STRATEGIC LITIGATION

Murder Sparks Femicide Reform

GuatemalaGender-Based Violence

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Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz’s Brutal Murder Propels the Adoption of Measures to Prevent Femicide in Guatemala

After ending her day at university in Guatemala, 19-year-old Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz called her father to let him know she was heading to a party with a friend. She called him later to check in and say that she would be returning home soon. She never made it home, and Claudina’s father would never speak to his daughter again.

Later that night, after she hadn’t come home, and a friend reported that a call with Claudina had been cut off with alarming abruptness, Claudina’s parents implored the National Civil Police to search for her. The pleas were denied, and no missing persons report was issued, even though police received a call about a possible sexual assault nearby. Early the next morning, police found Claudina’s body on the street. She had been raped and shot through the forehead.

Claudina was deemed “a victim whose murder should not be investigated.” The crime scene was not properly preserved. The police failed to properly collect evidence. Forensic tests were cursory. Despite being identified by her parents the morning after the murder, the police categorized Claudina as a Jane Doe for months. When asked by Claudina’s parents why the crime scene was treated so negligently, the authorities simply responded that she seemed a “nobody” because she wore a belly button ring, and “good girls don’t have piercings.” But the deeper reason was that Claudina was a woman in Guatemala, one of the countries with the highest levels of violence against women in the Americas.

Why is This a Key Case?

Claudina is yet another victim of the femicide epidemic in Guatemala, which is driven by a deeply ingrained culture that views women, at best, as less than men, and at worst, something to be owned. Violence against women in the country is one of the highest in the region, but victims rarely benefit from police or state action. This is true even when they are killed, with only about 6 percent of femicide cases resulting in a conviction, as few are investigated and prosecuted with any level of forcefulness. Claudina’s case helped the Inter-American Court to further develop the content of the duty of due diligence that states have in preventing and investigating instances of violence against women, especially when there is a wider context of such violence. It was also instrumental in establishing, for the first time, a mechanism to activate the immediate search of women and girls who are reported missing. The alert has been named after Claudina and Isabel, another femicide victim.

What is the Status of the Case?

Along with partner the Asociación de Abogados y Notarios Mayas de Guatemala [Guatemalan Association of Mayan Attorneys and Notaries], RFK Human Rights litigated successfully to win a judgment against the state of Guatemala from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2015.

More importantly, the Guatemalan state was compelled to strengthen its institutional investigation practices in cases of violence against women, address procedures for finding missing women, and implement nationwide educational programs geared to eliminate gender discrimination, gender stereotypes, and violence against women. Indeed, in direct compliance with the court’s judgment, Guatemala created an alert to search for missing women.

RFK Human Rights continues to monitor the implementation of pending reparations. Claudina’s death is a tragic loss, but through the remedies ordered by the court, it has given hope to other women in Guatemala to live free of violence.

Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)

Case of Velásquez Paiz et al. v. Guatemala


Month/Year of filing

December 2007 (RFKHR joined as co-counsel in 2014)


Legal mechanism in which the case is being litigated

Inter-American Court of Human Rights


Rights and legal instruments alleged violated (OR found to have been violated)

Articles 1.1 (obligation to respect rights), 4 (right to life), 5 (right to humane treatment), 8 (right to a fair trial), 11 (right to privacy), 24 (right to equal protection), and 25 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights


Article 7 (to live free of violence) of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women “Convention of Belém do Pará”


Procedural stage

Supervision of compliance with Judgment


Counsel

RFKHR and Asociación de Abogados y Notarios Mayas de Guatemala

For More Perspective

CAMPAIGN—

#JusticiaParaVicky: The historic case of Vicky Hernández et al. v. Honduras

In the midst of the June 2009 Honduran coup d’état, with the streets of San Pedro Sula closed to all but military and police forces, 26-year-old trans woman Vicky Hernández’s body was found with a gunshot wound to the head.


Vicky’s story—and the impunity the state has granted her killers—is all too familiar in Honduras. In the decade since Vicky’s extrajudicial execution, more than 300 LGBTQ+ people have been targeted and killed for their gender identity; of those, only 67 cases have been prosecuted, resulting in fewer than 20 convictions.


Vicky Hernández et al. v. Honduras, litigated by Red Lésbica Cattrachas and RFK Human Rights, was the first case involving lethal violence against an trans person to reach the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.


On June 28, 2021, exactly 12 years after Vicky’s murder, the Court made a landmark ruling holding the government of Honduras accountable for her death and issued a series of reparations, including financial support for Vicky’s family, that set a legal precedent for LGBTQ+ rights throughout the region.