This article is based on the book 'Domestic Violence and International Law'. The book emanates from the tragic uniformity of domestic violence stories by women around the world. Equally disquieting is the uniformity of the state’s non-response. The remedies that exist in the public world simply fail to permeate into the private sphere to attenuate intimate harm.

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Bonita Meyersfeld

The book provides a detailed legal analysis as to why a state should be accountable in international law for allowing women (and other marginalised or vulnerable groups) to suffer extreme forms of domestic violence and how the system of international law can help individual victims. The argument is based on a theory of non-coercive state compliance with international law and the principles of state responsibility.

It seeks to reformulate academic and political debate on domestic violence and the responsibility of states under international law, mapping the extensive recent developments in the UN, European, Inter-American, African and other global legal systems. It is based on empirical data combined with an honest assessment of whether or not domestic violence in its myriad forms is a violation of international human rights law and what possible benefit there could be in confirming such a principle of law.

The book discusses the sources of international law and how we use those sources to determine whether or not there is a principle of law. This analysis is used to determine whether there is an international law regulating states’ approach to domestic violence; what we mean when we talk about ‘domestic violence’ as a human rights violation (i.e. spectrum of harm, severity and continuum); if this is a principle of human rights law, how does it square with the principles of state responsibility; and, looking at three states’ reports to CEDAW since 1984 (Nicaragua, Sweden and Mexico), can we say that the internationalisation of violence against women, and specially domestic violence, has made a difference in state practice and, ultimately, the experience of the individual victim or survivor.