Warning: This case deals with topics that are especially grave and may cause trauma invoked by memories of past abuse. If you have experienced violence and need assistance, please refer to this list of country help lines provided by UN Women.
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.
What was the decision?
In its first decision against Georgia, the 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 Committee found that Georgia 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
Learning from other institutions
Throughout the text of the case document, X and Y’s stories were supported by what other institutions and authorities had said about violence against women, gender-based discrimination and human rights. Some of the references to these institutions and authorities included (numbers correspond to paragraphs within the case document):
- Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences: 3.11, 8.5
- Human Rights Committee: 3.11, 8.5, 8.13
- Committee on the Rights of the Child: 8.5
- Committee against Torture: 8.5
- Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: 8.5
- Special Rapporteur on torture: 3.11
- A.T. v. Hungary: 8.5
- Opuz v. Turkey: 3.3
- Gonzalez Carreno v. Spain: 8.6
- V.K. v. Bulgaria: 8.3, 9.6
- Vertido v. Philippines: 8.3
- Lecraft v. Spain (Human Rights Committee): 8.13
In the domestic context this decision breaks new ground by calling on Georgia not only to compensate the victims, but also to instigate widespread reforms aimed at ensuring a zero-tolerance policy towards violence against women. The European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) is working with local lawyers, civil society and government representatives to ensure the state fully implements the decision, at both an individual and general level, including by sending updates and reports to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (SR-VAW).
Following the decision, the Georgian Ministry of Justice outlined in August 2015 a package of measures aimed at moving Georgia closer to ratifying the Istanbul Convention. The Georgian Government has reviewed draft legislation to allow for victims of violence to obtain financial compensation following a decision from the CEDAW Committee, and there have already been legislative amendments to existing laws around domestic violence. The Government also plans to open new shelters for survivors.
In February 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (SR-VAW) visited Georgia for the first time. During this visit, the SR-VAW cited the Committee’s recommendations in X and Y as a tool to advocate for positive change in the situation of women victims of violence in Georgia. In a post-trip statement, she said:
The recommendations [in the decision in X and Y v Georgia] point out systematic deficiencies related to the implementation of the legislative framework and specific measures on violence against women.
In her country report, published in June 2016, the SR-VAW emphasised the need to implement these recommendations (para. 99(e)).
In April 2016, Women’s Link Worldwide nominated the case for the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards for decisions which advance gender equality. This is an important recognition of the impact international litigation can have on gender equality, and the lives of individual women and girls.
Despite the fact that there is a Georgian Law on Domestic Violence (enacted in 2006), the state has so far failed to ensure thorough and effective compliance with its provisions. If effectively implemented, the Committee’s recommendations have the potential to effect substantive change for victims of domestic violence and discrimination against women in Georgia. Moreover, as the first ever case from the South Caucasus to be decided by the Committee, X and Y v. Georgia sets an important precedent for those litigating women’s rights cases in the region, where many similar issues of widespread discrimination are prevalent. The decision will give hope to women victims of domestic violence who have been unable to seek redress domestically.
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.
- Read the full text of the CEDAW Committee’s decision
- Read the briefing note by the applicants’ representatives at EHRAC
- “Preventing and addressing violence against women in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia”, by Kate Levine (EHRAC Lawyer), in EHRAC Bulletin Issue 25