Ángela González Carreño was subjected to physical and psychological violence by F.R.C. over the course of their 20-year relationship, during which they had a daughter named Andrea. After a particularly violent episode during which F.R.C. threatened her life with a knife in front of their child, Ángela left the home, taking Andrea with her, and filed for dissolution. After the separation, F.R.C. continued to harass and bully Ángela, insulting her and threatening her life on the street. Ángela maintained custody of Andrea, but during the father’s visitations with her, he would question her about the mother’s relationships and speak ill of her, referring to her as a “whore,” until the girl was so afraid that she began to refuse to spend time with her father. Incidents of this kind and other acts of violence were so frequent that Ángela made over 30 complaints to the police and courts between December 1999 and November 2001. She requested a protective order prohibiting contact between F.R.C. and her and her daughter and a regime of monitored visits.
Notwithstanding these multiple complaints, F.R.C. was only imposed a fine of 45 euros for stalking Ángela. F.R.C. violated all the protective orders, except one which protected only the mother and not the daughter, without facing any legal consequences. Visitation was monitored for a while, and visits took place in a social services center in the town where the mother and daughter lived. Then one of the social workers presented a report suggesting that visitation be unsupervised so that the father and daughter could relate to each other more naturally. However, in the same report, the social worker acknowledged that F.R.C. was taking advantage of the visits with his daughter to transmit messages to the mother, to which Andrea did not know how to react. Soon thereafter, the order of marital separation was issued, which disregarded the numerous complaints of abuse made by the author and did not refer to the constant ill-treatment and harassment she was subjected to.
Although the court and social services noted “some shortcomings in the father’s behavior,” unsupervised visitation in the father’s home was authorized. Three months later, during an unsupervised visit, F.R.C. murdered Andrea and committed suicide. After her daughter’s murder, Ángela filed a claim with the Ministry of Justice for compensation for miscarriage of justice, alleging negligence by the administrative and judicial authorities. She pursued her claims until she had exhausted all internal remedies, starting with the Spanish National Court, then appealing the case to the Supreme Court, and finally the Constitutional Court, without success. Finally, she lodged a complaint with the CEDAW Committee with the assistance of international organization Women’s Link Worldwide.
1. Admissibility and merits
Allegations by the author
The author alleged violations of Articles 2, 5, and 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She argued that the authorities had not acted with due diligence to protect her and her daughter from the violence they were subjected to. Further, after the child’s murder, no effective investigation of the facts was carried out, and no reparation was provided.
She maintained that the facts took place in a social context marked by a high incidence of domestic violence in which prejudices and stereotypes against women victims of domestic violence persist, such as the notion that it is always better for a child to be raised by both parents, even if the father is an abuser.
Arguments of the State Party
Spain made a submission on admissibility, maintaining that internal remedies had not been properly exhausted and that the communication was unsubstantiated.
The State argued that because the author had not filed her claims in the proper venues, she had not properly exhausted internal remedies. It further argued that no violation of the CEDAW had taken place, because the facts could be attributed only to F.R.C., and there had been no negligence on the part of the authorities. Furthermore, the events occurred prior to the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW in Spain.
Considerations of the CEDAW Committee
Turning first to the State’s arguments, the Committee found that it was able to consider the merits of the communication, because two important events related to Andrea’s death occurred after the entry into force of the Protocol. It further found that the author had exhausted internal remedies. The Committee considered that it had been proven that the author made reasonable efforts to bring her complaints before national authorities regarding the violation of her rights under the Convention. Her allegations regarding the establishment of a regime of unsupervised visits and Andrea’s murder were adequately substantiated.
2. Consideration of the merits
The Committee was satisfied that the facts took place in a context of domestic violence which continued over an extended period. It therefore turned to the question of whether Spain applied principles of due diligence in light of the facts leading to the death of the author’s daughter and whether the State Party took reasonable measures to protect both of them.
The Committee did not agree with the State’s argument that the behavior of F.R.C. was unforeseeable, for the following reasons: 1. Since the couple’s separation, many violent incidents took place, which the child often witnessed; 2. F.R.C. consistently disregarded the protective orders prohibiting contact with the author, without facing legal consequences. These orders protected only the author, not her daughter, “in order not to jeopardize relations between father and daughter”; 3. Social services reports indicated that F.R.C. was using his daughter to transmit messages of animosity to the author; 4. A psychological report indicated that F.R.C. had obsessive-compulsive disorder, pathological jealousy, and possible paranoid disorder; and 5. During visits with his daughter, F.R.C. displayed inappropriate behavior toward her. The Committee added that he shirked his obligation to provide child support for Andrea.
Turning to the regime of visits, the Committee observed that they “had as their main purpose normalizing relations between father and daughter,” without evaluating the benefits or harms they might cause and without a prior hearing of the author and her daughter. The Committee considered that these decisions reflected a stereotyped conception of visiting rights based on formal equality, which gave clear advantages to the father, despite his abusive conduct, and minimized the situation of the mother and daughter as victims of violence.
The State Party failed to uphold its obligations by allowing unsupervised visitation without taking into account the situation of domestic violence within the family, both before and after the separation, although the State was aware of this situation. Spain could therefore be held responsible for failing to take appropriate steps to eliminate the situation of violence.
The Committee found Spain in violation of Article 2 (a-f) of the CEDAW, on obligations to embody the principle of equality through legislation or other means and adopt measures to abolish acts of discrimination against women in law, practice, or custom. It further found Spain in violation of Article 16.1, on the obligation to eliminate discrimination against women in family relations. The Committee referred to its observations in the communication in V.K. v. Bulgaria on stereotypes and preconceived notions on the part of judicial authorities regarding what constitutes domestic violence.
Furthermore, the absence of reparations constituted a violation by the State Party of its obligations under Article 2 (b) and (c) of the Convention. While the Committee noted that Spain had adopted a broad legal framework to combat domestic violence, this framework cannot be effective if public officials do not discharge their obligations with due diligence (see the communication in Goekce v. Austria). These include the obligation to investigate the existence of failures, negligence, or omissions that may have caused victims to be deprived of protection against domestic violence, as in Ángela’s case.