Georgia responsible for discriminatory failures to protect woman from police-perpetrated domestic violence
Content warning: domestic violence, police violence, murder
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that the Georgian authorities failed to protect the life of a woman who was murdered following a prolonged period of domestic violence at the hands of her former partner, a serving police officer.
In its judgment, the Court found unanimously that Georgia had violated the right to life (in both its procedural and substantive aspects) and the prohibition of discrimination.
It highlighted “major failings” in the Georgian police’s response to the murder.
“Overall, (this) case could be seen as yet another vivid example of how general and discriminatory passivity of the law-enforcement authorities in the face of allegations of domestic violence could create a climate conducive to a further proliferation of violence committed against victims, merely because they were women. Despite the various protective measures available, the authorities had not prevented gender-based violence against the applicants’ next-of-kin, which had culminated in her death, and they had compounded that failure with an attitude of passivity, even accommodation, as regards the alleged perpetrator, later convicted of the victim’s murder.”
The case, A and B v Georgia, was brought to the Court in 2015 by EHRAC and our partner organisation the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), on behalf of C’s mother (‘A’) and minor son (‘B’).
Tamar Dekanosidze, GYLA lawyer, said: “Femicide has always been a serious issue in Georgia, but it was largely overlooked until 2014. This is the reason why A and B v Georgia was the very first application on femicide that reached the European Court of Human Rights.
“The case also set a very important legal precedent at the local level. In addition to prosecuting the perpetrator, the Georgian courts found the Government bodies responsible for paying moral damages to the mother of their victim because of their failure to prevent the killing.”
Tamar Dekanosidze, GYLA lawyer
“The case was also widely covered by the local media and was instrumental in mobilising and uniting different parts of society to join forces in ending violence against women.”
Failure of the police and prosecutor to protect C from D’s violence
In 2011, aged 17, C was kidnapped for marriage by D, a 22-year-old police officer. Under constant threat from D, she began living with him until June 2012 when she returned to her parents’ house. She was two months’ pregnant with B at the time.
In July 2012, C called the police, stating that D had threatened to kill her mother, but she received no response.
In August 2013, D beat up C in her parents’ house following a dispute about child support payments. The police were called and three officers, all of whom were D’s acquaintances, interviewed C in his presence. One of the officers told C that ‘wife-beating’ was “commonplace”, and inaccurately recorded the details of her physical abuse. D forced C to sign the police report, threatening to kill her if she did not sign it as it was drafted.
On the same day, C filed a criminal complaint to the local public prosecutor’s office, reporting D’s abuse and the police officer’s failure to carry out their duties with due diligence. In the complaint, she stated that D had been constantly harassing her, threatening to kill her and to abduct B. C expressly asked the prosecutor to take “all the measures necessary to end D’s violent behaviour”, and explained that as D was a police officer, she did not trust that the police would help her, which is why she directed her complaint to the prosecutor.
In September 2013, the prosecutor interviewed C, D and one of the police officers, and both D and the officer denied C’s version of events. D gave a written undertaking that he would never again verbally or physically abuse C or her family, which satisfied the prosecution, and they decided not to launch a criminal investigation.
During the time in which D abused C and C made repeated requests for help from the law enforcement authorities, D was promoted to senior police lieutenant.
On 25 July 2014, after C left an interview with a the Ministry of the Interior, D followed her in the street and witnesses saw them having an argument in a public park. D pulled out his service pistol and fired five shots at C, killing her instantly.
Criminal proceedings were opened against D and he was charged with C’s murder. He was convicted of her murder, and sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment.
A, acting on behalf of herself and B, filed a complaint with the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, requesting a criminal investigation be opened into the authorities’ failure to protect her daughter’s life. She argued that the negligence of the police and prosecutor was motivated by gender-based discrimination.
A criminal investigation was opened into the negligence of the police officers, but when A repeatedly inquired about its progress, she was told it was pending and no charges had been brought. A received no response to her repeated requests for information on whether an investigation into the conduct of the prosecutor had been opened.
Subsequently A sued the Ministry of the Interior and Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for the failure to protect her daughter’s life. The claim was allowed in part by the Tbilisi City Court, which ruled that the authorities had failed to take measures to put an end to gender-based discrimination and protect C’s life.
Establishing state responsibility for the failure to protect C from domestic violence
In the application to the ECtHR, we complained of violations of C’s right to life (Article 2 ECHR) and the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14 ECHR), arising from the domestic authorities’ failure to protect C from gender-based violence and the failure to investigate the conduct of the law enforcement bodies to which C appealed for help before her murder.
Recognising that D was convicted of C’s murder, the Court emphasised that the case was not about the violent actions of D, but rather about the authorities’ “inactivity and negligence” which had disastrous consequences. The Court underlined that the “lack of protection” of C from domestic violence and the “absence of an effective investigation into the law enforcement authorities’ inaction – stemmed from their insufficient acknowledgment of the phenomenon of discrimination against women”. The Court agreed with the applicants’ submission that the right to life and discrimination complaints are inextricably factually and legally interwoven and should be examined simultaneously.
In its judgment, the Court found violations of both Article 2 (in its substantive and procedural aspects) and Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), arising from the authorities’ failure to take protective measures after being notified of D’s abuse of C, and the failure to conduct an effective investigation into the conduct of the police officers and prosecutor, including the failure to examine the gender-bias that may have motivated the conduct of the law enforcement officials.
In a robust conclusion on the State’s liability, the Court found that in disregarding a “panoply of various protective measures” and combining this with “an attitude of passivity, even accommodation” toward D, the Georgian authorities failed to protect C’s right to life.
The applicants were awarded €35,000 in non-pecuniary damages in recognition of the damage they suffered in losing their daughter and mother.
Setting legal precedents
The judgment provides an indisputable acknowledgment of the myriad ways in which the Georgian authorities failed in their duty to protect C from domestic violence, made even more grave given the official status of D and his deliberate abuse of this with fatal consequences.
The judgment also makes a number of significant contributions to the Court’s existing case law on gender-based violence:
- It is the first case in which the Court found that the prosecution of the defendant should have examined gender bias and discriminatory motive on his part.
- As in Tkhelidze v Georgia (also an EHRAC case), the judgment in A and B reiterates the need for an investigation into gender bias and discriminatory motive on the part of law enforcement officials.
- A and B is only the second case on domestic violence in which the Court adopted a simultaneous adjudication of violations of the right to life and gender-based discrimination (the first being Tkhelidze). This dual approach is crucial for the Court’s recognition of the centrality of discrimination in the state’s response to gender-based violence.
- In A and B, the Court unequivocally acknowledged the immediacy of the threat in a situation of lasting domestic violence, hence further embedding the adaptation of the Osman test (used to determine the immediacy of risks to life) established in Tkhelidze. The Court in A and B found that C’s circumstances were “clearly a lasting situation of domestic violence which means that there could be no doubt about the immediacy of the danger” to C.