In 2007, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the Commission) 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. Jessica Gonzales v. United States marks the first time the Commission has been asked to consider the nature and extent of the U.S.'s affirmative obligations to protect individuals from private acts of violence under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (American Declaration or Declaration). The Commission's admissibility decision rejects the U.S. State Department's position that the Declaration, which does not explicitly articulate state obligations vis a vis the rights contained therein, does not create positive governmental obligations. Instead, the decision holds the U.S. to well-established international standards on state responsibility to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, and punish human rights violations and protect and compensate victims.
The Commission will next decide, in the merits phase of the case, whether the U.S. violated the human rights of Jessica Gonzales and her children. The merits decision, anticipated in 2008, will have profound consequences for Ms. Gonzales on a personal level. It also has the potential to expand international human rights norms and spur systemic reforms in law and policy in the U.S.