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On Oct. 5, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights declared in a landmark “admissibility” decision that it had competence to examine the human rights claims of Jessica Gonzales, a domestic violence survivor from Colorado whose three children were killed when local police failed to enforce a restraining order against her estranged husband. The decision marked the first time the commission recognized that the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, a foundational human rights instrument, imposes affirmative obligations on the United States to protect individuals from private acts of violence. In so deciding, the commission held the United States to well-established international standards and rejected the State Department’s position that the declaration does not create such positive obligations. The ruling will permit an ultimate determination as to whether the United States has violated Gonzales’ human rights. It also has the potential to spur far broader systemic reforms in U.S. law and policy on domestic violence. The details of the case are gruesome and tragic. In June 1999, Jessica Gonzales’ estranged husband, Simon Gonzales, abducted her three young daughters, in violation of a domestic violence restraining order. Ms. Gonzales contacted the Castle Rock, Colo., Police Department repeatedly to report the incident. Her calls went unheeded, despite Colorado’s “mandatory arrest law” requiring the police to attempt to arrest her husband. Nearly 10 hours after her first call to the police, Mr. Gonzales arrived at the police station and opened fire. The police shot and killed him, and then discovered the bodies of the three Gonzales children in his truck. Jessica Gonzales filed a � 1983 lawsuit against the police in federal court, alleging 14th Amendment due process violations. Her case was dismissed, and, in Castle Rock v. Gonzales, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately held in June 2005 that she had no personal entitlement to police enforcement of her restraining order under the due process clause. Resolved to seek justice, Gonzales filed a petition against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in December 2005. She alleged that the United States, under international principles of state responsibility, was responsible under the American Declaration for human rights violations resulting from the police department’s inaction and the high court’s decision. Specifically, she invoked the rights to life, freedom from inhumane treatment, equal protection, privacy, an adequate and effective remedy, and special protections for women and children. The petition directly challenged Supreme Court jurisprudence � most notably, DeShaney v. Winnebago County (1989) , an influential case holding that the government, in most situations, has no duty to protect individuals from private violence. An opportune moment For years, advocates have criticized DeShaney as marking a radical departure from our constitutional tradition and contravening international human rights law and state practice. They have pointed to Europe and Latin America as places where affirmative governmental obligations are familiar and well-accepted. The commission’s recognition that the police, courts and other governmental agencies must act with due diligence to prevent domestic violence, protect victims known to be at risk and provide remedies is thus a pivotal moment in human rights advocacy. Importantly, the commission’s decision is merely at the admissibility stage. An ultimate “merits” determination is at least six months away. Now, however, is an opportune moment for the United States to take meaningful steps toward fulfilling its positive obligations. What would a proactive, good-faith approach toward protecting the human rights of domestic violence victims look like? First, the United States needs to overhaul its legislative and programmatic response to domestic violence by increasing funding and improving data collection; requiring judges, prosecutors and police to undergo annual training sessions; and setting quantifiable benchmarks and timetables for state compliance with international obligations. Second, it must ratify, without reservation, international human and women’s rights treaties that it has historically shunned despite other countries’ broad participation. The commission has set a human rights standard for the United States that, if followed, would bring our country into conformity with well-recognized and respected international norms and practices. It is a standard that the American people should embrace as in keeping with our obligations as members of � indeed leaders in � the international community. Equally fundamental, it is a standard that gets us back to our constitutional roots. Although the commission’s decision is not directly enforceable in U.S. courts, it has immediate importance for human rights advocacy here and throughout the Americas because of the new category of claims it makes cognizable under the American Declaration and against the United States. The commission will now decide whether a human rights violation occurred. This second phase holds great promise to provide closure to Jessica Gonzales and to prevent her tragedy from being repeated. Caroline Bettinger-L�pez is a human rights fellow and attorney at Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Institute. She is lead counsel in Gonzales v. U.S., a case co-counseled by the clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union, now pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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