From Iceland — Nine Women Filing Appeals Against Icelandic State With European Human Rights Court

Nine Women Filing Appeals Against Icelandic State With European Human Rights Court

Published March 10, 2021

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Council of Europe

Nine women who live in Iceland, including one of foreign origin, have all filed appeals against the Icelandic state with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on account of how police and courts have handled their respective cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, RÚV reports. Multiple examples of police and courts mishandling such cases were submitted, and this treatment is argued to be in breach of numerous European human rights laws, which Iceland is legally bound to abide.

One of the women involved, María Árna­dótt­ir, spoke candidly about her case last Monday. She filed a domestic violence case to the police in December 2017, and from there, things went from bad to worse.

María pointed out that survivors do not have the same access to case documentation as the accused does. She repeatedly contacted investigators for any updates on her case, and was repeatedly told that investigators were trying to reach the accused by phone. About seven months later, she was informed that investigations had concluded, which she found odd considering that neither direct nor indirect witnesses had yet been contacted.

After raising objections, investigators spoke to one witness, some nine months after charges were first filed. A statement from the accused was not taken for the first eight months of the investigation, either. Finally, in April 2019, she was informed that prosecutors did not believe there was enough evidence to file charges, and the case was dropped.

Another case concerns Nara Walker, an Australian living in Iceland, who attested to multiple instances of domestic violence and sexual abuse from her ex-husband. She pressed charges against him in 2017, which the police investigated and subsequently closed.

She was, in fact, convicted of assault for having bit part of his tongue off in an act of self-defense as he was assaulting her. No charges were filed against her ex-husband, despite evidence which included written statements from him admitting to assaulting her.

According to documents filed to EHCR that the Grapevine has reviewed, further frustrating the matter was the language barrier, and what appear to be mistakes made by the interpreter assigned to the case. Important details of statements made by her and her ex-husband were not accurately translated, which weakened the case further. Nonetheless, prosecutors concluded in August 2019 that there was no basis for continuing the case.

“The Applicant has suffered greatly because of the failure of the lcelandic State,” the application to the ECHR reads in part. “As described in Application No. 31606/L9, she, the victim of domestic violence, was imprisoned for defending herself once, while the authorities refused to investigate and prosecute T for repeated abuse against her.”

“As mentioned in application No. 3t6O6/L9, the Applicant is not registered in lceland under any form of visa,” the application continues. “As a convicted person, she in a legal vacuum of residence status without any means to support herself or even leave the country as she does not have the means to do so and no legal ways to obtain the means. She lacks the registration to work or even open a bank account or rent an apartment. The Applicant cannot access proper medical care, which has affected her rehabilitation to the injuries which her husband inflicted upon her. Through the kind heart of one psychologist, who has accepted not to send her invoices until her situation changes, she has been able to receive some assistance as to the psychological effects, which are severe (Document No. 5, 7 and 16).”

All nine of these women have similar stories of neglect and mishandling on the part of the police and the courts. This includes, but is not limited to, police and prosecutors taking too long to conduct investigations, that key evidence is overlooked or dismissed, including medical records of assault injuries, that confessions by perpetrators were not taken into consideration, and that denials from the accused are taken more seriously than survivor testimony.

The situation highlights the fact that all women living in Iceland are vulnerable to this unfair treamtent on behalf of the authorities, while women of foreign origin living in Iceland can be especially vulnerable due to language barriers, legal status, and a general lack of access to information and resources which may assist their cases.

As all of this is in violation of numerous European human rights laws, these matters are now being appealed to the ECHR. Updates on these cases will be reported on as they arise.

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