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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"Claudina was killed by one thing: impunity...Claudina's killer knew that the likelihood of him being found was very remote" -- father of 19-year-old law student Claudina Velásquez Paíz, murdered on 13 August 2005.

"Impunity" is the issue relatives often refer to as being one of the major contributing factors to the deaths of their loved ones. The failure of the authorities to identify, detain and bring to justice those responsible for the killings of women and girls sends the message to perpetrators that they will not be held accountable for their actions.

Judicial authorities do not collect disaggregated statistics for the number of sentences in cases of murdered women and girls, making it difficult to obtain an accurate picture of the number of successful prosecutions at a national level in cases of women killed and whether the number is increasing. To Amnesty International's knowledge convictions for cases of women killed between 2002 and 2004 were secured in 15 cases in 2005.(17) At the time of writing, only two cases of killings in 2005 had resulted in convictions.(18) As noted by the PDH no arrests were made in 97% of cases,(19) more than 70% of the cases have not been investigated and the motive for the killing is unknown.(20) The lack of physical or scientific evidence to back up witness testimony means that if cases reach the courts suspects are often acquitted for lack of evidence.

Of the cases monitored by Amnesty International, there have been only two convictions. In the case of the rape and murder of Oliberta Elizabeth Calel Gómez, on 2 April 2005 former police agent Bartolome Teni Cu was sentenced to 60 years -- 50 years for the murder and 10 years for the rape. The friend that was with her at the time but who managed to escape was able to testify against him. In the case of 17-year-old Andrea Fabiola Contreras Bacaro who was raped and murdered in June 2004 in Jocotenango, Sacatepéquez, and who had the word "vengeance" carved into her leg, in February 2005 Otto René Argueta was sentenced to 35 years.

Official statistics continue to mask low prosecution rates. While the Public Ministry's annual report classifies nearly 42% of the cases attended to by the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Life during 2005 as "solved", in only 3.8% of these cases was a formal accusation presented and in only 1% of cases did a court hearing take place. The majority (23.8%) of cases classified as "solved" were "archivado" (cases where the Public Ministry desisted from the prosecution either because of alleged lack of collaboration from witnesses or family members, at the request of victims' families or due to lack of evidence), "dismissed" (desestimaciones y actos conclusorios) (8.4%), the suspects were cleared (2.6%) or the cases were provisionally closed (2%).(21)

Flawed investigations