Committee finds inheritance law violates CEDAW (E.S. & S.C. v. United Republic of Tanzania)

Tanzania’s customary inheritance law, as codified in the Local Customary Law (Declaration) (No. 4) Order, establishes patrilineal inheritance rules. E.S. and S.C. are Tanzanian nationals, who entered into customary marriages. When their respective husbands died, they were evicted from their homes by their husbands’ families, did not inherit any of their husbands’ estates and were denied the right to administer the estates.

E.S. and S.C. started legal proceedings requesting that the customary inheritance provisions be struck down on the basis that they contravene the constitutional guarantee of non-discrimination and equal protection and international human rights law, including CEDAW. In 2006, the High Court held the provisions were discriminatory. However, it denied E.S. and S.C. relief and did not overturn the provisions, saying that effecting customary change by judicial pronouncements would open Pandora’s box. According to the Court, the best remedy was to recommend, rather than order, the district councils to amend the provisions.

In 2006, E.S. and S.C filed a notice of appeal, but the Attorney General and Court of Appeal did not respond. In 2007, they submitted a memorandum of appeal in which they requested the Court of Appeal to quash the High Court judgment and declare the impugned provisions unconstitutional, but there was no response. In 2009, they asked the Court’s Chief Justice to decide their appeal quickly, but again received no response. In 2010, they filed a certificate of urgency in which they urged the Court to hear their appeal. The Court said it would list the appeal during its next session. In their written submissions, E.S. and S.C claimed that the High Court erred in abdicating its responsibilities to declare the impugned provisions unconstitutional, despite finding they discriminated against women. The Court dismissed the appeal on a procedural technicality concerning dates on court documents not attributable to E.S. or S.C. and which they later sought to have remedied without success.

E.S. and S.C. subsequently submitted a communication to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in which they claimed that the State Party had violated articles 2(c), 2(f), 5(a), 13(b), 15(1), 15(2), 16(1)(c) and 16(1)(h) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, read together with the Committee’s General Recommendations Nos. 21 and 27. Specifically, E.S. and S.C. claimed that they were:

  • discriminated against based on their sex/gender and therefore denied the ability to administer and inherit property after their husbands’ deaths and an effective remedy, in violation of articles 2(c), 2(f) and 5(a) of CEDAW
  • denied equal economic rights and opportunities, including access to mortgages and other forms of financial credit, in violation of article 13(b)
  • denied equality before the law, in violation of article 15(1)
  • prevented them from administering their husbands’ property, as their legal capacity was not recognised, in violation of article 15(2)
  • not afforded the same rights as men in the administration and inheritance of property upon the dissolution of marriage, in violation of articles 16(1)(c) and 16(1)(h).

E.S. and S.C. urged the CEDAW Committee to recommend that the State Party permit them to inherit their equal share of their husbands’ estates and serve as estate administrators, and compensate them for their financial and emotional loss. Furthermore, they called on the Committee to recommend that the discriminatory inheritance provisions be abolished or, alternatively, that a law be enacted to guarantee women equal rights to administer and inherit property.

State Party’s observations on admissibility and merits

The State Party made no observations on the admissibility or merits of the communication.

Committee’s decision on admissibility

The CEDAW Committee declared the communication admissible, having found that E.S. and S.C. had sufficiently substantiated their claims, for the purposes of admissibility. It also determined that domestic remedies had been unreasonably prolonged, within the meaning of article 4(1) of the Optional Protocol, and were unlikely to bring E.S. and S.C. effective relief. It explained that the Court of Appeal: had still not examined the appeal submitted by E.S. and S.C. in 2006; took four years to schedule a hearing; and summarily dismissed the appeal due to a minor defect, which was not attributable to E.S. and S.C. and which they sought to remedy several times.

Committee’s views on merits

The CEDAW Committee determined that the State Party violated articles 2(c), 2(f), 5(a), 13(b), 15(1), 15(2), 16(1)(c) and 16(1)(h) of CEDAW, read together with General Recommendations No. 21, No. 28 and No. 29. In doing so, it recalled that States Parties must:

  • adopt appropriate measures to amend or abolish customs that discriminate against women, in line with articles 2(f) and 5(a)
  • adopt appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in marriage and family relations, including at the inception of, during, and at the dissolution of, marriage, in line with article 16
  • adopt intestate succession laws that ensure equal treatment of surviving women and men and prohibit disinheritance of the surviving spouse
  • afford women equal rights to administer property, consistent with articles 15(2) and 16(1)(h), which in the Committee’s view ‘is central to their financial independence and may be critical to their ability to earn a livelihood and to provide adequate housing and nutrition for themselves and for their children, especially in the event of the death of their spouse’
  • take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in economic and social life, particularly regarding their right to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit, in line with article 13.

The Committee further recalled that the application of discriminatory customs perpetuates stereotypes and attitudes about the roles and responsibilities of women and prevents them from enjoying equality in the family and in society.

