Guatemala: No protection, no justice: killings of women (an update)

July 18, 2006

Guatemala: No protection, no justice: killings of women (an update)

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In common with some other Central American countries, Guatemala experiences high levels of violent crime. State authorities have come under criticism for what many perceive as a failure to control spiralling violence and to provide public security. The murder rate for both men and women has continued to rise, with 23 % more murders in 2005 (5,338 murders) as compared to 2004 (4,346 murders) according to police figures, with 2005 figures representing the highest figures since the end of Guatemala's internal armed conflict (1960-1996). This places Guatemala amongst the countries with the highest murder rates in Latin America, with approximately 44 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.(10)

The precise number of women who have been murdered continues to be disputed with the Public Ministry, the National Civilian Police (PNC) and the Judiciary generating and referring to different statistics.(11) Establishing a comprehensive overview of the statistics regarding both the numbers of women killed as well as the identity of the perpetrators is still therefore extremely difficult. According to the police unit charged with the investigation of murders of women in the department of Guatemala, during 2005 there were up to a total of 665 murders of women throughout the country - 246 murders of women in the department of Guatemala alone -- a 26 % increase from 2004 (527). (12)

Around 4,800 men were murdered in Guatemala in 2005. These cases also appear not to be investigated effectively with press reports indicating that only four percent of cases end in criminal sentences.(13) Many of the concerns expressed in this report apply equally to the failure to adequately investigate murders whether of men or women. Unlike the murders of men, however, in cases of women, the gender of the woman is a determining factor in the motive of the crime, the way women are killed (female victims often suffering exceptional brutality before being killed including rape, mutilation and dismemberment), and the way in which the authorities respond to the case.

It is difficult to establish a clear picture regarding the extent of the violence perpetrated against women or to draw conclusions regarding the identity or the motives of the perpetrators due to the poor quality of investigations and the absence of documentation regarding gender-based violence suffered by the victim prior to being killed. In the absence of thorough investigations, various non governmental organizations (NGOs) and other groups have presented their own investigations and analysis regarding the reasons behind the killings.(14)

According to research carried out by the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office (Procuradoría de Derechos Humanos -- PDH) in the majority (80%) of cases of murdered men they are killed using fire arms with no intimate physical contact between the victim and the perpetrator. In the case of women, however, 69% are murdered using a firearm and in 31% of cases the attackers use direct physical violence (knives, blunt objects, strangulation).(15) Many victims are raped, tortured or mutilated before being killed. According to the PDH, "the difference is that in the case of women they make them suffer more before being killed."(16)

Continued impunity for killings