Wednesday, June 10, 2009

For Turkey, A Domestic Violence Case with International Implications

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has issued a historic ruling in a case brought forth by a Turkish woman whose mother was killed by her abusive ex-husband. From the Wall Street Journal's article about the court's ruling:
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."

Nahide Opuz, a woman living in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, brought her case to the court in Strasbourg, France, after exhausting avenues in Turkey. As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey is subject to the Council's human-rights court.

Ms. Opuz, now in hiding, started complaining to Turkish police in 1995 that her stepfather and his son -- her husband -- repeatedly assaulted and threatened her and her mother.

Her husband, Huseyin Opuz, was convicted of trying to run over Ms. Opuz and her mother in a car, but his three-month sentence was later commuted to a fine. Mr. Opuz was also fined for stabbing his wife in 2001.

On March 11, 2002, Mr. Opuz shot and killed his mother-in-law as she and her daughter were loading furniture on a truck to flee the area. He was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to life imprisonment, but the sentence was reduced. He was freed from jail having served several years, taking into account that the offense was a result of "provocation by the deceased."

On Thursday, a judge in Strasbourg demanded the Turkish state pay Ms. Opuz €30,000 ($41,700) in damages. The court ruling criticized "the overall unresponsiveness of the judicial system and impunity enjoyed by the aggressors" in Turkey.
(Take a look at this Bianet article for a good rundown on the history of Opuz's case.)

Turkey's record on dealing with domestic violence has been fairly dismal. Statistics have shown that nearly 50 percent of Turkish women have faced some from of family violence. There is a severe lack of shelters for abused women and the judiciary and police often don't take seriously the complaints made by threatened women. For some background on the issue, take a look at this article I wrote several years back. Unfortunately, the information is essentially still up-to-date.