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What is femicide?
What is feminicide?
What is happening in Guatemala?
Where is femicide taking place?
Who is carrying out the murders?
Why is it happening?
Why should the murder of women be considered a separate issue?
What is being done to stop the killings?
What is the Guatemalan Femicide Law?
How does this issue affect the US?
What can the US government do?

What is femicide?

Femicide is defined as the killing of women, female homicide, or the murder of a person based on the fact that she is female.

What is feminicide?

Feminicide is a political term. It encompasses more than femicide because it holds responsible not only the male perpetrators but also the state and judicial structures that normalize misogyny. Feminicide connotes not only the murder of women by men because they are women but also indicates state responsibility for these murders whether through the commission of the actual killing, toleration of the perpetrators’ acts of violence, or omission of state responsibility to ensure the safety of its female citizens. In Guatemala, feminicide is a crime that exists because of the absence of state guarantees to protect the rights of women.

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What is happening in Guatemala?

Since 2000, over 3,000 Guatemalan women have been murdered, many of them first abducted and subjected to brutal sexual violence, mutilation, and torture. These gender-based, barbaric crimes have been characterized as “femicides.” Amnesty International places most of the victims between the ages of 16-36 and identifies them as students, housewives and professionals, domestic employees, unskilled workers, members or former members of street youth gangs, and sex workers. In many cases the victims are kidnapped, subjected to severe beatings, rape, sexual mutilation, or perverse torture, then killed and subsequently deposited in relatively public areas.

Year

Number of Women Killed

2001

317

2002

317

2003

383

2004

497

2005

517

2006

603

2007

590

2008

722

2009

708

Total:
4,867

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Where is femicide taking place?

Most of the murders of women have occurred in urban areas of Guatemala, with approximately 40% taking place in and around Guatemala City. High numbers have also occurred in Escuintla and San Marcos. Many serious abuses against women take place in rural areas as well, where the women do not know their rights and rarely report abuses. This phenomenon of femicide constitutes a regional issue that is gaining attention elsewhere, especially in Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia.

Who is carrying out the murders?

No one knows for certain who is responsible for the deaths of these young women because little is being done to investigate the crimes. Among sources blamed are street gangs, domestic violence, and organized crime. Gang-related violence claims the lives of many young women; for example, girls have been murdered when trying to leave a gang or for refusing to become the girlfriend of a gang member. In urban areas of the country violent crime in general has dramatically risen in recent years, often linked to gangs and organized crime groups engaged in kidnapping for ransom and arms and drugs trafficking.

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Why is it happening?

The atrocities committed against women now in Guatemala stem from the violence committed during the 36-year civil war that officially ended in 1996. During the internal armed conflict, paramilitary groups and government soldiers committed widespread human rights violations against women, including using routine rape as a counterrevolutionary tactic. Certain Guatemalan social and cultural norms that endorse the inferiority and domination of women continue this pattern of violence.

Today, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape are commonplace in Guatemalan society. A study conducted by la Comisión Nacional para la Prevención de la Violencia Intrafamiliar (CONAPREVI) found that many Guatemalans view abuse as something natural and believe that it is caused by alcoholism, drug addiction, and unemployment. In addition, El Organismo Judicial documented approximately 39,000 cases of intrafamily violence (physical, psychological, and sexual) between January and September 2008.

Furthermore, many young girls are commercially and sexually trafficked against their will. As mentioned earlier, girls who voluntarily or involuntarily become involved in gangs or with gang members often become victims of gang-related violence and vengeance. Some women, not necessarily gang members, have been murdered as a form of revenge or to instill terror or intimidate the local population. Due to incompetent authorities and a weak, underfunded justice system, crimes in Guatemala rarely go punished. Widespread impunity protects criminals and leaves the door open for more violence to occur since perpetrators know they will never face any legal consequences of their actions.

Why should the murder of women be considered a separate issue when men are being killed in Guatemala as well?

