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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Failure to take into account gender-based violence suffered by victims has contributed to the inadequate response of the state. While the PNC collects statistics on complaints of rape, information as to whether the victim experienced sexual violence prior to being killed is not processed, except in cases where the cause of death was the rape itself (which occurred in one case during 2005). Statistics also point towards an under-reporting of violence against women in the family, an important contributing factor to murders of women. Between January and June 2005, 1,442 cases of violence against women in the family were registered in Guatemala but in only two murders of women during 2005 was the motive described as violence against women in the family.

While individual autopsy reports may include information as to whether the victim had suffered sexual violence prior to being killed, this information is lost in official statistics from the Forensic Investigation Service. Official statistics focus on the cause of death, leaving out data regarding sexual violence, mutilation and dismemberment, rendering invisible the nature, history and dimensions of gender-based violence suffered by many victims. For example, a female victim who has been raped, tortured and suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head will have these details recorded in the autopsy report, a paper document compiled by hand by a forensic doctor. However, as the data is processed upwards, in order to arrive at wider departmental or national statistics of male and female homicide victims, the female victim will simply be one of those termed "death by gunshot wound".

Commenting on the extent to which the nature and magnitude of gender-related violence is reflected in official documents the PDH remarked "the topic has hardly been touched upon in state institutions. A more aggressive method must be implemented without delay as without a gender perspective the investigation into the killing of a woman is contaminated. It is critical (determinante) in the questions witnesses and family members are asked, in the way the investigation is carried out and in the position in which the victim is found -- as a victim or as the instigator of her own death."(31)

According to information received by Amnesty International forensic specialists receive no training in relation to the documentation of sexual violence and it is not common practice for forensic experts to refer to international standards on the practice of forensic investigation which includes specific information not only on carrying out effective forensic investigations but also how to detect and investigate cases of sexual violence.(32)

- Persistence of discriminatory legislation

While there has been some progress in relation to gender-sensitive law reform, the persistence of discriminatory legislation continues to mean that many forms of gender-based violence against women -- in particular violence against women in the family and sexual harassment - go undetected. It also perpetuates violence against women and fosters a climate of impunity for crimes committed against women and girls.

On 8 March 2006, three Congressional Commissions issued a joint favourable opinion to a draft amendment which proposes the reform of the Guatemalan Penal Code in relation to violence against women. (33) The opinion includes the proposal to criminalize violence against women in the family (violencia intrafamiliar), to remove the legal provision that it is only a criminal offence to have sexual relations with a minor as long as the victim is considered "honest" (una mujer honesta),(34) to abolish Article 200 - which waives criminal responsibility for rape and certain other crimes of sexual violence (if the victim is more than 12 years old) upon the perpetrator's marriage with the victim - and to extend the definition of rape, including by making marital rape a criminal offence.