On the 20th of April 2023, the CJEU published the Advocate’s General Opinion in respect of C-621/21. The Administrative Court of Sofia, Bulgaria, submitted a preliminary question as to whether the concept of ‘gender-based violence against women’ constitutes a ground for granting international protection. The case concerns an applicant, who claims that she will face the risk of being a victim of an honour crime or a forced marriage and of being exposed to acts of domestic violence if she returns to her country of origin.

Advocate General Richard de la Tour (AG) stated that Article 2(d) of the Qualification Directive provides that gender-related aspects, including gender identity, are to be given due consideration to for the purposes of determining membership of a ‘particular social group’. In the context of eligibility for a refugee status, a person may be considered to belong to a ‘particular social group’ by reason of her gender provided that it is established that she has a distinct identity in her country of origin because she is perceived differently by the surrounding society. The nature of the acts to which this person fears being exposed if she is returned to her country of origin is a relevant element which the competent national authority must take into consideration when assessing the claim. Acts of domestic violence may be reflected in acts of extreme seriousness and in repeated violence capable of leading to a serious breach of the fundamental rights of the person concerned.

As regards the granting of subsidiary protection, the AG stated that when the national authority establishes that, if returned to her country of origin, that person would face the risk of being executed in the name of the honour of her family or community or of being the victim of acts of torture or of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment resulting from domestic or gender-based violence, that authority is required to classify those acts as constituting ‘serious harm’.