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Traditionally, international law understood the concept of state accountability only in the context of human rights violations imputed to the government or any of its agents." Because domestic violence is comprised of acts committed by private individuals, these crimes have long been deemed to fall outside the scope of state accountability. More recently, however, the concept of state accountability has been expanded to include not only state actions, but also-and more importantly-state omissions and failures to take appropriate steps to protect women from domestic violence. Therefore, in addition to preventing through its own agents the commission of violence against women, the states are obligated to prevent acts of violence against women committed by private individuals. A state conforms to this obligation by duly investigating relevant allegations, prosecuting perpetrators, and providing adequate remedies for victims.

This Article analyzes judicial developments regarding a state's responsibility to prevent domestic violence focusing on recent decisions by international human rights judicial institutions. In particular, the Article examines the 2009 decision in Opuz v. Turkey, as well as earlier case law in the European Court of Human Rights. Then, the article concludes by addressing the jurisprudence of the IACHR, including Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) v. United States and the legislative and policy recommendations the Commission made regarding domestic violence. By examining these decisions and the implications they have for the understanding of domestic violence under international law, this Article explains the development of a new judicial trend towards states' positive obligation to protect victims of domestic abuse. This Article also investigates the standard of due diligence for state liability," and suggests universal criteria according to which international law should apply to domestic violence as a human rights violation.


Original source of publication: the Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law. Posted with permission.