First Guatemalan femicide case reaches Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The María Isabel Véliz Franco case is an emblematic example of the impunity surrounding femicide in Guatemala

Guatemala City and San José, 7 May, 2012. On May 3, the Washington-based Interamerican Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) submitted the María Isabel Véliz Franco femicide case to the jurisdiction of the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, whose headquarters are in Costa Rica. The case, relating to the murder of a young girl in Guatemala in 2001, will be heard by the Interamerican Court in due course.

María Isabel and her relatives are represented by the Red de la No Violencia contra las Mujeres en Guatemala (REDNOVI –No Violence against Women in Guatemala Network) and the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). In 2004, the Guatemalan authorities were denounced before the IACHR by both these organizations, for their failure to investigate the murder in a diligent, exhaustive and serious way. The inquiry has been plagued by unlawful delays, loss of evidence and the omission of lines of relevant investigation.  In addition, the victim and her family have been repeatedly stigmatized by the authorities throughout the process.

Guatemala registers an alarmingly high instance of cases of violence against women. This, coupled with the lack of protection offered to both victims and survivors and the widespread levels of impunity, favors the repetition of similar tragedies.

Official statistics compiled by the Grupo Guatemalteco de Mujeres (Guatemalan Women’s Group) suggest that between 2000 and 2011, 6,638 women suffered violent deaths in Guatemala. In 2011 alone, 710 women died in violent circumstances. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary, violence against women represents the third most reported crime within the nation. Of the cases of this nature admitted, only 1% obtains sentencing, resulting in impunity for the crimes and those responsible in 99% of cases.

The latest report from the Guatemalan Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, published last January, suggests that: “the cruelty with which some of these crimes were perpetrated reflects the grave extent to which patterns of discrimination are rooted within society, and reveals the lack of institutional measures in place to stop them.”

REDNOVI and CEJIL welcome the presentation of this case before the Interamerican Court, the highest tribunal in the Americas. It represents an opportunity for specific measures to be granted for combatting both the disturbingly high rates of violence against women in Guatemala and the ongoing impunity.

Over 10 years have passed since the crime, and the victim and her family have not yet been granted justice. As such, Guatemala has a responsibility to investigate, process, and sanction those responsible for the crimes committed against María Isabel Véliz Franco. Similarly, the State has an obligation to implement all political and financial measures necessary to strengthen existing institutions and their ability to prevent, detect, investigate and punish instances of violence against women in Guatemala.

Case facts

On December 16, 2001, Rosa Franco filed a complaint before the Guatemalan authorities for the disappearance of her 15-year-old daughter, María Isabel Véliz Franco. However, State institutions have made no attempt to locate her whereabouts. On December 18, her body was discovered bearing various signs of abuse. Since the occurrence of the crime, Rosa Franco has appealed for the events to be investigated and for those responsible to be punished, to no avail.