Guatemala: No protection, no justice: killings of women (an update)
At approximately 9:30 pm on 27 July 2005, 20-year-old university student Cristina Hernández(1) was forced nto a grey car outside her home by four men. Neighbours witnessed the abduction and immediately alerted her father who later related:
I borrowed a car from a neighbour and my son and I tried to chase them in the car. Then I went to San Juan police station and begged the police to try to stop their car. I begged them to put up road blocks to stop them and catch them. Then after two hours of searching everywhere I went back to the police station to see if they had any news...they claimed I hadn't reported anything and so they'd done nothing. Then my brother-in-law went to the homicide department; and they said nothing could be done. They said many young girls run off with boyfriends; and so they couldn't start a search for 24 hours.(2)
The next morning her dead body was found. She had been shot four times and bitten all over her body. Instead of being subjected to a forensic examination, all but one item of clothing she was wearing were returned to the family. When the family presented the clothes to the Public Ministry to assist in the investigation, they were reportedly told to burn them or throw them away. Soon after Cristina's murder, in fear for their safety, the family went into hiding where they remain at the time of writing. Nearly one year on, and despite the existence of critical leads, including witnesses and a potential suspect-- no further investigations have been carried out. Her killers remain at large.
In June 2005 Amnesty International published a report No protection, no justice: killings of women in Guatemala(3) to highlight the murder of women and girls in Guatemala and the state's failure to exercise due diligence in preventing, investigating and punishing these crimes. The report examined the extreme brutality of the killings, which are also frequently characterized by sexual violence, and the serious and persistent shortcomings at every stage of the investigative process. It also looked at the discrimination that lies at the heart of gender-based violence experienced by women in Guatemalan society and some of the laws, and investigative and judicial practices that perpetuate such discrimination.
The organization made 14 key recommendations to President Óscar Berger and other state institutions calling for immediate action in five key areas:
- Immediate, coordinated, full and effective investigations into all cases of abduction and murder of women and girls, ensuring that international standards, in particular in relation to crime scene investigation and autopsies, are followed;
- Urgent search mechanisms in cases of women and girls reported missing as well as a comprehensive data collection system of women reported missing;
- The incorporation of a gender perspective into the analysis and treatment of violence against women in policing and judicial practice, including the introduction of standard guidelines and procedures to cover all stages of criminal investigations;
- Promotion of a campaign for zero tolerance of acts of violence against women and that those responsible, including members of the security forces and non-state actors, will be brought to justice;
- The removal of discriminatory legislation in line with international standards on violence against women.
Although the government has begun to take action to address some of these issues, these measures have been limited and insufficient to effectively address the scale and severity of the problem.
This report considers developments over the last year and makes a number of recommendations on issues that require urgent attention.