Lenahan (Gonzales) v. United States of America: Defining Due Diligence?

The United Nations reports that the most common form of violence experienced by women around the world is physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner. On a global average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime.

Thus, it is all the more significant that in August 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“the Commission”) found that the United States violated the human rights of Jessica Lenahan and her three daughters in the first domestic violence case brought against the United States in an international human rights tribunal. The Commission’s decision confirmed the application of the due diligence standard to interpret the obligation of non-discrimination under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man. That obligation requires states to prevent, prosecute, and sanction acts of violence against women, including, in certain circumstances, acts of violence by private actors.

The Commission found that the United States’ failure to meet this standard resulted in violations of Lenahan and her daughters’ right to equality, right to life, and right to special protection as women and children. The decision stands in stark contrast to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling on the same facts in Town of Castle Rock, Colo. v. Gonzales, in which the Court held that the state generally has no duty to protect individuals from private acts of violence. This comment explores the effectiveness of the due diligence standard in the Commission’s merits report.

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