Human Rights Defender at Risk
Norma Cruz has received numerous death threats for her work documenting cases of violence against women in Guatemala and helping women fight for justice.
She leads Fundación Sobrevivientes (Survivors' Foundation), a women's rights organization based in Guatemala City. Some of her relatives have also suffered threats and attacks.
Guatemalan human rights organizations continue to report attacks and threats against human rights defenders, trade unionists and grassroots political and social activists. Most of these people do not receive an adequate response from the state. The authorities usually fail to provide effective protection measures in a timely manner and to fully investigate the attacks.
Join us in calling on the Attorney General to investigate the death threats against human rights defender Norma Cruz, and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.
Since May 2009, Norma Cruz has received dozens of threats relating to her organization's provision of legal assistance in the case of a girl who was raped. The threats warn of fatal consequences if Norma Cruz does not stop working on the case.
Threats have been sent by text message and by phone, both to her mobile phone and to the office of Fundación Sobrevivientes. One man has been charged with making two of the death threats sent in 2009. He has since been released on bail.
However, the Public Prosecutor's Office has not reported any progress in the investigation into the remaining death threats against Norma Cruz, her relatives or members of the Fundación Sobrevivientes. Even though the Guatemalan authorities have provided Norma Cruz, her family and her office with police protection, the threats continue. To date, nobody has yet been held to account.
Violence against women, including rape and killings, is a widespread human rights concern in Guatemala and the authorities have failed to provide an effective response. According to official data, 717 women were killed in 2009 compared to 687 in the previous year. Students, professionals, domestic employees, unskilled workers, members or former members of street youth gangs and sex workers have been targeted. In most cases, the gender of the victim may be the motive behind the killing or a significant factor in the kind of violence suffered by the woman. Many of them are raped or subjected to some other form of sexual violence before they die.
The suffering of the relatives of murdered women is compounded by the knowledge that they will almost certainly never have access to truth and justice. In the vast majority of the cases, prosecutors fail to carry out thorough investigations and some of them have tended simply to blame the victim. The high level of impunity does not deter the assailants as they can continue to commit these crimes in the almost complete certainty that they will not be held to account.
The Fundación Sobrevivientes, originally a women's support center, opened on July 3, 1996. Nowadays, Norma Cruz and her team provide a wide range of services to women who suffer acts of violence. They run a crisis shelter that can accommodate up to 20 women, adolescents and children. Over the course of 2009 around 110 of them stayed at the shelter. They also offer legal support for those who are brave enough to take action through the courts, to bring those responsible to justice.
Norma Cruz also campaigns for justice with the relatives of murdered women. Guatemala has seen a notable increase in the number of women killed over the last decade and the state has largely failed to investigate these crimes.