Guatemala: No protection, no justice: killings of women (an update)

July 18, 2006

Guatemala: No protection, no justice: killings of women (an update)

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One example of the manner in which family members are treated by government officials is the case of Rosa Franco, mother of María Isabel Franco, abducted and murdered in December 2001:

August 2005 was the last time I went to the prosecutor's office no. 5 in Mixco, as after that I didn't feel like going. The Assistant Prosecutor who was the one who processed the crime scene in the case of my daughter ...told me that my daughter was killed because she was a nobody, a prostitute...she began to laugh at me and I began to cry and her boss didn't say anything".
Rosa Franco talking to Amnesty International in April 2006.

Relatives of a number of victims have complained that state investigators have been quick to classify their family members as gang members, prostitutes or involved in drug trafficking and in so doing, relate their death to suspected stereotypical behaviour. A number of relatives have also complained about having to prove that their family member was "respectable" or that she had not been involved in any crime before the authorities would take their complaint seriously.

The struggle for justice

Fear of reprisals stops many families from seeking justice for the killing of their loved ones. However, with the support of women's NGOs some families have become increasingly vocal in their pursuit for justice.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 25 November 2005, numerous families took part in demonstrations in the capital, calling on the authorities to put an end to the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of violence against women. Following the demonstration, several relatives were reportedly threatened in apparent reprisal for public calls for investigations into violence against women. The family of Cristina Hernández took part in the demonstration, carrying a banner with a photo of Cristina and appearing in the media. On 7 December 2005, unidentified individuals went to Cristina's father's work place claiming they had a parcel to deliver from Miami and needed his home address, but refusing to identify themselves. Subsequent calls to the delivery agencies established that no such parcel existed.

Women's organizations that assist families of murder victims, give legal assistance in cases of sexual violence, or who have condemned the killings of women have also been subject to threats and attacks. For example, on 5 June 2006 both the offices of the Women's Sector (Sector de Mujeres), a group of non-governmental women's organizations, and the National Union of Guatemalan Women (Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas) were broken into.(44) It was the third time the offices of the Women's Sector had been broken into. Mobile phones and a fax machine were stolen and files containing sensitive information about their work were searched. Local human rights organisations believe the break-in was linked to the prominent role played by the Women's Sector in calling for an end to violence against women in Guatemala.

Since the launch of the report No protection, no justice Rosa Franco, mother of María Isabel Franco, has reported experiencing increased acts of harassment and intimidation, including unidentified individuals coming to her home and work place and anonymous calls in which the caller told her that she and her children were going to die. After repeated requests, including by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in February 2006 one police officer was finally stationed outside her home during the day from Monday to Friday.

María Elena Peralta - the sister of Nancy Peralta - has also experienced harassment as a result of her actions to draw attention not only to the case of her sister but also to the plight of other murdered women in Guatemala. On her return from a lobbying trip to the Netherlands in March 2006 the family received numerous anonymous telephone calls to their home.



Expectations have been raised, again and again, but results have rarely followed. Insecurity and inequality prevail, and a history of failed opportunities has created disenchantment in a population eager for change.