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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Amnesty International welcomes these proposals as a critical step towards the removal of legislation that is discriminatory towards women. The organization is concerned, however, that four years after the original reform proposal was presented to Congress, and after two previous favourable opinions, without the necessary political will and momentum, these reforms may yet again stall at the approval stage in Congress. (35) While some individual deputies and the Congressional Commission on Women have demonstrated political will to remove discriminatory legislation, Congress at large has thus far failed to legislate to remove such legislation. (36) As noted by CEDAW in relation to the consideration of Guatemala's sixth periodic report, implementation of legal measures to protect women's rights and promote women's empowerment would not be easy as much of Guatemala's male-dominated Congress had been reluctant to approve draft legislation in that regard and that the existing imbalance among the three branches of the State, (which) results in the resistance to adopt and modify legislation aimed at protecting women's human rights. (37)

In addition, certain other key proposals are not included in the opinion, such as the proposal to criminalize sexual harassment.(38) Furthermore, while the recent Congressional Commission's opinion proposes amending Article 106 of the Penal Code, the provision which allows the victim to pardon the perpetrator in cases that are not prosecutable ex-officio, including cases of rape and other sexual crime, still remains, making victims vulnerable to pressure not to file complaints.(39)

In December 2005, Article 200 was temporarily suspended, after the PDH challenged its constitutionality. Pending the final decision as to the legal validity of the Article, in cases of rape of minors (over 12 years old), criminal responsibility cannot be waived with the marriage of the rape victim and her rapist. (40) In cases that occurred prior to December 2005, however, Article 200 can still apply.

Obligations towards victims and their families

- Blaming the victim
The investigator said they thought Claudina was a nobody because she was wearing sandals and a belly button ring. Father of Claudina Velásquez Paíz.

The ongoing suffering of hundreds of relatives seeking justice for women and girls who have been brutally killed, is exacerbated by the indifference and discrimination they face when they seek help from the authorities. Of particular importance is the tendency to discredit the victims by placing the blame for their deaths on their conduct or background. Amnesty International believes that this suffering caused to relatives often amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.(41) In May 2006 the Committee against Torture (CAT) published its concluding observations following the consideration of Guatemala's fourth periodic report. It expressed its deep concern regarding the "increase in the number of cases of women brutally murdered, often with sexual violence, mutilations and torture. The fact that these killings are not investigated exacerbates the suffering of family members seeking justice; furthermore, family members complain that during the investigative and judicial process the authorities discriminate on the grounds of gender."(42)

Such attitudes are evident in public statements by government officials. On 5 May 2006, for example, the Chief of Police stated publicly that in order to prevent the murders of women it is necessary to "ask them not to get involved in street gangs and to avoid violence within the family, which we as police cannot do" and attributed more than 60% of the cases to these causes.(43) The perception that women are to blame for their own deaths influences the subsequent investigatory and prosecutory process and places the responsibility of prevention on women themselves, rather than with government authorities responsible for the prevention of violence against women. To Amnesty International's knowledge no steps have been taken to change the perception that many women are in some way to blame for their own deaths or to sanction officials that make such statements.