Turning to the facts of the communication, the Committee determined that:

  • the State Party’s legal framework, which treats widows and widowers differently in terms of their access to ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property (despite a constitutional guarantee of non-discrimination and equality) discriminates against women and led to E.S. and S.C. being unable to administer their husbands’ estates or inherit their husbands’ property, in violation of article 2(f) of CEDAW, together with articles 5, 15 and 16
  • the actions of the judiciary, including the refusal to impugn the customary law provisions (despite finding they were discriminatory), a four-year failure to respond to the appeal and the dismissal of the case on a procedural technicality not attributable to E.S. or S.C., violated article 2(c) of CEDAW
  • the eviction of E.S. and S.C. when their respective husbands died left them economically vulnerable, which restricted their economic autonomy and prevented them from enjoying equal economic opportunities, in violation of article 13 of CEDAW.

The Committee concluded that the State Party, by condoning the legal restraints on women’s inheritance and property rights, denied E.S. and S.C. equality in respect of inheritance and failed to provide them with other means of economic security or adequate redress.

Recommendations

The Committee recommended that the State Party provide E.S. and S.C. adequate reparation and compensation, commensurate with the seriousness of the violations of their rights. It also made several recommendations of a general nature, including that the State Party: ensure CEDAW has precedence over discriminatory customary laws; repeal or amend discriminatory customary laws, including on inheritance, to bring them in line with CEDAW; and hold consultations to foster dialogue on removing discriminatory customary laws.

Communication No. 48/2013, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/60/D/48/2013 (2015)

Decision

CEDAW Committee declares asylum communication inadmissible (Y.C. v. Denmark)

In June 2011, Y.C., a Chinese national, sought asylum in Denmark. In support of her claim for asylum, she alleged that, if deported to China, she: faced a real, personal and foreseeable risk of further domestic violence by her former partner; and would not be able to exercise her religion freely.

In August 2011, the Danish Immigration Service rejected her asylum claim, which the Refugee Appeals Board later upheld on appeal. The Board accepted Y.C. was a victim of violence, but noted that she had not reported it or the removal of her child by her former partner to Chinese authorities. It also noted that Y.C.’s relationship with her former partner was a matter of private law and that conflict between them did not mean she would ‘necessarily risk persecution or outrages of a nature set out in section 7 (2) of the Aliens Act’. It considered it relevant that the former partner had not sought out Y.C. Additionally, it found that, although Y.C. ‘had to exercise he religion discretely, she could not be considered to be specifically and individually persecuted by the Chinese authorities on religious grounds’.

In January 2013, Y.C. submitted an individual communication to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. She alleged that deporting her to China would constitute a violation by Denmark of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, specifically articles 1 to 3 and 5, read in conjunction with General Recommendation No. 19. Y.C. claimed that:

  • Chinese authorities would not afford her adequate protection against the real, personal and foreseeable risk of domestic violence she faced, if returned to China by Denmark, or grant her access to, or custody of, her child
  • the State Party would, by deporting her, violate her freedom of religion.

Y.C. was awaiting deportation to China when she submitted her communication to the CEDAW Committee. She made a request for interim measures under article 5 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to stay the deportation pending the Committee’s consideration of the communication. The Committee declined her request and did not report any reasons for its decision.

State Party’s observations on admissibility

The State Party claimed that the communication was inadmissible as it was incompatible with CEDAW and manifestly ill-founded and unsubstantiated, pursuant to articles 4(2)(b) and 4(2)(c) of the Protocol, respectively. Among other things, it claimed that Y.C.:

  • sought to apply CEDAW in an extraterritorial manner
  • failed to sufficiently substantiate (for admissibility purposes) that she faced a real, personal and foreseeable risk of domestic violence, if deported
  • had not made explicit or sufficiently substantiated which CEDAW provisions would be violated, if she was deported
  • had not reported her situation to Chinese authorities or demonstrated that those authorities would not protect her adequately, if returned to China.

Committee’s decision on admissibility

The CEDAW Committee declared the communication inadmissible under article 4(2)(c) of the Optional Protocol, as both insufficiently substantiated and manifestly ill-founded. It declined to consider whether the communication was compatible with CEDAW, pursuant to article 4(2)(b) of the Protocol.

Y.C. failed to substantiate her claim sufficiently

The Committee determined that Y.C. had failed to substantiate, for the purposes of admissibility, her claim that Chinese authorities would not afford her adequate protection against violence or grant her access to, or custody of, her child. In doing so, it noted that Y.C. had not: reported her situation, including the alleged violence, to Chinese authorities; or provided an adequate explanation for her failure to seek to see, or obtain custody of, her child for several years.

Y.C.’s claim was manifestly ill-founded

In determining that the communication was manifestly ill-founded, the Committee noted that Y.C. had not provided sufficient information to support her claim of religious-based persecution and noted the State Party’s claim that Y.C. had alleged a violation of article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and not CEDAW. It further noted that Y.C. had not substantiated that she was a victim of gender-based discrimination, as part of her claim that she would not be able to exercise her religious beliefs freely in China.

