Nine women have sued the Icelandic state before the European Court of Human Rights for violating their right to a fair trial. All women are victims of rape, domestic violence and / or sexual harassment. They reported the crimes to the police and the prosecutor’s office discontinued the case. These women are supported by 13 women’s organizations in Iceland, which say that the vulnerability of women victims of violent crime is a general systemic problem in Iceland.
“The vast majority of reports of violence against women never go to court” – we read in the press release on the initiative. “The data shows that only 17% of reported rape cases go to court, and the rest are either dismissed by the prosecutor or the police drop the investigation. Only 13% of them end up with a conviction. The intention is to bring charges to the Human Rights Tribunal to highlight the problem and force the Icelandic state to respond internationally as to why the position of women who have been victims of violent crime in Iceland is so weak. ‘
These women were between 17 and 42 years old when they reported the crime. Most of these cases were reported to the police in the capital region. A thorough examination of their cases by lawyer Sigrún Ingibjörg Gísladóttir revealed various shortcomings in the investigation and handling of cases by the judicial system, the press release said.
Overall, the police had been investigating these cases for too long, giving defendants months to prepare for questioning and coordinating their testimony, and even made cases time-barred because of the time it took to summon defendants for questioning. In some cases, the police did not call key witnesses for questioning or ignored the testimony of witnesses in favor of the victims. Evidence available in the cases, including physical injuries, damage to property, and testimonials from psychologists, was also not taken into account.
13 women’s organizations, including women’s shelters, counseling centers, the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association and UN Women Iceland, held a joint press conference today to announce the initiative. These organizations also released a video last weekend revealing how few sexual assault cases result in perpetrators being sentenced.
The organizations also call for immediate changes to the judicial system to empower women who are victims of violent crime. It goes, among others to involve them more directly in criminal proceedings. Currently, victims are only witnesses in their own case and therefore have little right to follow up or make comments. It also calls for more resources to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of sexual crimes and partner violence.
The press release acknowledged that the European Court of Human Rights has many cases on the table. Hence, the expectations of obtaining a substantive decision in favor of the applicants are moderate. The process is expected to take 5-6 years.