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U.S. Members of Congress express deep concern for violent murders of women in Guatemala

May 11, 2006 

The following is a press release from the Washington Office on Latin America.

In a letter to State Department Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Thomas Shannon, more than 100 U.S. Members of Congress are expressing deep concern for the brutal killings of women in Guatemala and urge the Department of State to publicly support efforts for the protection of women and human rights defenders in that country. The legislators are requesting U.S. diplomatic efforts to “encourage the Guatemalan government to allocate adequate support and resources for the protection of victims of attacks, as well as witnesses, friends and family members.”

Signers include the Ranking Member of the House International Relations Committee, Rep. Tom Lantos, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House International Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Rep.s Dan Burton and Eliot Engel, the Ranking Member of the House International Relations Subcommittee of the  Appropriations Committee, Rep. Nita Lowey, the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers, the co-chair and co-vice chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, Reps. Hilda Solis and Lois Capps, and the Democratic Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

They also strongly urge the U.S. government to support the implementation of Guatemala’s National Plan for the Prevention and Eradication of Domestic and Interfamilial Violence, along with efforts to harmonize data collection on crimes against women, and the provision of investigative tools to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The members highlight that “Despite the specific commitments by the Guatemalan government to protect the lives of women and human rights defenders, increased violence against women, men and children in Guatemala is fast spiraling out of control… Prosecution of these crimes is almost nonexistent, and consequently the attacks on women have become more frequent and brutal.”

“There is a disconcerting tendency by local authorities to blame the victims instead of focusing resources on investigating the crimes and prosecuting the assailants.” Citing a 2004 report by the OAS Special Rapporteur on Women, members go on to state that, “the Guatemalan justice system has not responded effectively to such crimes, giving rise to both impunity and an increased sense of insecurity among women.”

Adriana Beltrán, WOLA Associate for Guatemala, stated that “the letter reveals a growing concern among Members of Congress about the alarming increase in the brutal killings of women in Guatemala and the inability of the authorities to properly investigate these crimes and prosecute those responsible.”

Since 2001, more than 2,000 young women with scant financial resources have been murdered in Guatemala. According to the National Civilian Police (PNC), 665 women were murdered in 2005, and so far this year, more than 150 killings have already been reported. In many cases, the victims have been raped, strangled, decapitated or otherwise mutilated. The majority of these crimes remain in complete impunity. To date, only 14 of the over 2,000 cases have resulted in sentences. Progress in the investigation of the murders of women has been stalled by numerous shortcomings in the judicial process, including a lack of technical capacity to preserve crime scenes, interrogate witnesses, and collect and preserve evidence.

Go here to read the congressional letter(PDF FILE)

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