The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ ruling that Guatemalan authorities failed to investigate the tragic murder of a teenage girl sends a strong message to governments around the world that failure to address violence against women will not be tolerated, said Amnesty International ahead of a press conference on the ruling in Guatemala City today.
The case was brought by the mother of María Isabel Veliz Franco, a 15-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted, tortured and brutally murdered in Guatemala in 2001. On Monday 28 July, the court found that not only had Guatemalan authorities failed to properly investigate the murder, but that they had failed to address and resolve the ingrained culture of violence and discrimination against women that permeates Guatemalan society, which led to a flawed investigation.
“This is a hugely important moment marking the legal responsibility of a government to create and maintain an environment where women and girls are protected from violence and where there is accountability when violations occur. But María Isabel’s family and supporters can not rest until those responsible for her horrific death are investigated and prosecuted,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Guatemala researcher at Amnesty International.
“The lessons of this case will only be learnt once the deaths of all women and girls murdered in Guatemala are taken seriously, and concrete steps are taken to prevent violence against women and create a safe and respectful society for all.”
In December 2001 María Isabel Veliz Franco was kidnapped in Guatemala City. Days later her body was found. She had been raped, bound with barbed wire on her hands and feet, stabbed, strangled and put in a bag. Her face was disfigured from being punched, her body was punctured with small holes, there was a rope around her neck and her nails were bent back.
Witnesses provided evidence that identified prime suspects, but the prosecutor’s office failed to investigate thoroughly.
Sadly, the brutal physical and sexual violence inflicted on María Isabel following her abduction is a characteristic common to many of the hundreds of killings of women and girls in Guatemala. Last year, according to state figures, 522 women were killed.
The Inter-American Court noted attempts by the Guatemalan authorities to address this atmosphere of violence, but also noted that the country has a high rate of impunity for such crimes, and that the “majority of violent acts that lead to the deaths of women remain unpunished”.
Amnesty International is calling on the Guatemalan government to heed and completely implement the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling.
“Women and girls like María Isabel must never again have to face the trauma, deaths and injustices created by a society that allows such violence against women,” said Sebastian Elgueta.
María Isabel’s mother Rosa Elvira Franco Sandoval has fought long and hard to get authorities to investigate her daughter’s death and has subsequently faced death threats and harassment by unknown individuals.
The Guatemalan authorities’ investigations into her daughter’s murder were delayed so many times that Rosa Elvira took her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2004 and finally to the Inter-American Court.
Earlier this week the court found that the Guatemalan State had failed to protect María Isabel’s right to life and personal integrity as well as her family’s right to a fair judicial process and legal remedy.
Serious concerns were raised about the investigation into the teenager’s death. The ruling explains that: “Gender stereotypes [in Guatemala] had a negative influence on the investigation in that they laid the blame [for the murder] on the victim and her family, closing off other lines of investigation.”
The court ordered the State to conduct an efficient investigation to identify, process and punish those responsible for the death of María Isabel, and to strengthen and develop its legal framework protecting women and girls against violence.
Amnesty International campaigned on this case. In 2013 Vice President Roxana Baldetti received more than 1,000 letters from the organization’s members and supporters from all over the world, calling for action in the case.