March 25, 2008 (NEW YORK) – Jessica Lenahan, formerly Gonzales, whose three daughters were killed when local police refused to enforce a restraining order against her former husband, today filed the merits brief in her case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The merits brief introduces evidence on the failure of the Colorado authorities to investigate the girls’ deaths. Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union represent Lenahan.
Jessica Ruth Gonzales v. United States of America marks the first time an individual complaint by a victim of domestic violence has been brought against the United States for international human rights violations. The original complaint filed in December 2005 at the Inter-American Commission argued that by failing to enforce a restraining order the police had violated the human rights of both Lenahan and her daughters. The merits brief adds that under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man there is a right to truth and a government’s duty to investigate, which were also not met.
“I have been waiting for justice for my children’s deaths for more than eight years,” said Lenahan. “Finally, I have hope that an official body will say that what happened was wrong.”
In 1999, Jessica Lenahan (then Gonzales) filed a lawsuit against the Castle Rock, Colo. Police Department for failing to respond to her pleas for help after her husband abducted the children, even though she had an order of protection against him. In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Ms. Gonzales had no constitutional right to police enforcement of her restraining order. The Inter-American Commission petition was filed after the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“We are now headed toward the final stage in a long process that will ultimately lay bare the grave violations of Jessica Gonzales’ rights,” said Caroline Bettinger-López of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic.
Araceli Martínez-Olguin, an attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project said, “Jessica Lenahan was forced to turn to an international body because the U.S. legal system failed to provide her with even a bare modicum of justice. We hope that this action will ensure that other domestic violence survivors in this country and all of the Americas have legal recourse when their human rights are violated by their governments.”
Caroline Bettinger-López, Columbia Law Professor Peter Rosenblum and students Rachel Barish, Elizabeth Howell, Crystal Lopez, Helen Ronen, Fabrice Van Michel and Jacqui Zalcberg of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic have teamed with Steven Watt, Lenora Lapidus, Emily Martin and Araceli Martínez-Olguin from the American Civil Liberties Union in Lenahan’s (Gonzales) representation.
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