Guatemala’s war on women

Jorge Velazquez struggled to watch the news this week. The news headlines in Guatemala, which has one of highest murder rates in the world, are often enough to upset anyone. But when Jorge recently saw the news that two young girls, aged around six and 12, had been found strangled to death in a street in Guatemala City, suddenly a flood of memories came back to him. Nearly 10 years ago now, Jorge’s daughter, 19-year-old Claudina, was found dead. She had been brutally murdered and her body dumped in a back street in Guatemala City. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to find those responsible for the murder. He has visited the Public Prosecutor’s Office countless times and suggested lines of investigation and pushed for his daughter’s case to be resolved. However, no visible progress has been made. Amnesty International, among other human rights organizations, found serious deficiencies in the effectiveness of the investigation – for example, tests were not carried out on the main suspects to ascertain if they had fired a gun, and the authorities tried to hand Claudina’s clothing back to her family rather than carrying out forensic tests…   Claudina’s killers have never been found. “I think that the situation has reached this point because of society’s indifference, people don’t react to anything. Indignation alone is not enough: it has to be expressed,” Jorge said. Unfortunately, Claudina’s story is not unusual in Guatemala. Despite promises made by successive Presidents to fight crime and violence against women and a law passed by Congress in 2008 for the establishment of special tribunals and sentencing guidelines, the figures continue to tell a different story. In 2012 alone, and according to official figures, around 560 women were murdered across the Central American country, many after being sexually assaulted. Most cases are not effectively investigated and less than four per cent of all homicides in Guatemala result in perpetrators being convicted. Rosa Franco knows all too well what Jorge is going through. Her 15-year-old daughter, Maria Isabel. was found dead in December 2001. Rosa saw her for the last time on the morning of 16 December, before Maria Isabel went to work at a local shopping mall for the first time. After Maria failed to return home, Rosa began a search. Three days later, she turned on the TV and saw an image of her daughter in the news bulletin. Her body had been found dumped in a street in Guatemala City. “I had trouble recognizing her,” she remembers now. Since then, Rosa has been trying to secure a proper investigation into what happened to Maria Isabel and has faced death threats and harassment by unknown individuals. The investigation was delayed so many times that Rosa took her claim to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the highest human rights body in the region), which in October 2006 took on the case saying the Guatemalan State had delayed their investigations with no good reason. The case has now been referred up to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, increasing the pressure on the Guatemalan authorities to act. “If she had been a congressman’s daughter or a minister’s daughter they would go and get the people. They don’t care. They say she was a gang member, a prostitute. They said that to my face, the person who is handling the case,” Rosa said. Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Guatemalan authorities to take steps to address gender violence and implement measures to protect women from violence, and ensure that investigations and prosecutions into all killings are conducted in a effective, timely and thorough manner. . “I would ask the government to react, to stop lying, to stop telling us that the situation is better: you cannot say the situation is getting better if horrible crimes such as these continue to take place. I would ask the government to comply with their duty to protect us, which is the basic role of any government,” said Jorge.