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The forgotten 98% – femicide in Guatemala

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A recent report from the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) reveals that 98% of cases of femicide in Guatemala between 2000 and 2008 remain unsolved due to a systematic lack of investigation by police of cases involving violence against women.

The organisation asserts that violence against women in the country is so endemic that Guatemala is now one of the most dangerous places for women in the world, alongside regions such as Ciudad Juarez in Mexico and South Africa.

Over 4,300 women were murdered between 2000 and 2008, with most murders caused by firearms and preceded by rape or torture.

Despite the introduction of a specific law against femicide in 2008, levels of violence continue to escalate, with 2008 actually being the worst recorded year for levels of violence against women, with over 720 violent deaths reported.

The report from GHRC focuses on the new legislation and makes a series of recommendations for its implementation.

Guatemala has a long and bloody history of violence against women, including 50,000 women estimated to have faced severe violence during the country’s internal conflict.

Women were routinely made victims of torture and sexual abuse at the hands of the military before the conflict ended in 1996.

Although criminal and gang violence remain a significant problem in Guatemala, the continuance of a profound bias in attitudes to women in broader society is at the heart of the continuing violence against women, not only on the streets but particularly in the home.

In the first half of 2008, a staggering 61% of all femicides in the country were related to domestic violence, an issue that receives little government attention.

The incidence of suicide by sufferers of domestic violence is rising, a clear indication that the law is not doing anything near enough to address, or even acknowledge the problem.

The GHRC report states that domestic violence is still regarded as a ‘private matter’, both in general society and within the police force, despite legislation to the contrary, and that the attitudes of police officers towards women act to support, not prevent violence against women.

In one case, the violent death of law student Claudina Velasquez Paiz, the police failed to investigate after assuming Claudina was ” a ‘nobody’ because she was wearing sandals and a belly button ring.”

Yes, you read that right.

“Perpetrators of violence against women operate in a climate of impunity,” the report concludes, “There is little incentive to change their behaviour.”

Read the report for yourself at GHRC’s website, where you can also make a donation to help the organisation in their ongoing fight for justice for women in Guatemala.

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