San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Court Whittles Down Domestic Violence Law

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) late last week rescinded two articles of the Law to Penalize Violence Against Women, ruling both are unconstitutionally vague.

The much-contested articles 22 and 25 address criminalization of “maltreatment” and “emotional violence.”

Article 22 punished perpetrators of physical violence against a woman by anyone “with whom she maintains a marital relationship, whether a declared union or not,” and called for six to 24 months in prison.

Article 25 criminalized “anyone who repeatedly, publicly or privately, insults, devalues, ridicules, shames or terrorizes a woman with whom she maintains a marital relationship, whether a declared union or not,” and carried a prison sentence of six to 24 months.

The law has also been criticized for punishing male abusers differently than female ones and, conversely, for protecting female victims differently than male ones.

The challenge to the law was filed by public defender Marco Feoli Villalobos.

Just over 70 percent of men imprisoned under the law since it was passed in May 2007 were convicted for crimes specified in those two articles, according to the National Institute for Women, INAMU. Over 100 men were released on Oct. 16 after the announcement of the court’s decision.

After eight years in the legislative process, the law passed, with 45 of the assembly’s 46 members voting in favor. Several male lawmakers, however, stated after the vote that, despite their concerns about its unconstitutionality, they were afraid to vote against the bill for fear of being labeled machistas, or male chauvinists.

INAMU called the high court’s ruling a “serious step backward,” and its president, Jeanette Carrillo, called on various government agencies to “fulfill their promise to safeguard the physical integrity of women in situations where there is a threat of violence from their partners.”

In response to the ruling, Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese reissued an August 2005 memo of his that highlights articles 123, 124 and 125 of the country’s criminal code, which cover similar protections now removed from the Law to Penalize Violence Against Women. The three articles cite the duty of the state to protect the “physical and mental health” of victims. The articles also provide for the prosecution of those who commit crimes by taking advantage of “relations of power” they might have over others, specifically women, children, the elderly and not ruling out adult male victims.

“The injuries described by the Penal Code include harm to the body, as well as health and wellbeing, in such a way that one must interpret bodily harm as physical harm and harm to one’s health and wellbeing as dealing with psychological health,” he said at a recent public appearance in Upala, northwest of San José, according to the daily La Nación.

In 2004, a series of events highlighted the lack of adequate domestic violence prosecution laws, including one case in which a Costa Rican woman was granted asylum in the United States after it was demonstrated that she was unable to be sufficiently protected here against her partner, who allegedly violated a restraining order on him more than a dozen times.

In a rare case of prosecution against a female aggressor, a woman in Desamparados, south of San José, was arrested Monday evening after attacking her husband with a knife, injuring him in the back and stomach.

She is currently being held in preventive prison while her husband, who has not been capable of filing a claim against her, is recovering in the hospital.


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