NEW YORK - July 18 - Killings of women in Guatemala have risen for the fourth consecutive year since 2001, yet Guatemalan authorities are still failing to effectively investigate and punish those responsible, Amnesty International said in a new report today.
"Murderers continue to kill in Guatemala because they know they probably won't be prosecuted -- let alone convicted," said Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "The Guatemalan government bears the ultimate responsibility for the safety of Guatemalan women, but, so far, it has not taken the necessary initiative."
More than 2,200 women and girls have been brutally murdered in Guatemala since 2001. Up to 665 cases were registered in 2005; 527 in 2004; 383 in 2003 and 163 in 2002. In 2006, 299 cases have been reported between January and May -- a faster pace than in 2005.
In addition to lobbying Guatemalan authorities to address the issue, Amnesty International has campaigned for U.S. officials to confront the problem. In May, 117 Members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter in which they urged the State Department to call on the Guatemalan government to take prompt and effective action to address the killings of women. The letter also urged the State Department to provide technical assistance to Guatemala to promote the proper investigation, prosecution and punishment of these crimes.
Amnesty International's 14-page report, Guatemala: No protection, no justice -- killings of women (an update), is part of the organization's Stop Violence Against Women campaign and follows a 2005 study that outlined 14 specific recommendations to Guatemalan President Oscar Berger and state institutions. Although the government has begun to take action to address the murders, the measures have been limited and insufficient to effectively address the scale and severity of the problem. So far, the efforts have not had a real impact on the numbers of women killed -- or the ability of police and prosecutors to effectively investigate murders and bring those responsible to justice.
According to Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman, up to 70 percent of murders of women were not investigated and no arrests were made in 97 percent of cases. In the few cases that are investigated, the process is usually flawed -- forensic evidence is not properly gathered and preserved, few resources are allocated to each case and witnesses are denied protection.
The report includes the case of 26-year-old Clara Fabiola García, who was shot and killed in the town of Chimaltenango in July 2005. Two years earlier, Clara Fabiola had witnessed the murders of two young women in Guatemala City. Her testimony was key to securing the 100-year prison sentence against gang member Oscar Gabriel Morales Ortiz, alias “Small,” in February 2005. According to media reports, “Small” had threatened Clara Fabiola, saying she would pay for testifying against him. No one has been prosecuted for the murder of Clara Fabiola.
Amnesty International found that in hundreds of cases, victims are blamed for their own deaths. In May 2006, Guatemala's 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.” This statement was an affront to the government's obligation to prevent, investigate and prosecute violence against women no matter the circumstances.
In many cases, the survivors, families and witnesses of gender-based violence are too afraid to give testimony for fear of reprisals.
Female murder victims in Guatemala often suffer exceptional brutality before being killed, including rape, mutilation and dismemberment. The failure of Guatemalan authorities to take into account the gender-based nature of the violence suffered by victims has contributed to the inadequacy of the response.
"These brutal killings are an outrage -- and the Guatemalan government's timid response only exacerbates the problem," said Eric Olson, Advocacy Director for the Americas at AIUSA. "The government should take specific steps to improve the capacity of the police and justice sectors to respond effectively to this tragedy.”
Amnesty International calls on President Berger to take urgent steps to:
Improve coordination and cooperation between state agencies;
Strengthen the Public Ministry's Witness Protection Program; and to
Guarantee the availability of human and financial resources for the National Forensic Institute.
For a copy of Guatemala: No protection, no justice – killings of women (an update), please see: