/D/18/2008 (2010)

In the case of Karen Tayag Vertido v the Philippines, the applicant was raped in a hotel room by a work contact, who she thought had a gun. He was acquitted by a judge who considered that Karen Tayag Vertido had failed to take reasonable opportunities to escape, and therefore must have consented to sexual contact. The applicant made a strong and detailed case outlining the many “rape myths” that were included in this trial process,
In finding violations of articles 2(f) and 5(a), the Committee affirmed that CEDAW requires states parties to ‘take appropriate measures to modify or abolish not only existing laws and regulations, but also customs and practices that constitute discrimination against women’. It also stressed that:

…stereotyping affects women’s right to a fair and just trial and that the judiciary must take caution not to create inflexible standards of what women or girls should be or . . . have done when confronted with a situation of rape based merely on preconceived notions of what defines a rape victim…

The CEDAW Committee found that the trial judge’s decision contained ‘several references to stereotypes about male and female sexuality being more supportive for the credibility of the alleged perpetrator than for the creditability of the victim’ and many of the judge’s comments focused on the personality and behaviour of the applicant, even though these issues are not part of the definition of the crime of rape.
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CourtCaseFatma Yildirim (deceased) v. Austria and Şahide Goekce (deceased) v. Austria
  Communication No. 6/2005, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/39/D/6/2005 (2007)
  Communication No. 5/2005, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/39/D/5/2005 (2007)

Both applicants were murdered by their husbands after suffering prolonged domestic violence, including threats to kill. In both cases, the state took some action against the perpetrators, but it was not sufficient to prevent them murdering the applicants. In their cases, the CEDAW Committee expanded on the content of the standard of positive action required by the state’s duty of due diligence for the actions of non-state actors.
The CEDAW Committee noted that Austria had “established a comprehensive model to address domestic violence that includes legislation, criminal and civil-law remedies, awareness raising, education and training, shelters, counselling for victims of violence and work with perpetrators.” These formal measures, while necessary, were nonetheless found to be insufficient by themselves when the political will they expressed, was not supported by state actors in adherence to Austria’s due diligence obligations.

…in order for the individual woman victim of domestic violence to enjoy the practical realization of the principle of equality of men and women and of her human rights and fundamental freedoms, the political will that is expressed in the aforementioned [model]…must be supported by state actors, who adhere to the state party’s due diligence obligations.

Paragraph 12.1.2 (common to both cases)

Want more? Read the full text of Fatma Yildirim v. Austria and Şahide Goekce (deceased) v. Austria.

CourtCaseA.T. v. Hungary
  Communication No. 2/2003, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/32/D/2/2003 (2005)

A.T. lived in an apartment with her husband, L.F., and their two children – one of whom was severely brain damaged. For over four years A.T. suffered severe domestic violence at the hands of L.F.

The protection and support services available to A.T. were limited. In an effort to limit contact with L.F., A.T. filed civil proceedings regarding his access to the family home. This attempt was not successful and L.F. was allowed to return to the apartment for two stated reasons:

  • Lack of substantiation of the claim that L. F. regularly battered the author – despite the 10 medical certificates were issued in connection with separate incidents of severe physical violence suffered by A.T. between March 1998 and July 2001
  • L.F.’s right to the property, including possession, could not be restricted

A.T. had also initiated civil proceeding to divide their property, but this was suspended. Two criminal procedures were also initiated against L.F. for separate acts of violence against A.T, one of which was initiated by the hospital that had helped A.T. recover from injuries to her kidney. L.F. was never detained, nor did Hungarian authorities take any steps to ensure A.T. and her children were safe. Hungarian law did not offer protection orders or restraining orders. A.T. had repeatedly asked for help from local child protection authorities, but no action was taken. There was not a single shelter in the country equipped to meet the needs of her disabled son.
Recalling its General Recommendation No. 19 (GR 19; on violence against women), the Committee held that gender-based violence was included in the definition of discrimination. And, although the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”; the treaty that the Committee is authorised to monitor) may not explicitly prohibit VAW, its occurrence may breach specific rights contained in the treaty. GR 19 also clarified that CEDAW applied to state and non-state actors. Therefore, when VAW occurs, “…States may also be responsible for private acts if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights or to investigate and punish acts of violence, and for providing compensation” (GR 19, para. 9).These “private acts” of VAW include domestic violence.
A.T.’s story demonstrated a lack of immediate protection for her and her children. While the Committee recognised Hungary’s adoption of an action programme against domestic violence, it was clear that they had not helped A.T. The Committee also noted the low priority that cases of domestic violence were given in court proceedings – in general and in A.T.’s case – emphasising that “Women’s human rights to life and to physical and mental integrity cannot be superseded by other rights, including the right to property and the right to privacy” (para. 9.3). The Committee concluded that Hungary’s failure to prevent and protect A.T. from domestic violence amounted to a violation of its obligations under Article 2(a), (b) and (e) of CEDAW.
To reach its decision on Articles 5 and 16, the Committee referred to its General Recommendation No. 21 (on equality in marriage and family relations), which stresses the importance of GR 19’s provisions in securing women’s ability to enjoy equal human rights and fundamental freedoms. Widespread gender stereotyping throughout Hungary had situated women in a subordinate position to men, which contributed to the gender-based violence perpetrated against them. In A.T.’s case, “…the facts of the communication reveal aspects of the relationships between the sexes and attitudes towards women that the Committee recognised vis -à -vis the country as a whole” (para. 9.4). Based on these findings, the Committee determined that Hungary had breached its obligations set out in Articles 5(a) and 16 of CEDAW.
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