European Court recognises cyberbullying as an aspect of violence against women and girls2 minute read.
Court: European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)
Date of judgment: 10 February 2020
The applicant – Ms Buturuga – lodged a complaint against her former husband, alleging that she had been the victim of domestic violence, and that he had threatened to kill her. The following month, she lodged a second complaint of fresh threats and violence, aimed at inducing her to withdraw her first complaint.
Buturuga also requested an electronic search of the family computer, alleging that her former husband had wrongfully consulted her electronic accounts – including her Facebook account – and had copied her private conversations, documents and photographs. Buturuga thereafter lodged a third complaint of breach of the confidentiality of her correspondence.
In February 2015, the prosecutor dismissed the complaint regarding domestic violence on the basis that it had not been sufficiently serious to warrant a criminal offence, and further dismissed the complaint regarding the breach of confidentiality on the basis that it was filed out of time.
Ruling of the ECtHR
Before the ECtHR, Buturuga argued that her rights in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights (European Convention) had been violated, particularly article 3 – prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment – and article 8 – right to respect for private and family life and correspondence.
With regard to the investigation into the allegations of ill-treatment, the Court noted that the domestic authorities had not addressed the facts from a domestic violence angle. Rather, their decisions had been based on the criminal code provisions penalising violence between private individuals, and not on those laying down harsher penalties for domestic violence. The ECtHR was of the view that the findings of the domestic authorities were questionable, as they had failed to identify the individual responsible for the injuries.
With regard to the investigation into the breach of confidentiality of Buturuga’s correspondence, the ECtHR pointed out in particular that cyberbullying was currently a recognised aspect of violence against women and girls, and could take on a variety of forms, including breaches of privacy, intrusions into the victim’s computer and the capture, sharing and manipulation of data and images, including private data. The ECtHR further accepted Buturuga’s argument that acts such as illicitly monitoring, accessing or saving one’s partner’s correspondence could be taken into account by the domestic authorities when investigating cases of domestic violence.
In the present case, however, the domestic authorities had failed to consider this ground of complaint, and had dismissed her request for an electronic search of the family computer. The ECtHR was of the view that the domestic authorities had been overly formalistic in their stance, and had failed to take into consideration the many forms taken on by domestic violence.
The ECtHR therefore held that Romania had failed in its positive obligations under articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention, and ordered the state to pay €10 000 to Buturuga.
The ECtHR case summary is accessible (in English) here.
The full judgment is accessible (in French) here.
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