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WASHINGTON � The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has agreed to decide whether the United States violated the rights of a domestic violence victim whose three children were killed when local police failed to enforce a restraining order against her former husband. The complaint by Jessica Lenahan (formerly Jessica Gonzales) is the first brought by a domestic violence victim against the United States for international human rights violations. On Oct. 4, the commission ruled her complaint “admissible,” which is akin to finding jurisdiction, after rejecting arguments by the U.S. Department of State, including that Lenahan had not exhausted available remedies and, significantly, that the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man imposes no affirmative duty on states to actually prevent the crimes committed by Lenahan’s former husband. “We do not believe the case met basic requirements for further consideration but we will remain actively involved as it goes forward,” said State Department spokesman Rob McInturff. Lenahan’s legal odyssey began in 1999 when she filed a lawsuit against the Castle Rock, Colo., police department seeking to hold it liable for failing to respond to her repeated calls and appearances for help after her husband abducted her children. Her daughters were found dead in their father’s pickup truck after he was killed in a shootout with police at police headquarters hours after their mother sought police assistance. A landmark case Her lawsuit attracted national and international attention when it was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held in June 2005 that she had no constitutional right to police enforcement of her restraining order. That December, Lenahan filed her petition with the Inter-American Commission, charging that police inaction and the Supreme Court decision violated her human rights. “This case is not just about Jessica Gonzales, although it clearly is very important for her,” said Caroline Bettinger-Lopez of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, who, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, represents Lenahan. It is important for victims of domestic violence and intimate-partner violence in the United States and throughout the world, she said, adding, “We’ve gotten calls from the United Nations and organizations around world who see this case as a landmark one on the duty of states to protect victims of domestic violence.” The admissibility decision itself has “immediate importance,” according to Bettinger-Lopez, because it is the first time the commission has recognized that the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man imposes affirmative obligations by countries in the Americas to protect individuals from private acts of violence. The commission was created in 1959 and is expressly authorized to investigate allegations of human rights violations by members of the Organization of American States (OAS), which includes the United States. The merits phase The commission has jurisdiction to receive complaints against any OAS member state where it is upholding the rights set forth in the 1948 American declaration, said international law scholar Robert Goldman of American University Washington College of Law. “The commission is the only organization in the world that has compulsory jurisdiction over the United States,” he said. “The only way to escape jurisdiction is to denounce the OAS charter.” Having survived the “admissibility” phase, Lenahan’s case moves into the merits phase, in which there will be additional briefing and possibly another hearing. The commission may attempt a “friendly settlement,” noted Goldman, a former commission member.

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