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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In the case of the sex worker nicknamed "la mudita", later identified as 25-year-old Silvia Patricia Madrid whose body was found dumped on a roadside on 22 February 2006, the investigation carried out by the Assistant Prosecutor in charge of the case limited itself to establishing the identity of "la mudita". Other basic lines of investigation were not pursued such as seeking witness statements at the hotel where "la mudita" worked.

In the face of chronic deficiencies in the investigation of cases of murdered women and girls, in April 2006 the PDH presented a proposal to the Public Ministry and Judiciary which would allow the PDH to oversee the investigation of cases of murdered women and girls throughout Guatemala.(28) Amnesty International understands that both the Public Ministry and Judiciary are yet to formally respond to the PDH's request.

In some cases there have also been allegations of complicity by police investigators in covering up crimes or "misplacing" important evidence.

On 22 March 2005, 22-year-old sex worker, "Perla", was murdered in a hotel in the red light district, Cerrito del Carmen in Guatemala City. Her sister, also a sex worker, who witnessed the killing, reportedly informed the Public Ministry that two plain-clothed policemen shot her sister. Uniformed police agents who came to the hotel allegedly removed the spent shells and told the hotel owner to wash away the blood. The spent shells were reportedly never submitted as part of the investigation.

While in some cases family members are able to act as joint parties to the state prosecution (querellantes adhesivos) the vast majority of families are unable to afford to pay for a lawyer to help them navigate the complex process of becoming joint parties to the investigation.(29) In cases where there are no relatives exerting pressure on the authorities to investigate either because relatives are too afraid to actively pursue investigations or the victim has not been identified, investigations seldom advance. The obligation to investigate and prosecute all cases of murders ex-officio rarely happens. In the case of 20-year-old Cristina Hernández, killed on 27 July 2005, for example, Amnesty International was informed that the Public Ministry was not actively investigating the case allegedly because the father is no longer collaborating. After Cristina Hernández was murdered in July 2005, her family went into hiding in fear for their safety after they were intimidated.

In the case of 19-year-old university student Claudina Velásquez who was studying to become a lawyer, her dead body was found on 13 August 2005. She had been shot and traces of semen were found on her body. Serious deficiencies were reported in relation to the effectiveness of the investigation. For example, tests on the principal suspects, to ascertain if they had fired a gun, were not carried out. Since the death of his daughter, Claudina's father had repeatedly visited the Public Ministry, suggested lines of investigation and even carried out independent inquiries. Recognizing the deficiencies in the investigation of the case, in November 2005, the head of the Special Prosecutor's Office on Crimes against Life took over the investigation. Since then investigations have effectively restarted including sending blood samples of the five suspects to Spain for DNA analysis. While the reactivation of investigations is a positive step, it is likely that critical evidence has been lost.

Likewise, in the case of María Isabel Franco, who was raped and brutally murdered in December 2001, it was only after significant international attention on the case and after a TV documentary, that in February 2006 the prosecutor agreed to compile a list of leads that have yet to be investigated and to locate the main suspect in the case. Two of the main suspects have reportedly consistently failed to respond to summons calling them to testify and are reportedly fugitives. According to relatives and an NGO supporting the case no effort has been made to locate them.

State negligence in preventing murders