While it is true that homicides in Guatemala rose 60% from 2001-2005, female homicides rose 110% in the same period. Furthermore, the deaths of women are much more brutal in terms of mutilation, dismemberment, and sexual violence committed against the victim. According to Amnesty International, the femicides “demonstrate a particular type of cruelty that manifests itself in cuts to the face and the inherent notion of the disfigurement of women’s beauty, the severing of organs…In other cases, the murders are similar to those of men in that the bodies are found with the hands tied and with a single shot to the head, as happened in the past.”

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What is being done to stop the killings?

Little or no progress has been made in bringing those responsible to justice. According to current Guatemalan law, domestic violence is not a criminal offense unless the victim’s bruises last at least ten days and criminal responsibility for sexual relations with a minor is assessed according to whether or not the victim was a virgin at the time. Until 2006, a rapist could be exonerated if he promised to marry his victim, unless she was under twelve years old. Guatemalan officials, instead of handling these cases, dismiss many of the murders as “crimes of passion;” they assume domestic violence or an affair most likely caused an enraged husband or lover to kill his partner and rarely continue with the investigation. Feeble attempts at investigating, tampering with crime scenes, failure to collect physical and forensic evidence, and failure to act on arrest warrants often leave the victims’ families with no hope of obtaining justice. Police often wait 48-72 hours before commencing a search for a person reported missing, exasperating relatives and drastically reducing the possibility of finding the victim alive after so much time has passed.

The combination of widespread impunity enjoyed by perpetrators (a precedent set during the internal armed conflict), unjust laws, and the incompetence and inaction of authorities ultimately destroys all hope of ever prosecuting and punishing the murderers. Guatemala continues to fail to protect its women, as the government has made no progress toward amending a justice system that protects criminals instead of victims.

What is the Guatemalan Femicide Law?

In Guatemala, a law against femicide and other forms of violence against women passed on April 9 th, 2008. The Guatemalan government instituted this law in response to US pressure to fight impunity. As of February 25 th, 2009, 11 cases were tried under the Femicide Law. There has been only one conviction. Calixto Simon Cum received 5 years in prison for beating his partner, Vilma Angélica de La Cruz Marroquín. De La Cruz lived with Cum for three years. During that time he raped and beat her regularly. He threatened to kill her and her four children if she left him. The Survivor’s Foundation helped De La Cruz to denounce her partner, leading to his incarceration. The new Femicide Law is beginning to address the issue of femicide in Guatemala and is a step toward stopping impunity.

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How does this issue affect the U.S?

The murder of women constitutes a regional issue that relates to gang and domestic violence, immigration to the U.S., and political asylum claims, and of course affects the large Guatemalan community residing in the United States. Furthermore, during the internal armed conflict, the U.S. government armed, trained, and supported Guatemalan military leaders, even while these same officials committed horrendous human rights violations. Those human rights violations paved the way for the current wave of violence affecting Guatemala, including the trend of femicide. It is the responsibility and duty of current U.S. officials to help in any way they can to curb the wave of violence in Guatemala that former representatives of our government ignored.

What can the U.S. government do?

The United States should utilize its significant diplomatic and economic influence to pressure the Guatemalan government to provide real protection for women and their rights, to end the immunity enjoyed by those responsible for the femicides, and to bring its laws into line with international standards on violence against women. Since 1992, the U.S. has allocated funds to Guatemala specifically for the purpose of strengthening the rule of law, but little or no progress has been made and these are not the kinds of laws our government should support in the first place. The U.S. should require Guatemala to provide specific statistics to the Department of State regarding the cause of death of victims of violence against women, as well as data about the investigation, prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of those responsible. Only by demanding the fulfillment of such conditions should the U.S. continue its aid package to Guatemala.

On May 1, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning violence against women in Guatemala. The following year, the U.S. Senate passed a similar resolution. In 2007, the House Foreign Operations committee also recommended that $1 million be provided to Guatemala to for programs addressing violence against women. To save the lives of the hundreds of Guatemalan women statistically marked for brutal murder, the United States must continue to act.

For more information, see:

Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos, Informe Regional de Femicidio
BancoDatosFemicidio
GuatemalaNumeros.com
Fundación Sobrevivientes
From Genocide to Femicide, by Victoria Sanford (2008)
Femicide in Guatemala, by Risa Grais-Targow (2004)

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