European Court again finds discrimination underpinning violation of right to life, in third domestic violence judgment against Georgia

21 Август 2023
European Court again finds discrimination underpinning violation of right to life, in third domestic violence judgment against Georgia

Content warning: domestic violence; presumed suicide.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found violations of the right to life (ECHR Article 2) and the prohibition of discrimination (ECHR Article 14) in a case which illustrates the Georgian authorities’ shocking failure to protect women from domestic violence. 

The latest case concerns a young woman, A.L., who was found dead in 2017, as the result of what was assumed by the authorities to be suicide.  

A.L. had reported her partner’s violent behaviour to the emergency services 16 times over the previous four years, repeatedly voicing her fears for her own life. 

Following her death, a forensic report found multiple serious injuries to A.L. sustained before her death. The investigating authorities failed to consider the possibility that A.L. might have been a victim of femicide. 

A.L.’s partner, G.K., was later found guilty by the Georgian courts of aggravated incitement to suicide, but this was changed to a conviction for domestic violence by Georgia’s Supreme Court. This court found G.K.’s history of domestic violence against A.L. to be ‘irrelevant’ and reduced his sentence from three years to one year. He was judged to have already served his time and was released. 

В суждение, delivered on 15 June, is the third recent ECtHR decision against Georgia in a case involving domestic violence, and the fifth such judgment against Georgia by an international body. All five cases have been co-litigated by EHRAC and our partners. 

Davit Javakhishvili, Head of the International Litigation Team at EHRAC’s partners Ассоциация молодых юристов Грузии (GYLA), said: “This is a tragic story. Despite her persistent pleas for help, the state failed the victim in this case on sixteen occasions, leading ultimately to the loss of her life.  

“This judgment highlights the systemic issues that significantly impact upon the effectiveness of Georgian law enforcement authorities in combating domestic violence and gender-based crimes. It should serve as a lighthouse for Georgia and other countries, and remind us all that femicide can also manifest in the form of presumed suicide.” 

In July 2021, the ECtHR delivered its judgment in Тхелидзе против Грузии. M.T, a university professor, was murdered by her ex-husband after a prolonged period of domestic violence. In February 2022, the Court again found violations of the right to life and prohibition of discrimination in A and B v Georgia. A young woman was eventually murdered by her former partner, a police officer, following a sustained campaign of violence and intimidation. The judgment in the latest case cites both these previous judgments. 

In all three cases, the authorities failed to adequately investigate repeated allegations of domestic abuse. In all three judgments, the Court identified the systemic gender-based discrimination underpinning the authorities’ failure to act. 

In the new judgment, the Court notes, “In its latest evaluation report on Georgia published in 2022, the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) noted with great concern that stereotypical and discriminatory attitudes by investigators and others in the criminal justice system were prevalent in Georgia and frequently constituted a significant barrier to justice for victims of gender-based violence (GREVIO/Inf(2022)28). The report called ‘for immediate measures to ensure a more prompt and appropriate response by prosecution services in all cases of violence against women …’ and urged the Georgian authorities to ensure on-the-job training for law-enforcement officials to overcome persistent attitudes, beliefs and practices that stood in the way of an effective police response to domestic violence.” 

“(T)he Court notes with concern that the competent investigative authority did not make enough attempts to establish responsibility on the part of the police officers for their alleged failure to respond properly to the multiple incidents of gender-based violence occurring prior to A.L.’s death.” 

While A.L.’s mother did successfully pursue a civil case related to the failure to investigate, “in the present case the civil courts did not extend their examination to the question of whether the official tolerance of incidents of domestic violence might have been conditioned by the same gender bias.” 

The Court noted that, on three occasions, A.L. had alleged violence only to subsequently withdraw those allegations. The Court noted that this behaviour was consistent with the feeling of vulnerability experienced by victims of domestic violence, adding that, “a person’s failure to lodge or the subsequent withdrawal of criminal complaints should not prevent the authorities from starting or continuing criminal proceedings against the alleged offender or relieve them of their duty to assess the gravity of the situation with a view to seeking an appropriate solution.” 

While three temporary restraining orders had been imposed on G.K. in the four years running up to A.L.’s death, the Court noted that, “the police and the prosecution authorities failed to comply with their obligations, by, among other things, failing to institute a proper criminal investigation into the years of physical and psychological abuse suffered by A.L… The Court cannot but observe that the deficient response of the law-enforcement authorities in the present case appears to be particularly alarming when assessed within the relevant domestic context of documented and repeated failure by the Georgian authorities to prevent and stop violence against women, including domestic violence.” 

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