International Tribunal to Consider US Domestic Violence Case

An international human rights tribunal has accepted a petition by a US mother of three small girls who were murdered by her estranged husband after local police refused to act. The case marks the first time the tribunal had indicated that countries in the Americas, including the US, may be responsible for protecting victims from private acts of violence under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, the human rights doctrine adopted in 1948.

The petition by Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzalez) claims that the inaction of Colorado police in 1999, and a US Supreme Court decision upholding that inaction in 2005, violated her human rights. The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that she did not have a constitutional right to have the police enforce the restraining order she’d obtained against her husband.

“I have been waiting for justice for my children’s deaths for over eight years,” said Lenahan. “Finally I have hope than an official body will finally say that what happened was wrong.”

The tribunal, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and is the human rights arm of the Organization of American States. It has no enforcement authority, but “a lot of moral authority,” according to Lenahan’s attorney, Caroline Bettinger-López of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic. The commission will make a ruling on Lenahan’s charges within the next six to 12 months, according to the Rocky Mountain News.


Columbia Law School Public Affairs press release 10/5/07; Stop Violence Against Women press release 2/27/07; Rocky Mountain News 10/8/07

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