Communication No. 59/2013, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/59/D/59/2013 (2014)

Decision

CEDAW Committee declares domestic violence asylum communication inadmissible (S.O. v. Canada)

S.O. claimed she was subjected to domestic violence in Mexico in 2008-2009 and that police took no action to protect her each time she reported the violence. She later left Mexico, when her lawyer told her she could not obtain protection in Mexico. After S.O. left, her abusive partner contacted her family and friends to find out where S.O. was and assaulted her mother when she refused to disclose S.O.’s whereabouts.

In 2011, S.O. applied for refugee protection in Canada on the grounds that she would face a real, personal and foreseeable risk of serious forms of gender-based violence, if returned to Mexico. Canada undertook a pre-removal risk assessment, a procedure used when an applicant has applied for refugee protection previously.

In December 2012, Canada rejected S.O.’s application. It did not dispute that S.O. was a victim of domestic violence and had sought protection from Mexican authorities. However, it concluded that she had a reasonable internal flight alternative within Mexico and had failed to show that she was unable to live apart from her abusive former partner in another part of the country.

In January 2013, S.O. applied to the Federal Court for leave to seek judicial review of the decision, claiming that an internal flight alternative was not an aspect of state protection. She also filed a motion to stay her removal, while the judicial review was pending. In February 2013, the Federal Court dismissed the motion to stay the removal, concluding that the finding of an internal flight alternative was within the spectrum of possible conclusions, in light of the facts and law in the case. In June 2013, the Court dismissed the application for leave to seek judicial review without reasons.

In February 2013, S.O. submitted an individual communication to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee). She claimed that her deportation to Mexico would constitute a violation by Canada of articles 1 to 3 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), read in conjunction with the Committee’s General Recommendation No. 19. Among other things, S.O. claimed that: she would be subjected to domestic violence, if deported; Mexican authorities had previously failed to protect her against such violence; and her claim for protection was denied based on the erroneous assessment that protection for gender-based violence victims is available if she relocated to another part of Mexico.

In March 2013, the Committee granted S.O’s request for interim measures and requested the State Party not to deport her while the case was pending.

State Party’s observations on admissibility

The State Party contested the admissibility of the communication of three grounds.

Firstly, it claimed that S.O. had failed to exhaust all available domestic remedies, as required by article 4(1) of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Specifically, it noted that S.O. had failed to apply for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Secondly, it claimed that CEDAW does not contain an obligation of non-refoulement and disputed the Committee’s interpretation of CEDAW in M.N.N. v. Denmark to the effect that this obligation can be included in the treaty. It therefore submitted that S.O.’s claim that Canada has an obligation of non-refoulement is incompatible with CEDAW, pursuant to article 4(2)(b) of the Protocol.

Thirdly, it claimed that the communication was manifestly ill-founded or S.O. had not sufficiently substantiated her claim that she would face risk of torture or risk to life, if returned to Mexico.

Committee’s decision on admissibility

The Committee determined that S.O. had failed to sufficiently substantiate her claim and declared the communication inadmissible under article 4(2)(c) of the Protocol.

Sufficiently substantiate claim

The Committee determined that S.O. had failed to sufficiently substantiate her claim that her removal from Canada to Mexico would expose her to a real, personal and foreseeable risk of serious forms of gender-based violence and therefore violate articles 1 to 2 of CEDAW, read with General Recommendation No. 19. It explained that S.O. had not provided sufficient information to show, for the purposes of admissibility:

  • that she would face a real, personal and foreseeable risk of serious forms of gender-based violence, if deported to Mexico
  • why she could not relocate within Mexico, if she had to leave her home city to avoid further violence by her former partner
  • what remedies she pursued in Mexico after unsuccessfully filing complaints with the police.

The Committee further determined that S.O. had not explained why and how she considers the State Party violated her rights under article 3 of CEDAW.

Although finding the communication inadmissible, the Committee also made comments in respect of two other inadmissibility grounds.

S.O. had exhausted domestic remedies

The Committee concluded that S.O. had exhausted all available domestic remedies when she sought a stay of deportation and judicial review of the negative pre-removal risk assessment before the Federal Court. While noting the possibility of applying for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, the Committee concluded that it was not necessary to do so to satisfy the exhaustion requirement, as doing so would not halt S.O.’s deportation.

The complaint was compatible with, and covered by, CEDAW

The Committee rejected the State Party’s argument that CEDAW does not contain an obligation of non-refoulement. It stressed that, under article 2(d), States Parties must refrain from discriminating against women and ensure public authorities and institutions act accordingly. Recalling it jurisprudence, it further stressed that article 2(d) requires States Parties to protect women against a real, personal and foreseeable risk of serious forms of gender-based violence, irrespective of whether it would occur outside territorial boundaries. Additionally, the Committee recalled that gender-based violence is a form of discrimination against women. However, it affirmed that what amounts to serious forms of gender-based violence triggering the protection afforded under article 2(d) depends on the circumstances of each case and needs to be determined by it on a case-by-case basis at the merits stage.

Communication No. 49/2013, UN Doc. CEDAW/C/59/D/49/2013 (2014)

Decision

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)

Decision