Rights court censures Turkey over attitude to domestic violence

 

THE EUROPEAN Court of Human Rights has ruled that Turkey failed adequately to prosecute a man who brutalised his wife and her mother for a decade before fatally shooting his mother-in-law, in a case that once again exposes Turkey’s shaky record on women’s rights.

“The general and discriminatory judicial passivity in Turkey created a climate that was conducive to domestic violence,” the court stated in a press release yesterday, ordering Turkey to pay the plaintiff, Nahide Opuz (37), €36,500.

Women’s rights activists in Turkey welcomed the decision, which is the first time the European court has ruled that domestic violence constitutes gender discrimination. The decision is binding on all EU members.

“This is exactly what I was hoping for,” said Pinar Ilkkaracan, co-founder of the Istanbul-based rights group, Women for Women’s Human Rights. “It says clearly that . . . laws are not enough. The state has failed . . . in not providing mechanisms protecting women under threat.”

Turkey began updating laws on domestic violence in 1998 and now has legislation that is little different from its European neighbours. But as Ms Opuz’s story demonstrates, mentalities and implementation lag far behind.

On four occasions after 1996, Ms Opuz and her mother complained to the police about the husband’s violent behaviour, which ranged from beatings deemed life-threatening by doctors to running both women over with a car. Twice, the courts let the husband off with a fine.

Sentenced to 15 years in jail in March 2008 for the 2001 murder of Ms Opuz’s mother, the husband was released pending an appeal.

“He continues to threaten my client, but the police withdrew protection after only three days,” Ms Opuz’s lawyer, Mesut Bestas, said outside the Strasbourg court.

For Hidayet Tuksal, a prominent women’s rights activist, the case sheds light on a key problem facing women in Turkey who are victims of domestic violence: the shortage of women’s shelters.

Shelters number about 50, up from eight in 2004. “It is not that nothing is happening,” Ms Tuksal said. “What is happening is happening too slowly.”

Andrea Coombers, legal practice director at the London-based International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights, intervened in the Opuz case as a third party. She said that in deciding only now that gender-based violence was a form of discrimination, the European court was lagging a decade behind other parts of the developed world.

“This is a significant step in the right direction by the European court,” she added.