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The landmark judgment that inspired Europe to act on violence against women

Opuz v. Turkey |2009

The landmark judgment that inspired Europe to act on violence against women

[The issue of domestic violence] is a general problem which concerns all member States . . .

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, June 2009

Background 

Nahide Opuz was abused by her husband for years. He also beat and threatened her mother, whom he blamed for being the cause of their problems. 

The violence tragically led to the murder of Nahide’s mother in 2002. She had told police that her son-in-law had threatened to kill her and her family. 

There were many warning signs. Yet, at least twice, prosecutors decided not to proceed with a criminal case as there was not enough evidence. 

On three occasions, Nahide and her mother withdrew their complaints because of pressure and death threats. For certain offences, withdrawing a complaint meant that a prosecution could not take place. 

However, Nahide’s husband was convicted twice before the murder took place, due to the seriousness of his offences. 

In the first incident, he rammed Nahide and her mother with his car, leaving them both with severe injuries. He was sentenced to three months in prison, which was changed to a fine after he spent 25 days behind bars. 

In the second incident, he stabbed Nahide seven times. He was punished with just a fine. 

In 2008, the man was sentenced to a life term for the murder of Nahide’s mother. But he was released from prison pending appeal. 

Nahide feared for her life. Her ex-husband continued to make death threats, and she said that the authorities were not doing anything to protect her. 

It was only after Nahide appealed to the European Court of Human Rights that measures were taken to protect her from her ex-husband. 

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that, despite knowing about the worsening situation, the Turkish authorities did not take reasonable steps to prevent violence against Nahide and her mother. The investigation into the murder of Nahide’s mother was also flawed. 

The authorities’ actions did not deter the man, and even showed a certain amount of tolerance towards his conduct. This passive attitude created a climate that encouraged domestic violence in Turkey. 

For the first time ever, the court ruled that gender-based violence is a form of discrimination under the European Convention on Human Rights.

. . . the violence suffered by [Nahide] and her mother may be regarded as gender-based violence which is a form of discrimination against women.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, June 2009

Follow-up 

The judgment in Nahide’s case helped to bring about the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (“Istanbul Convention”), which launched in May 2011. 

The Istanbul Convention is the most far-reaching international treaty on tackling violence against women. To date, 34 Council of Europe member states have ratified the convention and 12 more have signed it – along with the European Union as a whole. The convention is also used as a basis for action by many countries outside Europe. 

Turkey signed up to the Istanbul Convention in 2012 but withdrew in 2021.