CEDAW Committee declares domestic violence and child custody communication inadmissible (T.N. v. Denmark)

T.N., a U.S. citizen, married a Danish national and had two children with him. She claimed he subjected her to domestic violence while they were in Germany and told her she would not be allowed to see their children if she did not return to Denmark with him. She went to Denmark, where she claimed the violence continued. T.N. said she reported the violence to Danish police on several occasions, but that they failed to take appropriate action to protect her and her children. She alleged the violence continued to worsen and that her husband threatened that she would not see their children again, if she left him.

In 2010, T.N. took her children and went to a shelter, where they lived for a few months. The police confiscated their passports, at the request of her husband. She claimed that the same officers refused to make a report on the domestic violence or note her injuries. She was unable to file a domestic violence complaint at the police station because the officer did not speak good English. T.N. claimed there was no further follow-up by the police.

In 2010, T.N. filed for divorce. The Regional State Administration of Mid-Jutland decided the children were to reside with T.N. until a court decision or an agreement on residence was reached. In custody proceedings before the Aarhus District Court, T.N. claimed her husband was violent towards her and their children when they lived together and continued to beat the children when he spent time with him under the joint custody arrangement.

In 2011, the Court ruled in favour of T.N.’s husband and granted him full custody. It based its decision on the absence of proof of any domestic violence and the Court’s assessment that the father would provide the children a better environment in which to live because he would not prevent them from seeing T.N. In 2012, the High Court of Western Denmark upheld the decision.

In September 2011, T.N. submitted a communication to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in which she claimed that she and her daughters were victims of violations by Denmark of articles 1, 2, 5 and 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Specifically, she claimed that: she and her daughters were victims of discrimination on the grounds of sex, nationality and race; and the State Party had failed to protect her and her children against domestic violence, by not pursuing her abusive husband through the criminal justice system and not granting her custody of their children. She further claimed that the State Party’s police and judicial authorities are biased against female foreigners married to Danish men, evidenced in their giving credence to her husband’s version of events and disregarding her own.

In July 2012, the Committee granted T.N.’s request for interim measures under article 5 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Among other things, it asked the State Party to take all measures necessary to ensure: the violence was taken into account and the rights and safety of T.N. and her children were not jeopardised, in the determination of child custody and visitation rights.

State Party’s observations on admissibility

Initially, the State Party contended that the Committee should reject the communication at the registration stage and not ask it to submit observations on the unstructured and voluminous documents submitted by T.N., which it claimed did not rely on any rights in CEDAW or specify the scope of the complaint. The State Party suggested that the communication relates mainly to ongoing litigation between T.N. and her husband.

The State Party went on to challenge the admissibility of the communication on several grounds. It contended that:

  • T.N. had made unsupported claims not raised in substance before the Danish authorities and which they therefore had not had the opportunity to address. It therefore submitted that the communication should be declared inadmissible under article 4(1) of the Protocol, for failure to exhaust domestic remedies
  • it was unclear which rights, if any, under CEDAW T.N. was relying on and that the communication was therefore incompatible with CEDAW and should be declared inadmissible under article 4(2)(b) of the Protocol. It noted that T.N. had alleged violations of a number of other international instruments
  • T.N. had failed to sufficiently substantiate her claim, in accordance with article 4(2)(c), as she had put forward unclear and generally unsupported claims and not identified or explained which CEDAW rights she was relying on or identified which state acts or omissions constituted a violation of CEDAW
  • for the reasons above, the communication should be declared inadmissible under article 4(2)(d) as an abuse of the right to submit a communication.

CEDAW Committee’s decision on admissibility

The Committee determined that T.N. had failed to substantiate her claims under articles 1, 2, 5 and 16 of CEDAW and declared the communication inadmissible under article 4(2)(c) of the Protocol.

Failure to sufficiently substantiate claim

The CEDAW Committee concluded that T.N. had not sufficiently substantiated her claim that the State Party had failed to investigate her allegations of domestic violence, for the purposes of admissibility. It explained that T.N. had submitted many unstructured documents, many without full translation, and that many of her arguments were not comprehensive, lacked consistency and were unsupported by documentation. By contrast, it explained, the State Party had provided detailed information about the police investigations it had conducted.  The Committee noted T.N.’s claim that she was a victim of gender-based discrimination during the custody proceedings, but concluded that she had also failed to substantiate that claim, for the purposes of admissibility.

Although the Committee determined that the communication had not been sufficiently substantiated, it also commented on several other grounds of inadmissibility.

No failure to exhaust domestic remedies

The CEDAW Committee concluded that although T.N. submitted her individual communication while custody proceedings were still pending in Denmark, it was not precluded from considering the communication under article 4(1) of the Optional Protocol, as the High Court of Western Denmark had since rendered a final decision. It further noted that T.N. had raised violations of article 2 of CEDAW at the domestic level and that authorities had an opportunity to consider the alleged violations.

The same matter had not been examined previously

The Committee condemned T.N. for submitting a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights while her communication was pending before it. However, it ultimately determined that the same matter had not been examined under another procedure of international investigation or settlement, in accordance with article 4(2)(a) of the Optional Protocol. According to the Committee, the Court’s decision, which declared T.N.’s complaint inadmissible, was limited to procedural grounds relating to admissibility and did not provide sufficient reasoning to allow it to consider that the Court had examined the case in the manner required by article 4(2)(a) of the Protocol.

Communication was compatible with CEDAW

The Committee concluded that since T.N. had alleged violations of CEDAW (in addition to referring to rights under other international instruments), her communication was compatible with the treaty in respect of those alleged violations, pursuant to article 4(2)(b) of the Optional Protocol.

Communication No. 37/2012, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/59/D/37/2012 (2014)