Academic journal article Social Justice

Crimes without Punishment: An Update on Violence against Women and Impunity in Guatemala

Academic journal article Social Justice

Crimes without Punishment: An Update on Violence against Women and Impunity in Guatemala

Article excerpt

Introduction (1)

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide, or gender-motivated killing of women, in the world (Geneva Declaration 2001, 119-20). It is estimated that more than 6, 500 women were the victims of violent killings between 2000 and 2012, and thousands more were raped and battered. (2) In 2011, more than 20, 000 cases were filed with the courts under Guatemala's 2008 Ley contra el femicidio y otras formas de violencia contra la mujer (Law against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women) (Decreto del Congreso No. 22-2008; hereinafter 2008 Law), including cases of femicide and other physical, sexual, economic, and emotional violence against women (CENADOJ 2012). Less than 3 percent of the cases that reached the courts resulted in a judgment (CENADOJ 2012). The Guatemala Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2012) stated in a recent report that femicide and gender-based violence are "of utmost concern" and that "the cruelty with which some of these crimes [have been] perpetrated [in Guatemala] shows how deeply rooted patterns of discrimination are in society, and also reveals the lack of institutional measures to tackle them." Similarly, in May 2012, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) sent the first ever Guatemala femicide case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, admonishing the Guatemalan government for "creating an environment conducive to the chronic repetition of acts of violence against women" (IACHR 2012b). Indeed, much international attention has been drawn to the phenomenon of violence against women in Guatemala and the lack of an effective government response. (3)

This article provides an update on femicide and other violence against women and discusses the impunity for such crimes in Guatemala. (4) We first provide a brief overview of the prevalence and patterns of violence against women in Guatemala. (5) We then examine the principal barriers to effective implementation of the laws on gender violence and provide conclusions and recommendations based thereon. We recommend that--beyond the creation of additional specialized courts, continued trainings of justice system officials, and improved investigatory procedures--the Guatemalan government should institute a monitoring program to evaluate the performance of public officials in carrying out their obligations to apply the laws on gender violence. Additionally, a system to impose disciplinary actions is recommended, including ultimate dismissal of those who fail to apply the laws effectively and without gender bias.

Violence against Women Is Pervasive in Guatemala and Occurs in the Context of Deep-Rooted Gender Discrimination

The situation is grim in Guatemala. Women are subjected to many forms of grave gender-motivated harm. The violence, documented by numerous studies, is particularly brutal and occurs at some of the highest rates in the world. Moreover, studies highlight the correlation between domestic violence and femicide in the country, demonstrating the dire consequences of the state's unsuccessful interventions.

Violence against women pervades all sectors of Guatemalan society. The violence takes many forms, including intra-familial (or domestic) violence, sexual violence, incest, human trafficking, and, at the extreme end of the spectrum, femicide (see Portillo Najera 2012). The numbers are high and on the rise. In 2011, 20, 398 complaints of violence against women under the 2008 Law were filed with the courts, up from 19, 277 registered cases under the 2008 Law in 2010 (CENADOJ 2012). These complaints were for cases involving femicide and other physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence. In comparison, Paraguay, which is similar to Guatemala in many respects and where violence against women is seen as an increasingly serious problem, recorded only 2, 424 cases of violence against women in 2011 (Ministerio de la Mujer 2012). …

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