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For Women's Right to Live Program

For Women's Right to Live
GHRC launched a campaign in 2005 to end the brutal violence against women in Guatemala that has claimed the lives of over 5,000 young women since 2000. There have been fewer than 30 sentences, which includes both convictions and acquittals. Police figures show that the violence continues; 708 women were killed in 2009 and over 630 in 2010. The Guatemalan government is doing little to stem the violence, so the international community must make its voice heard.

Violence Against Women
The rule of law in Guatemala is weak and the judicial system rarely works in favor of women victims of violence. Other factors complicate the situation, including the police force, which is underpaid and under trained; and the army, increasingly called out into the street to keep order.

The starkest expressions of Guatemala’s spiral into violence are the brutal murders of women. Since 2000, almost 5,000 women have been murdered in Guatemala, and each year the body count rises. In 2010 alone, 630 women were killed. By way of comparison, more women have been killed in one year in Guatemala than were murdered in the past decade in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

Perhaps the very horror and the astounding scope of these murders explain the silence and inaction of the Guatemalan government and the international community. “Everyone knows about the murdered women of Ciudad Juárez, but it’s as if the case of the murdered women of Guatemala were being hushed up,’’ noted Hilda Morales, of Guatemala’s No Violence Against Women Network. The US embassy, for one, has not expressed particular concern. When confronted with the issue of women’s murders in Guatemala, U.S. State Department officials respond that more men and children than women are being murdered. Indeed, the murders of men and children have also increased as the crime rate has risen, but the percentage of homicide victims who are women climbs every year. What differentiates the murders of women in Guatemala from the murders of men and children is not simply the numbers but the brutality of the killings. Most women are raped and tortured before being killed, and their mutilated bodies are left in public places, to be found by members of their communities.

While about a third of the murders are related to domestic violence, investigations suggest a less personal pattern in the other cases. Twenty-three police officers have been linked to ten of the murders, fueling the suspicion of many Guatemalan analysts that clandestine security forces linked to the police and to the army are murdering women with such brutality to foment political instability and a climate of terror. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission’s special investigator on women’s rights, like Guatemalan human rights leaders, found that the apparent objective of the brutal murders is to send a message of terror and intimidation. This intimidation, she noted, may lead women to retreat from participation in public life, gained with so much effort, and limit themselves again to the private world, abandoning their indispensable role in national development.

The Guatemalan government, by omission, is complicit in the terror. The low priority the government gives the issue of femicidio is reflected in the scant resources it allocates to investigators and the almost complete absence of prosecution. According to an investigative report in Guatemala’s newspaper Siglo XXI, only three police officers are actively investigating 257 cases of murdered women. Only international publicity and pressure will convince the Guatemalan government to protect its country’s women and hold those who slaughter them accountable.

Related Resources :

Guatemala Human Rights Commission

PBS NewsHour Series on Guatemala:
Guatemalan Women Struggle to Combat Violence (March 8, 2011)
In Guatemala, Religion and Tradition Conflict with Family Planning (March 9, 2011)

Dr. Roselyn Costantino
GHRC delegate and Assoc. Professor of Spanish and Women's Studies, Pennsylvania State University Altoona
Femicide, Impunity, and Citizenship: The Old and New in the Struggle for Justice in Guatemala (pdf) [2006]

Center for Gender and Refugee Studies

Amnesty International

Karen Musalo, Elisabeth Pellegrin, S. Shawn Roberts; Hastings Women's Law Journal
Crimes without Punishment: Violence Against Women in Guatemala [19 April 2010]

United Nations
Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Mission to Guatemala (pdf) [2005]

Washington Office on Latin America
Hidden in Plain Sight: Violence Against Women in Mexico and Guatemala (pdf) [2007]

Our Partners:

Survivor's Foundation (Fundación Sobrevivientes)

Women's Sector




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