San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemala tops ‘femicide’ list in Central America

GUATEMALA CITY – When you open a newspaper in Guatemala you are invariably greeted by a series of numbers: how many people were killed the previous day and how many people have been arrested in conjunction with the crime. The answers are typically: high and zero.

During the past decade, the number of women appearing in these articles has been rapidly increasing – so much so that a recent report found that more femicides occur in Guatemala than in any other country in Central America. A study by human rights organizations across the region found that in the past year 707 women have been murdered in Guatemala, followed by 606 in Honduras and 321 in El Salvador.

The countries with the least number of “femicide” deaths in the past year were Costa Rica with 50, Panama with 53 and Nicaragua with 76.

In 2008, the Guatemalan government passed a law that defined femicide as a specific crime against women, carrying a prison sentence of 25 to 50 years, without parole. Last year a special prosecutor and police units and tribunals were set up to deal exclusively with the gender-related crime, but so far the country’s high femicide rate shows little signs of abating.

Mario Polanco, from Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, one of the rights groups that helped carry out the research, said that in 2012 in Guatemala an average of 57 women were violently killed each month; however, this year the figure has increased to 66.

“We view with concern that Guatemala is the country that heads up the highest number of women killed in the period that this report was conducted [2012-2013],” Polanco said. “We recognize that the northern region of Central America is the most complicated.”

Human rights groups say Guatemala is currently witnessing epidemic levels of violence against women. Raped, murdered and mutilated, their bodies are dumped in rubbish bags and abandoned in public places.

In the last decade more than 6,000 women have been murdered in Guatemala and only 2 percent of their killers has been sentenced.

In response to the report, Guatemalan Vice President Roxanna Baldetti said that security must be doubled to prevent femicides.

At the start of December, two men were sentenced to 180 years each in prison for murdering four women in Guatemala City. It is hoped that over the next year the country’s recently introduced femicide unit will start to see more results like these, bringing the perpetrators of crimes to justice and showing that there is no impunity for crimes against women, even in Guatemala.

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