RFK Human Rights Wins Landmark Case for Victims of Femicide in Guatemala

(December 22, 2015 | Washington, D.C.) The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has issued a landmark ruling in a case brought by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights in partnership with the Guatemalan Association of Mayan Attorneys and Notaries against the government of Guatemala for the disappearance and murder of 19-year old Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz on August 13, 2005.

The court concluded that the government of Guatemala failed to implement the necessary due diligence measures to prevent the murder of Claudina Isabel in a recognized context of violence against women in the country. They also found that the investigation of Claudina’s murder was plagued with serious irregularities from the very beginning, which were a result of negative gender stereotypes, and which violated Claudina Isabel’s right to equal treatment under the law and her family’s rights to judicial guarantees and protection.

“While nothing can bring back their beloved Claudina Isabel, this decision represents a significant step toward justice for the Velásquez Paiz family,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “By ordering Guatemala to adopt a series of measures to address structural discrimination and violence against women in the country, the Inter-American Court has ensured that this decision will bring justice to thousands more women and their families.”

In this judgment, among other reparations, the Court has ordered the government of Guatemala to:

  • conduct a serious and thorough investigation of the facts surrounding the murder of Claudina Isabel and sanction the perpetrators;
  • organize a public act to apologize to the family for the violations committed;
  • incorporate in the national education system and at all levels a permanent program on the need to eliminate gender discrimination and violence against women;
  • strengthen the National Institute of Forensic Sciences;
  • implement comprehensive training programs on international standards for public officials involved in the investigation of women’s homicides and; and
  • implement a strategy or mechanism for the effective search of disappeared women.

The Guatemalan government must now act to fully and faithfully implement the decision in order to comply with the Court’s orders and begin the process of structural reform that is ultimately necessary to address the epidemic of violence against women in Guatemala.

On August 12, 2005, when Claudina did not return home from a party, her parents began a desperate search, reaching out to the police who refused to take any action despite being aware of the risk to her life. Claudina’s murdered body was discovered the next morning with signs of sexual violence. Over the last decade the Guatemalan government has failed to conduct an effective investigation into Claudina’s murder or to hold her killers accountable. The impunity for Claudina’s murder represents the broader failure of the government to stem the tide of femicide and violence against women in Guatemala.

The case was filed before the Court in July 2014 for Guatemala’s systematic failure to prevent, investigate, and prosecute the perpetrators of Claudina Isabel’s disappearance and subsequent murder. In April 2015, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Guatemalan Association of Mayan Attorneys and Notaries presented their oral arguments before the Court.

“We trust that with this important decision and the unwavering determination of Claudina Isabel’s family to find truth and justice, we will be able to change the tragic pattern that claims the lives of hundreds of women in Guatemala with total impunity,” said Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of Robert F. Kennedy Partners for Human Rights. “With this decision the Court has sent a very clear message to all governments in the region that they have a strict duty of due diligence and must act immediately from the first moment they receive notice of a potential situation of violence against women.”