WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
22 Mar 2007 | News

WOLA Report Points to Failure of the Mexican and Guatemalan Criminal Justice System in Tackling Violence Against Women

The Absence of a Rule of Law has Fostered a Culture of Impunity and Tolerance for Violence Washington DC, March 7, 2007 – In light of this year’s theme for March 8th International Women’s Day on ending impunity for violence against women and girls, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) released a report today on the failure of the Mexican and Guatemalan criminal justice system to effectively tackle the problem. “The absence of a functioning criminal justice system has contributed profoundly to a continuum of violent acts against women. The failure to act is perpetuating a culture of impunity, and consequently sending the message that it is acceptable to hit, rape, and murder women,” revealed the WOLA report "Hidden in Plain Sight: Violence Against Women in Mexico and Guatemala." The report looks at the role the Mexican and Guatemalan public security and judicial institutions have played with respect to violence against women. A criminal justice approach alone will not eradicate the problem, but the criminal justice sector has an obligation to ensure respect for women’s rights and protection under the law. “The police and justice institutions in Mexico and Guatemala are weak, ineffective and often corrupt. These flaws are compounded by gender biases within the institutions, which act to systematically silence and discriminate against women,” said Adriana Beltrán, WOLA Associate on Violence Against Women. 

The gap between the law and its implementation is disturbingly wide, creating numerous barriers to justice for women victims of violence. Authorities fail to adequately and promptly investigate cases and punish and prosecute those responsible.  They tend to blame the victims and fail to see gender-based violence as a serious crime. In some cases, anachronistic laws remain on the books. The issue’s low priority is reflected in the lack of resources, equipment, and training within police and judicial institutions.

“The absence of effective judicial remedies has placed women at even greater risk of violence,” explained Maureen Meyer, Associate for Mexico and Central America.  In Guatemala, more than 2,500 women have been brutally murdered since 2001. In Mexico, between 1999 and 2005, more than 6,000 women and girls have been murdered.

“The increasing disappearance and killings of women must not be viewed as isolated incidents. The killings are the result of governmental and societal apathy towards and tolerance of gender-based violence, the product of a criminal justice system that has been unable and unwilling to guarantee women equal access to justice and protection under the law,” noted  Beltran.

“Turning the situation around will require a serious and concerted effort to reform and strengthen the Mexican and Guatemalan public security and judicial institutions,” said Meyer. Improving states’ response to violence against women will require addressing every step of the criminal justice process.

The United States can play a vital role in supporting efforts to combat violence against women in Mexico and Guatemala, and help put and end to this terrible tragedy.  In May 2006, bi-partisan House Concurrent Resolution 90 and the Senate Concurrent Resolution 16 were passed condemning the murders of women in the State of Chihuahua. In January 2007, Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA) introduced House Resolution 100, a bipartisan resolution condemning the murders of women in Guatemala and recommending a series of steps that U.S. and Guatemalan authorities can take to resolve the crimes and assist the victims’ families. “By supporting the resolution, Members of Congress can help pave the way for concrete steps to support victims’ families in their search for justice and to help resolve some of the deeply rooted problems that have led to thousands of unpunished murders of women in Guatemala,” said Beltrán.

The resolution was introduced with the support of the Chair of the Committee on International Relations, Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA), the Chair and Ranking Member of  the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Representatives Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Dan Burton (R-IN), and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), member of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.