VII. Case Study

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This page will highlight a few areas for analysis.

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Successfully Challenging Discriminatory Laws through a Country’s International Obligations

There are not many cases that use international agreements to challenge laws regarding women and property.

The following is a case which uses CEDAW to challenge the way a country responded to a domestic violence situation, which included a denial of the appellant’s right to access property. While the case is primarily about a country’s obligations regarding domestic violence complaints, it is a good illustration of how to use CEDAW to challenge a country’s practices.

To see an index of recent CEDAW cases as well as which Articles the victim brought for a successful claim, see here and here.

A.T. v. Hungary (2005)

Hungary has had international obligations under CEDAW since September of 1981 and has been party to the Optional Protocol since March 22, 2001.

Ms. A.T., a Hungarian national, alleged that Hungary violated her right under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) under article 2(a), (b), and (e); article 5(a); and article 16 when Hungary neglected its “positive obligations under the Convention and supported the continuation of a situation of domestic violence against her.” A.T. requested effective interim measures under article 5(1) because when she submitted her communication, she feared for her life.

A.T.’s husband, L.F., had subjected A.T. to severe domestic violence and serious threats for the four preceding years. She had not gone to a shelter because no shelter in the country was equipped to take in her disabled child.

In March 1999, L.F. moved out of the family’s apartment and took most of the furniture and household items with him. He had violent encounters with the family and visited when he was drunk. To protect herself from further unexpected attacks, A.T. changed the locks on the apartment shortly after L.F. moved out.  Shortly after this, L.F. returned, filled the lock with glue and kicked in part of the door when she refused to allow him to enter. The following summer, L.F. broke into the apartment. After this attack, A.T. was hospitalized.

Several civil proceedings occurred regarding L.F.’s access to the family residence. In September 2003, the Budapest Regional Court held that as joint owners of the apartment, L.F.’s right to the property, including possession, could not be restricted because the Court could not substantiate A.T.’s claims that L.F. regularly battered her. A.T. submitted a petition for review to the Supreme Court, which awaited decision at the time she submitted her supplemental information to the CEDAW Committee.

A.T. claimed that she submitted requests in writing, in person, and via phone for protection from local child protection authorities. The authorities ignored her requests. The Hungarian authorities have also done nothing to protect her from L.F. Under Hungarian law, it is not possible to take out protection or restraining orders.

The Committee found that women’s human rights to life and physical and mental integrity cannot be superseded by other rights, including the right to property and the right to privacy. The Committee also notes that the violence against women has great significance on the ability of women to enjoy rights and freedoms on an equal basis with men. The Committee also noted that A.T.’s  situation further depicts the “persistence of entrenched traditional stereotypes  regarding the role of women and men in the family” which penetrate Hungary as a whole.

The Committee found that A.T.’s rights were violated. The lack of effective legal measures and other measures prevented Hungary from satisfactorily handling the Committee’s request for interim measures. As such, the Committee found that Hungary failed to fulfil its obligations and therefore has violated A.T.’s rights under article 2(a), (b),(c), article 5(a), and article 16 of the Convention.

The Committee gave Hungary six months to submit a written response including any information on any action taken in the light of the views and recommendations made by the Committee.

The Committee made the following recommendations for Hungary:

  • Take immediate and effective measures to guarantee the physical and mental integrity of A.T. and her family
  • Ensure A.T. is given a safe home to live in with her children and that she receives:
    • Appropriate child support and legal assistance
    • Reparation proportionate to the physical and mental harm undergone and to the gravity of her rights
  • Respect, protect, promote, and fulfil women’s human rights, including their right to be free from all forms of domestic violence, including intimidation and threats of violence
  • Assure victims of domestic violence the maximum protection of the law by acting with due diligence to prevent and respond to such violence against women
  • Take all necessary measures to ensure that the national strategy for the prevention and effective treatment of violence within the family is promptly implemented and evaluated;
  • Take all necessary measures to provide regular training on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Optional Protocol thereto to judges, lawyers and law enforcement officials;
  • Implement expeditiously and without delay the Committee’s concluding comments of August 2002 on the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Hungary in respect of violence against women and girls, in particular the Committee’s recommendation that a specific law be introduced prohibiting domestic violence against women, which would provide for protection and exclusion orders as well as support services, including shelters;
  • Investigate promptly, thoroughly, impartially and seriously all allegations of domestic violence and bring the offenders to justice in accordance with international standards;
  • Provide victims of domestic violence with safe and prompt access to justice, including free legal aid where necessary, in order to ensure them available, effective and sufficient remedies and rehabilitation;
  • Provide offenders with rehabilitation programs and programs on non-violent conflict resolution methods.