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IACHR report: Access to justice for women victims of sexual violence in Mesoamerica

May 31, 2012

Antigua, Guatemala

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presented today the report Access to Justice for Women Victims of Violence in Mesoamerica at a regional activity, which analyzes the multiple dimensions of the problem of sexual violence and its treatment by the justice systems of the Mesoamerican region, with a special emphasis on Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

The inauguration of this activity was led by the President of the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala, Magistrate Thelma Aldana; the Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Marcela Suazo, and the Rapporteur for Women‘s Rights of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Tracy Robinson.

The IACHR has observed that sexual violence is not an isolated phenomenon confined to the Mesoamerican region. It is instead a multidimensional problem that affects every country in the Americas. In national survey from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua y El Salvador of women aged 15-49, 5.8, 8.7, 11.4, 13.4 percent, respectively, reported experiencing some type of sexual violence such as sexual abuse or forced sex. It is a product of a social environment in which violence is tolerated and is compounded in the case of women, as they are victims of generations of discrimination and inferior treatment owing to their sex. The result is that the State’s response to these problems is deficient. The roles that the various institutions play are influenced by socio-cultural patterns that discriminate against women, patterns that are pervasive throughout society.

“Sexual violence continues to be one the most invisible and unpunished crimes," said Marcela Suazo, UNFPA Regional Director in Latin America and Caribbean. Governments should take measures to confront discrimination against women that perpetuates sexual violence, including changing sociocultural norms, behaviors and stereotypes that reproduce violence.”

Serious obstacles lead to the failure of the States to fulfill the duty to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, sanction and offer reparations in cases of violence against women. This situation translates into a pattern of judicial ineffectiveness regarding acts of sexual violence in Mesoamerica, a pattern that adversely affects the prosecution of cases of sexual violence at every stage in the proceedings with the justice system. This judicial ineffectiveness promotes and perpetuates impunity in the vast majority of cases involving sexual violence, breeds social tolerance of this phenomenon, and creates a persistent sense of mistrust on the victims in the administration of justice.

The many forms that sexual violence takes and the urgency of this problem creates comprehensive, multidimensional obligations for the States, and it demands an interinstitutional response not only from the justice sector, but from other sectors, including health involved to prevent, investigate, prosecute and redress this serious human rights problem.

The report includes recommendations oriented to promote State interventions to prevent, investigate, prosecute and redress acts of sexual violence promptly and effectively. The report includes a series of recommendations oriented towards state entities to prevent, investigate, sanction, and provide reparations for acts of sexual violence quickly and exhaustively, relating to fighting impunity; the prevention of sexual violence and eradication of discriminating sociocultural patterns; care and services for women victims; Access to judicial protection, complaint mechanisms y gathering of statistics; protocols for care and collection of evidence; protection measures, reparation for victims and special needs for girls and indigenous women, afrodescendents and migrants.

Tracy Robinson, the Rapporteur on the Rights of Women stated, “There are still many obstacles in the path to justice for women and girls who have experienced sexual violence. But today, five years after our initial report on Access to Justice for Women Victims of Violence in the Americas, we also recognise the various efforts made by states and civil society to secure change and the progress made in the region in relation to sexual violence—the enactment of comprehensive laws against violence against women, the establishment of new institutions within the administration of justice that institutionalise a gender perspective, the introduction of policies and protocols to guide the actions of all who must secure justice and protect the victim and the development of multidisciplinary approaches that protect and secure the wellbeing of the victim. We look forward to the discussion on what has been accomplished, and especially having heard the experiences of our neighbours, where we can commit to new initiatives to ensure effective access to justice for women and girls who are survivors of sexual violence.”

This report was elaborated thanks to the technical and financial support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and with the financial assistance of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (Agencia Española para la Cooperación Internacional al Desarrollo, AECID).